They are many introverts in this world. In fact, I have discovered in a book that currently, there are more introverts than extroverts.
As pleasing as this news might seem, I am disappointed to learn that there are still many stereotypes being associated with introverts. It almost seems that this world does not acknowledge their existence. Look at the media. Most events are for extroverts: parties, celebrations, concerts. Noise and interactions are the primary elements that constitute the media. The media seldom acknowledge the fact that there are actually individuals who relish times of aloneness (not loneliness, which is drastically different), calmness and tranquillity. The philosophy of the media seems to be “Fill up all the spaces in this universe with noise, parties and activities as soon as possible.” This makes the media a playground for the extroverts. But to the introverts, it is extremely stifling, to the point of being suffocating. Introverts cannot breathe, because there is no space for them to. Everywhere the introverts turn to, there is always something to attract their attention Just walk into any shopping mall. Publicity posters, retail mannequins, music, strong lighting, voices in the airwaves. There is no serenity, no tranquillity. In the corporate workplaces, employees are expected to socialise with their colleagues and their supervisors. If employees spend most of their time with themselves, they will be treated as loners or regarded as arrogant. These employees are considered as not being part of the team. And what’s worse is that these negative and more importantly, wrongly-held perceptions held by others are usually recorded down in their annual appraisals. Look around us. Is there a place for introverts? Yes, there’s the beach. Yes, there’s the library. Yes, there are our homes. But the world is larger than all of these places combined, much larger. Assuming that half of this world’s population are introverts, where can they go?
In another words, the introverts are stuck in an extroverted world.
“Just accommodate and adapt.” This is the advice that is often offered by others when introverts try to explain this dilemma. Yes, life is about the adaptation of our current life circumstances. When we want to take a cab but a bus comes first, so we take the bus. We want to go to the library but it rains. So, we stay at home and watch a movie on TV. We want to travel to Australia for a holiday but the flight is cancelled. Hence, we went to New Zealand instead. All this, we are able to adapt because it’s circumstantial. And more noteworthy is the fact that these circumstances are external. We can adapt to this. This applies to anybody. However, it is not reasonable for others to request that introverts adapt to the world. Because to do this is to ask introverts to change themselves internally. And nobody is able to change internally, at least for a long period of time. We are who we are, how do we change this? We can improve ourselves by not being angry as often, helping more people in our lives and being more polite to people. But how do we change ourselves from an introvert to an extrovert? It is not possible. We may develop a persona that is more extroverted in nature but that is not us. Deep down inside, our dominant introverted personality remains the same.
It’s because of this stigmatisation that many introverts hesitate when engaging in conversations with others, fearing that they will be stereotyped due to their introverted nature (something which I feel that introverts should be proud of instead, because of the strengths that they have and which I will elaborate later). Some of these stereotypes include:
- Spending time alone (when introverts merely wants to spend time alone)
- Not sociable (when introverts merely wants to recharge themselves)
- Secretive and mysterious (when introverts merely wants to keep certain matters private)
- Not responsive (when introverts merely wants to take some time to think things through before responding)
- Lacks emotional depth (when introverts merely expresses the emotions internally rather externally)
Now, let’s explore the five stereotypes and allow me to demystify them one by one:
Introverts spend time alone: It is not right to label introverts as loners merely because they spend time by themselves. I am quite sure that introverts do not spend all their time by themselves. They do spend time with their family members and friends. It’s simply the fact that relatively speaking, introverts spend more time alone than extroverts. The difference is merely relative, and becomes obvious only upon comparison. Every one of us has our own lifestyle and I believe that all of us should respect that. A tendency to spend time alone is often misconstrued as an intent to avoid others. This is a misconception. Some people spend time alone to contemplate during their more introspective moments. Some people spend time alone to recharge. Some people spend time alone merely to enjoy the scenery. There is nothing wrong with that. Even couples spend time alone sometimes. It is good to understand the differences between “aloneness” and “loneliness”. People usually associate introverts with loneliness, where most of the time it’s aloneness that’s more the norm. Loneliness is negative. It means we do not feel whole and thus, we often attach ourselves to things and people. Aloneness -on the other hand- means that we are complete and whole. We feel fulfilled on our own and do not need anybody for comfort or assurance. We do socialise with others for companionship but we are not needy or clingy. For people who spend time alone, they are usually associated with aloneness. It’s important that this difference between “aloneness” and “loneliness” be clarified.
Introverts are not sociable: Now, people – especially extroverts- need to understand a primary difference between introverts and extroverts. Introverts recharge their energies by being by themselves while extroverts recharge their energy through social interaction. In this extrovert-oriented world, it is no surprise to see introverts being ostracised or stigmatised for not socialising or spending most of their times with friends. Just merely by themselves can sometimes be seen as an anomaly or something odd. People sometimes hesitate to approach someone who often dines alone because they might feel that this person might be someone who likes to spend time alone. I believe that this person likes to spend time alone but I also believe that this person believes in friendships as well. What is important to note here is that each of us have our own personal and social space and introverts just need more of these spaces. That’s just it. Introverts can be very sociable once they are engaged with someone in a conversation – especially a conversation of a topic which they have interest in.
Introverts are secretive and mysterious: People seem to sense an aura of mysteriousness around introverts and see their character as somewhat shady. In actuality, there is no aura around an introvert and its existence is merely one’s imagination. Most introverts are often deemed to have an aversion to taking the initiative to start a conversation. But this is through no fault of theirs. It’s their personality. Introverts are passive individuals. They often respond rather than initiate. But this is acceptable, isn’t it? In any conversations, when one conversing party speaks up, the other merely takes in the message. How could we possibly have two parties conversing at the same time? It defeats the primary purpose of communication. Hence, introverts make very good listeners. It’s been said that the best communicators are listeners rather than speakers. And introverts fall into this category. Hence, their very nature is a reason for joy, not criticism. Do not mistake their silence for arrogance. The introverts are actually listening (and thinking most of the time). When it’s time to respond, they will: with a more comprehensive answer than what most of us would have imagined. “Think first, then speak” is their motto. Introverts are not secretive or mysterious, merely thought leaders and critical thinkers.
Introverts are not responsive: Introverts are often perceived to be unresponsive. It really depends on what is meant by the term “unresponsive”. Often, we will interpret this term as indifferent or arrogant. But no, introverts are not like that. We are not them, so how can we read their minds? But if we were to ask them for the reason, I am sure most of them will tell you that “I am thinking”, which is -more often than not- true. Unlike extroverts who speak their minds, introverts consider their responses in their minds before speaking. More than that, they will refine the message, considers and removes all traces of offensive remarks, think of any additional remarks to add in their responses, maybe think of a joke to go along with it, consider how people will react to the joke, run through the entire response again in their minds just to make sure and only then they speak. This is why introverts take such a substantial amount of time to respond. Extroverts appear normal because they express their inner thoughts externally (read: vocally). Introverts go through the exact same process but it takes place silently in their minds, and silence during conversations is uncomfortable to most people. This is an important observation for us to take note, especially for those of us who have misunderstood the introverts. In their periods of silence, they are refining their responses for us, and we should appreciate that.
Introverts lack emotional depth: People have commented that introverts lacks emotional depth, as in they are not as expressive as others. When friends greet them, they do not express the type of vibrant energy exhibited by extroverts and often merely reciprocates with a smile. What most of us do not understand is that the joy that introverts experience does not pale in comparison to extroverts. And introverts are equally happy when seeing their friends. It’s just that they smile internally rather than externally. Hence it is not visibly seen. Introverts can be very sentimental at times, else how did so many introverted scientists and writers exist? Albert Einstein and Hans Christian Anderson are two remarkable examples. I will thus like to take this opportunity to add that introverts not only have emotional depth, they have intellectual depths as well.
After having seen the strengths of being an introvert, it’s my hope that the introverts of this world do not lose hope. They should develop the courage to be themselves. Introverts are unique and special. It’s merely the fact that they have a rich inner world that others do not possess and hence do not understand.
So, if you are an introvert, and you are engaged in a conversation with someone, shake their hands and inform them upfront that you are an introvert.
Be proud of who you are.