“Do you get energized by being among others, or by being on your own?”
That is the core of various questions about your inclination towards extraversion or introversion. XIPs find the resulting label often confusing, especially if their real answer is: “That depends.” In this blog I want to clarify why it is relevant for XIPs to be aware of their introverted needs, and to take them seriously, even if their environment tends to go against this.
There is also a webpage on this site about Extraversion / Introversion as a facet of Xidentity.
Introversion gets more attention
About ten years ago I found on the internet a March 2003 article from The Atlantic Monthly by Jonathan Rauch titled: Caring for Your Introvert: The habits and needs of a little-understood group adding the illustration as shown here. It is said that this article has drawn more traffic to The Atlantic Monthly website than any other article, and I think it is still quite fun to read.
Shortly afterwards, I read Marti Olsen Laney’s book: The Introvert Advantage; How to thrive in an Extravert World (2002). That provided quite a boost to my self-esteem, in the sense that various qualities that I had come to consider shortcomings, happened to be “regular” introverted traits. “Aha, so it has a name, and I am not the only one, although one of a (silent) minority.
Basically it was comparable to the first experience that many people have when they come across the five typical character traits of an XIP: “So all these seemingly independent personal weaknesses actually form a coherent pattern that can be interpreted positively?!”
Isn’t it wonderful and intriguing how certain personality characteristics by their very nature do not flourish easily nor as a matter of course. It needs courage and skill to keep surfing on the waves of emotion that standing up for your identity entails. Doesn’t that remind you of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration?
Susan Cain’s approach
Recently I read Susan Cain’s book: Quiet, the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Her book and her TED presentation from 2012 are still quite a hit. She had been working on it for seven years in a very driven way, as is shown by 45 pages of Notes. Or did she feel compelled to make an irrefutable point?
She chooses to use the term introvert and extrovert as seen from a cultural point of view. (For the same reason se uses the “layperson’s spelling” of extroversion, instead of extraversion, as is the custom in research literature.)
She refers to the age-old differences between “man of contemplation” and “man of action”, between priest and warrior, and shops very competently for various approaches to the subject like Jung’s Psychological Types, the “Big Five”, Jerome Kagan’s Temperament in Human Nature, Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person, and many others.
Almost all XIP’s introverted?
The somewhat awkward conclusion of her distinction is that almost all XIPs can be considered introverted; only the utmost impulsive human dynamos of them can be considered extroverts, is my impression: It is because of her connecting introversion with high-reactive temperament (Kagan), which is quite comparable to being Highly Sensitive or having some form of Overexcitability, or Extra Receptivity as I call it. That is all quite often observable behaviour in XIP’s.
Basically I agree that all XIPs, due to their extra receptivity, should pay attention to more or less incidental needs of “a quiet place or circumstance to digest an overdose of stimuli, sensually and/or emotionally”. But what happens afterwards can be very different: a “truly” introvert decides to be in the right mood for reading a book, a “truly” extrovert happily leaves the house to find some company to engage with.
Almost all XIP’s extroverted?
It is also intriguing that research shows that one can temporarily overcome introversion, if the subject or situation is connected to a personal mission. Since being driven is one of the typical characteristics of XIPs, that would imply that all XIPs may frequently exhibit extraverted behaviour when in their zone.
Ambiversion as a label does not seem to be a solution to me: it is not that XIPs are in the middle between two polarities, and may feel moderately comfortable in either camp. Due to their innate intensity they may experience urgent needs for withdrawal and urgent needs to speak out.
The value of the framework is to give words to the dynamics of personal needs, and provide arguments to take those needs seriously, even against opposition.
Are you aware of your own dynamics in this respect, and do you follow its cues?
In the end, I was quite surprised by the vehement emotions that reading and understanding the book evoked in me. Initially, it was also difficult to write this blog in a balanced way.
Cain writes quite vividly about the (not everywhere) well-known misconception that introversion would be similar to being shy or apprehensive. That you could “help” introverted children or adults to get rid of their shyness by almost forceful means.
If the suspect is not only introverted but also empathic, he/she will pick up crystal clear the worry or judgement that is involved. That may lead to internalizations about being a problem, a misfit, a loser with little hope for future improvements. Adaptation seems the logical choice for the introvert to keep the protective relation and a chance of love, but that is unfortunately not the Royal Road to personal effectiveness.
Empowerment or revolt?
It does not come as a surprise then, that in all books or articles about introversion that are known to me, there is always the author’s intention to empower introverts. Often there is an appeal to come to a better balance between extraverted and introverted styles in organisations and families. Many authors word a complaint about the dominant horn blowing of “those extraverts”.
I suppose it is a kind of cosmic humour that all this kind of subversive reading matter will not easily lead to a bloody uprising of the introverts. Although instinctively, there is a good reason: Fighting for the liberation of your relational identity, that is taken hostage by extraverted barbarians with their invasive standards and values. But can you imagine introverts in large, close-packed groups, yelling slogans, marching towards the battle?
No really, the most vehement struggle – when you are an introvert – takes place inside of you. You can talk or write about it, or you can do things your own elegant way.
But in any case, while an uprising may not be necessary, please do roll up your sleeves and find out how this subject affects you and your loved ones!