What is an introvert?
The concept of introversion (and extroversion) was first proposed by Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung. To a large extent, the difference between introversion and extroversion centers on the concept of energy.
The common modern perception is that introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken in groups. They often take pleasure in solitary activities.
The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, engineer, composer and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though he or she may enjoy interactions with close friends. Trust is usually an issue of significance: a virtue of utmost importance to an introvert choosing a worthy companion. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and like to observe situations before they participate, especially observed in developing children and adolescents. They are more analytical before speaking. Introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement, introversion having even been defined by some in terms of a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment.
Introversion is not seen as being identical to shy or to being a social outcast. Introverts prefer solitary activities over social ones, whereas shy people (who may be extroverts at heart) avoid social encounters out of fear, and the social outcast has little choice in the matter of his or her solitude.
Note that last paragraph, because it can’t be stressed enough: introversion and shyness are two different things. You may be both, but not all introverts are shy. Our extrovert-centric culture often forces the description on many introverts simply because they prefer to be alone instead of engaged in constant interaction.
Whatever you do, don’t look at a standard dictionary and expect to find an accurate description of an introvert. Dictionary.com, for example, contains definitions of the word from several sources; all of them are negative and, frankly, just wrong.
What is Myers Briggs?
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a questionnaire designed to measure psychological differences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. It is based on the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung.
The indicator was initially designed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers during World War II, to help women entering the workforce for the first time to find the jobs in which they would be both effective and comfortable.
It is said to be the most widely used personality assessor and over 2 million people per year take the assessment.
The MBTI measures the following four preferences, resulting in 16 different types:
Introverted or Extroverted
Sensing or Intuiting
Thinking or Feeling
Judging or Perceiving
Two important things to remember about the MBTI:
Results are measured on a scale; everyone has their own individual place on that scale. Your place on the scale may be relatively fixed, it may move as you get older or it may move depending on the activity in which you are engaged.
The MBTI measures preferences, not fixed personality traits. And like your place on the scale, your preferences may change with age and/or the situation or activity you’re involved in. Don’t forget — a preference is not a flaw.
Where can I take the MBTI?/How can I tell if I’m an introvert?
The MBTI is a licensed product. You may take an online version of the instrument, though there is a cost.
You can also take the free Cognitive Style Pathways test, developed by PersonalityPathways.com. It’s an informal version of the MBTI that should give you a very good result.
Another free instrument is the 72-question Jung Typology Test, also based on the MBTI. You can take it here.
Here’s a 48-question free test from SimilarMinds.com.
Okay, I’m an introvert. Now what?
Congratulations! The first thing to know is that you aren’t a minority. A common myth is that introverts only make up about 25% of the population. In all likelihood, it’s probably a lot closer to half.
You like quieter activities. You are a very loyal friend. You are fabulous at concentration and analyzing data. You can often see the flaws in a proposed course of action before anyone else.
You probably don’t like big parties. You may be a bit jumpy around loud noises. Your energy levels tend to be a bit delicate; you’ll have to learn what energizes you and what drains you. You especially need to learn to advocate for yourself when you need to re-energize.
Is something wrong with me?
No, there is NOTHING wrong with you. You have a preference for being alone; there’s nothing wrong with that. You have a rich inner life; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You have close, deep friendship with a few people, not 200 friends on Facebook. It’s perfectly normal.
You have to remember that extroverts, by their nature, get more attention than introverts do. We (introverts) tend to judge ourselves by extrovert standards, because that’s what gets all the attention. Don’t compare yourself unfavorably to extroverts and feel you come up short. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.
Does this mean I’m boring?
On the contrary! The rich, inner life of introverts means our brains are in almost constant activity. My guess is that introverts themselves are never bored. There is too much to think about, to learn, to discuss, to ponder.
Remember, our activities are quiet and often involve no other people, or just a small group of close friends. To others (*cough* extroverts *cough*), we don’t seem to be doing anything at all. They just don’t understand how much value and utter joy we get simply from ideas; they just see us sitting in a corner by ourselves, not appearing to do anything.
Are all introverts the same?
No. Remember that introversion is typically measured on a scale with extroversion:
Introversion < ——————————————————————- > Extroversion
Introverts are as varied as each point on that scale. And introversion is only one of your personality traits.
Plus, your place on that scale changes. It may move based on your age (I think I’ve become less introverted as I got older), major life changes (new job, moving to a new city, getting married, etc.) or simply based on activity (I generally hate all parties, but don’t have a problem speaking in front of large groups).
You are a unique and valuable individual. Don’t ever forget that.
Does this mean I’ll never get along with extroverts?
Hardly. My sister is an extrovert and I love her dearly. Even if she weren’t my sister, I would love her for her extraordinary courage and compassion. I have another close friend who is an extrovert. We are polar opposites on the MBTI (I’m an ISTJ and she’s an ENFP) but we get along very well.
I love extroverts precisely for the talents they have that I don’t. I love how they can jump into something without hesitation, while I’m thinking it over. I love their passionate enthusiasm, which I sometimes have, but rarely feel comfortable showing. I love their innate ability to start a conversation with almost anyone – and for making me feel like part of the group.
It’s not envy for what I don’t have. It’s a healthy respect for differences that make the world a better place.
I hate parties. How can I get out of them?
Carefully. You should resign yourself to the fact that you’ll probably have to go to a party now and then. There will be friends and family that you just cannot let down. And parties usually aren’t that bad once you get there; it’s psyching yourself to go that takes a lot of energy.
But don’t feel compelled to accept every invitation you get. If you’re feeling brave, tell the truth why you’re not going (I’m just not the party type). If you’re not feeling so brave, a little white lie might be acceptable (I have other plans; I’m not feeling well). Do be careful — don’t hurt the friends who ask you. They may not ask again.
Where can I learn more about my introversion?
The first book I read that really helped me understand my introversion is The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney (affil link). It’s a fabulous book and I highly recommend it.
For more books about introversion, see the Introverts = Awesome page sidebar. There are also some great posts on that page from many different writers and bloggers about the upside of being an introvert.