“There are two kinds of people in this world…”
How many jokes begin with that opener? Actually, in some aspects of our personalities people do tend to gravitate toward one of two types. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator measures these tendencies, to help identify your personality style. Many of us have taken the Myers-Briggs at work or school, and know our four-letter personality type, such as ESTJ, INFP, etc. (Just for fun, a free version is at http://www.keirsey.com) It sorts you out in four attitudes or preferences for which “there are basically two kinds of people in this world.” The first letter identifies whether you are an Extravert or an Introvert. That’s the one I want to write about today.
One of the many liberating things about the Myers-Briggs is the premise that people are different. I know that sounds obvious. But in acknowledging that people are different, we also acknowledge that just because someone else is wired differently, it doesn’t make them better or worse—just different.
As simple and obvious as that seems, it is not easy for everyone to accept. This is especially true when it comes to Introverts and Extraverts. Speaking as a strong Introvert let me say that there is a stigma attached to being an Introvert. At the very least, misunderstandings and misconceptions abound.
So, what does it mean to be an Introvert? Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. Being an Introvert does not mean one is self-centered, self-absorbed, antisocial, shy, timid or fearful. All of those qualities can be found just as easily in Extraverts.
Put simply, Extraverts are action-oriented. They are energized by doing things, more than thinking about things; when they are inactive they get bored and lonely, and to rebuild their energy they need to take action and spend time with other people. Introverts, by contrast, are energized by depth of thought; they find too much activity draining, and need alone time to recharge. Extraverts tend to prefer having many friends; Introverts tend to prefer having a few deep friendships.
Extraverts draw energy from being with other people and find it depleting to be alone; Introverts draw energy from being alone and find it exhausting to be with large groups of people. It seems like a simple difference. Yet for some reason Introverts remain misunderstood. After all, let’s face it: the world is run by Extraverts. American culture especially values them. America likes action. Extraverts get things done. Most workplaces value how much you can do, more than how well you can think. Introverts are told, “You think too much.”
Extraverts love to be with lots of people, and seem especially puzzled that Introverts do not. To me, as an Introvert, hell is a crowded, noisy nightclub. Heaven is a quiet evening at home. An Extravert hears me say that, and thinks there is something wrong with me. “You need to get out more,” says the Extravert. “You need to be with other people. It’s not good for you to be alone.”
Oh really? Who, exactly, decided that? Anyone who thinks that big parties are good for me, and solitude is bad for me, does not know me. “No,” I want to say to the Extravert, “it’s not good for YOU to be alone. YOU need to be with other people. That’s YOU. It’s not me.”
Both Introverts and Extraverts are guilty of reducing the other to extremes. Yes, I am more oriented to thought than action; that does not mean that I never want to do anything. Yes, I find large noisy crowds exhausting and depleting; that does not mean that I hate people, or that I want to be isolated, or that I do not want to spend meaningful time with one or two close friends. Personality types are not a hard and fast rule; they are about a style, a preference, and a source of energy.
Conversely, it would be unfair of me to characterize Extraverts as shallow, hyperactive party animals incapable of reflective thought. Oddly, though, one rarely hears an Introvert say that; and this is another difference. For some reason, Introverts seem able to understand and accept the differences in Extraverts. However, Extraverts seem to find it difficult to understand and accept the differences in Introverts. Extraverts are much more likely to see those differences as shortcomings that need to be fixed. It’s almost as if they believe that Introverts need to be converted into Extraverts.
So let me make a stand. Dear Extraverts: I am not one of you. I am an Introvert, an INFP. And there is nothing wrong with me. My source of energy is reflection, deep thought, solitude and intimate relationships. You are different. The world needs both of us. I celebrate our differences. And both of us are just fine the way we are.