The concept of introversion has been increasingly addressed in the media in recent years, which is both a very good and bad thing. While books like Quiet, by Susan Cain, have it made it easier for popular culture to get a glimpse into what a true introvert looks like, not every published article or paper is as accurate in their representations. The result is that the internet, and society in general, seems to have retained a distorted image of introversion, and romanticized many of our traits to the point of disregarding faults. I see ignorant and disrespectful Facebook posts in public groups all the time saying things like, “if you can’t find friends in a school the size of U of T, it’s because you choose not to.” So I am here now to debunk the most prevalent myths about introverts in our culture today.
- Introverts are shy. In my psychology class today on personality, the accompanying picture on the “introvert” slide was “Little Miss Shy.” Some introverts are shy, but most of the ones I know are actually very assertive and well-spoken. I personally have no trouble voicing my opinions and contributing to conversations, even with strangers, when I have something to say. This myth stems from the fact that introverts tend to avoid small talk, opting instead for deeper, personal conversations, which are not as readily available in public settings. Small talk is not my forte. If it were socially acceptable to approach someone and say, “hello, please tell me about your problems,” I would have no trouble making friends.
- Introverts are egocentric, snooty, and selfish. I have been called “selfish” too many times to count. While I can see how an introvert’s reserved nature could be mistaken as such, we typically just dislike conflict and therefore avoid getting involved in matters that do not interest or concern us. I, like all people, am incredibly passionate about many things, but can be absentminded towards some others. This does not mean that I care any less; I just focus less on the things I don’t need to. In fact, introverts have been shown to be higher in sensitivity, a trait that can be predicted as early as two months of age, meaning we feel things more deeply than extroverts, which explains why we are more easily over-stimulated.
- Introverts are cold and unpleasant, especially to strangers. This is where my inability to make small talk becomes a problem. I actually love meeting new people and making new friends, but it’s not always easy to under the circumstances we’re provided with. I can definitely see why most people would feel more comfortable approaching the extrovert if given a choice; they naturally come off as more enthusiastic, friendly, and welcoming. But I can promise at least from my experience that the introverts want to meet people just as much!
- Introverts are anti-social and don’t like people. We prefer being alone. Humans are social animals. No one wants to be alone. This has been a particularly prominent misconception, and the main cause behind the overwhelming loneliness that shadows first-year university students, especially in large campuses. Yes, we need more downtime than extroverts because that is how we recharge, and yes, I would typically prefer staying home than going to a club, but that does not equate not wanting company. The main difference between introverts and extroverts is in the nature of the company, not in whether or not we want it. While extroverts typically prefer large groups and stimulating environments, introverts enjoy more intimate activities that allow for thought and connection, and also typically prefer smaller groups for the sake of intimacy. A lot of the time, people don’t invite me to go out because they feel as though I “wouldn’t have wanted to come,” but I can definitely enjoy a good party with my friends too. There is definitely such thing as too much quiet for us; like everyone else, if left completely alone, bad things happen. Like mental illnesses. It can be much harder for introverts to approach people and form deep connections right away, but just because we don’t always succeed at reaching out does not mean that we don’t want to.
- Introverts are mysterious and brooding. Someone once told me that if a detective sat down in front of me, he would laugh. My emotions have always been worn on my sleeve, and would be divulged to pretty much anyone who asked. We appear brooding because we are introspective; we spend a lot of times in our minds. Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer to ponder outside material. That is not to say that either is more intelligent or perceptive, just in different ways. For example, I tend to be more self-reflexive and aware than the average person, but I am absolutely awful with directions and spatial sense because I never notice my surroundings. I really don’t appear so drawn-in on purpose, and I certainly don’t mean to come off as distant, despite what many have thought.
In addition to all this, everyone is different. As Susan Cain noted in her book, we all make changes to do the things we love, such as an introverted professor choosing to give lectures to thousands every day. We step outside of our comfort zones and feel happy doing so when it matters to us. Therefore, despite all this talk of categorization and misconceptions, there will always be ambiverts and there will always be people and traits that crossover and defy boundaries; human personality will never fit in to boxes. It’s important to recognize both the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves and others, and to respect them.