Revenge of the Introvert

Posted on November 5, 2010


This article caught my eye in the grocery story today: (Here Revenge of the Introvert – Psychology Today, 2010-08-23 is a .pdf of the article). Reading it was like therapy for me. While not everything characterized my personality, a vast majority of it did. Below are the highlights.

Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence, they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one. Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.

I’ve been telling people for a while that I just can’t shut off my brain. It’s like the Energizer Bunny of cognitive processing. Reading this was helpful to realize that my body is using a lot of processing power. I wonder if that has something to do with my high metabolism too?

As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they’d rather find meaning than bliss…

I was just telling someone yesterday that I’m not a very “emotional” person. But I do a ton of reading…

It’s often possible to spot introverts by their conversational style. They’re the ones doing the listening. Extraverts are more likely to pepper people with questions. Introverts like to think before responding—many prefer to think out what they want to say in advance—and seek facts before expressing opinions.

I’ve told my staff that I like to “know everything” before making a decision. Ah, check.

The MBTI definition of introversion—a preference for solitude, reflection, internal exploration of ideas vs. active engagement and pursuit of rewards in the external/social world

Having a definition is quite helpful.

“In verbal cultures, remaining silent presents a problem,” report Anio Sallinen-Kuparinen, James McCroskey, and Virginia Richmond, who have studied communication styles in the U.S. and Finland. Perceptions of competence tend to be based on verbal behavior. An introvert who is silent in a group may actually be quite engaged—taking in what is said, thinking about it, waiting for a turn to speak—but will be seen in the U.S. as a poor communicator.

A colleague of mine recently told me that while he thought I had much to contribute, he was curious as to why I never spoke up in meetings. While there are multiple reasons, reading this was helpful in identifying a big piece of the puzzle.

When psychologists Catherine Caldwell-Harris and Ayse Ayçiçegi compared U.S. and Turkish samples, they found that having “an orientation inconsistent with societal values” is a risk factor for poor mental health. The findings support what the researchers call the personality-culture clash hypothesis: “Psychological adjustment depends on the degree of match between personality and the values of surrounding society.” To the extent that introverts feel the need to explain, apologize, or feel guilty about what works best for them, they feel alienated not only from society but from themselves.

Wow. There’s a lot here that needs to be fleshed out. In addition to my long bouts of insecurity and “personality-culture clash,” I also thought about the other social battles in our culture, e.g., homosexual marriage and rights. While many view this as merely a moral battle, this view adds in the important aspects of acceptance/alienation which affect mental health. This, in my estimation, adds a whole other dimension that should be taken into consideration by anyone engaging in the conversation.

Solitude, quite literally, allows introverts to hear themselves think.

Yup. Check. I feel that.

And indeed, anxiety and depression are more common among introverts than extraverts. In general, says Robert McPeek, director of research at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, introverts are more self-critical than others—but also more realistic in their self-assessments. Call it depressive realism.

Hmm. Amazing. I’ve consistently categorized myself as “self-critical” and “objective” at that critique. While insightful, this kinda makes me a little depressed. 🙂

Happiness is not always their top priority; they don’t need external rewards to keep their brains in high gear. In fact, the pursuit of happiness may represent another personality-culture clash for them.

Yup. Check again.

…for all people, the pressure to be happy actually reduces happiness.

“We found that when we prime people to value happiness more, they become more unhappy and depressed,” reports Mauss. “Our findings offer an intriguing explanation for the vexing paradox that even in the face of objectively positive life circumstances, nations generally do not become happier.”

The priming effect seen in the study parallels the social priming introverts experience in everyday life. Although introverts like pursuing frontal cortex functions associated with the exploration of meaning, “there are cultural pressures that could make one feel guilty for not wanting to be as happy as the culture dictates,” says Tamir. As a result, introverts are hit with a double whammy—feeling less happy, then feeling guilty and inadequate for feeling that way.

Ah…uh…oh. Bummer. I suppose I’m more justified in embracing my inner “Eeyore.”

Conversation between an introvert and an extravert can involve a series of misunderstandings. As the introvert struggles to follow multiple conversational threads and sort out his own thoughts, he remains quiet and appears to be just listening. The extravert reads that as engagement, a cue to keep talking. The introvert struggles with the continuing flow of input and soon starts to shut out the extravert, while nodding or smiling, or even trying to stop the exchange.

Even a simple opener of “Hello, how are you? Hey, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about X,” from anyone can challenge an introvert. Rather than bypassing the first question or interrupting the flow to answer it, the introvert holds onto the question: Hmm, how am I? (An internal dialogue begins, in which the introvert “hears” herself talking internally as the other person speaks.)

Moreover, while trying to keep the conversation going, introverts may miss social cues, which can make them appear socially inept. The conversation is also anxiety-provoking, because the introvert feels she has too little time to share a complete thought. She hungers to pull away and give time to the thoughts her brain has generated.—Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D.

My apologies to everyone to whom I’ve done this exact thing…evaded the “how are you doing” question. (Man, I can’t tell you how helpful this is to read. Again, as I said, this was therapy for me.)

— VIA —

After three reads of this article, I am strangely comforted and depressed. I suppose that only confirms my “introvertedness.” My regret is that I did not understand more of this earlier on, and that others around me may not understand or value this vastly central piece of who I am. My comfort comes in simply knowing that there are others out there who “get it,” and by “it” I suppose I mean “me.”

Life has taught me, however, that all things include blessings and curses, negatives and positives. Various business and management gurus will talk about the necessity to “work on your strengths” and “delegate your weaknesses.” Others may actually share the opposite. Whatever the balance is, I pray that my fluctuations between the blessings and curses of my character are sustainable and only benefit this world and the Kingdom of God.

That will be my prayer, and this will be my commitment.