Growing up, my mom had always described me as “a woman of few words,” a quality I used to resent on account of being consistently outnumbered by people who would never stop talking. My quiet nature juxtaposed with the talkative individuals around me made my young self feel like there was something wrong with me; I felt like a fish out of water, a square peg in a round hole. Recently, however, I have come to realize that introversion is not pathological. It is not a disorder. It is not something wrong that needs to be fixed. So, while the college environment and society as a whole tends to reward extroverted behavior, this atmosphere in turn generates negativity around introversion. As a result, introverts are often underestimated and undervalued when they should be celebrated for their unique and valuable strengths.
Unfortunately, “introversion” has become synonymous with “shy,” “withdrawn,” and even “unsociable.” This negativity stems from the fact that society places a premium on extroverted behaviors. In the college setting, there is immense pressure to have a wide circle of friends, socialize constantly, and talk extensively in class discussions. Introverts, however, would prefer to spend time with a small group of close friends, have ample time to themselves to “recharge,” and participate with fewer but more meaningful comments.
While some introverts may be shy or have social issues, introversion in itself is not an inability to socialize or having anxiety about social situations. Introversion is a personality just as extroversion is, and is equally valid. In his book The Introvert Advantage, Dr. Marti Olsen Laney analyzes what biologically differentiates introverts from extroverts. His studies have concluded there is a biological difference in how each type’s brains are wired; on a general level, the difference between the two personalities stems from where individuals draw their energy. Imagine people as car fuel tanks. Extroverts, in order to fill their “tank,” need an outside source of energy; they are energized by the external. On the other hand, introverts fill their “tank” from an internal source of energy; they are energized from within.
It is important to understand the strengths introverts bring to the table. Because introverts spend a lot less time talking, they spend a lot more time thinking, processing, and analyzing. Introverts typically only feel the need to talk when they think what they have to say has not already been said. Introverts often bring a new perspective to discussions because their brains take the time to process information and see this information in a different way.
Although introverts may be misunderstood to be withdrawn or disinterested, they are likely always listening, and listening well. Their brain spends a lot of time in a reflective state, allowing their listening skills to be perfected. Because of the introvert’s capacity and willingness to listen, introverted types make great friends.
Furthermore, the introvert’s propensity for reflection and alone time makes them particularly mindful and creative. Thanks to ever-evolving technology, today’s society is becoming increasingly fast-paced. In living life at this speed, people overlook mindfulness, and in turn fail to be self-aware. Also, introverts have a tendency to have a more creative mind because they spend so much time inside their heads.
In identifying these strengths, I do not mean to generalize or label people. I do not mean to assert that extroverts are excluded from maintaining many of the above strengths. It is important to remember that the distinction between introversion and extroversion is not necessarily binary; people may be on either end of the spectrum or anywhere in-between. Where people lie on the introvert-extrovert continuum may even be contextual. For example, introverts may find a great deal of energy from socialization with close friends, while extroverts may also need alone time. It is important to remember the complexities and contingencies related to personality differences.
Extroverts and introverts do not necessarily clash with each other. Rather, the practices of each personality type complement each other, and both makeup equally vital components of society. Overall, however, introverts are undervalued, underestimated, and misunderstood in our extrovert-centric world. In life, though there are many circumstances under which introverts have to wear an extrovert’s mask, it is important that introversion is not abandoned, for the strengths of introverts are invaluable. While society may be blinded by the extrovert ideal, what the world also needs is more introverts, and more of those who appreciate them.