Introverts, I’ve Got Your Back

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Olga Khazan, a writer for The Atlantic who published an opinion piece in the New York Times last month that pissed me off, states “the person who emerges from quarantine doesn’t have to be the same old you.”

For those tired of being their same old selves, this might be good news: You can change and it shouldn’t take too long.

Khazan goes on: “Researchers have found that adults can change the five traits that make up personality — extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness and conscientiousness — within just a few months.”

Who wouldn’t want to be more open to experience, emotionally stable, agreeable, or conscientious? I can’t argue those aren’t all positive traits that in greater amounts might spruce up my personality a bit.

But since when is extroversion considered a positive trait? This assumption implies its opposite—introversion—is a negative trait, just the way the opposite of emotional stability is emotional instability and the opposite of agreeableness is disagreeableness. No one wants more of those opposites.

Extroversion can certainly be considered a positive trait. Extroverts are outgoing, energized by others, actively seeking social encounters. They’re good at assembling teams and rallying the troops. All good stuff. But extroverts are also the ones who monopolize a meeting because they won’t stop talking. They’re the life-of-the-party guest who has to be the center of attention. They’re the person who is downright dumbfounded by anyone who doesn’t want to do . . . every fun thing! With everyone they can possibly corral to do it! And then talk endlessly about it!

Khazan goes on to give examples of techniques to help you become more extroverted: sign up to speak in front of people, talk to strangers, and behave as if you were a popular person (as if being popular were also coveted).

It’s true that more people with social anxiety are introverted types and these people may want to affect personality changes to help them navigate social situations with more ease, which is why becoming more extroverted is often a stated goal for those suffering social anxiety. But don’t for a minute assume all introverted people have social anxiety. Or that all introverted people want to become more extroverted.

Few people are completely introverted or completely extroverted, and instead fall somewhere in between, what’s called an ambivert. But researchers estimate that extroverts outnumber introverts 3:1. The minority—the introverts—by their nature become what minorities often become: targets of misconceptions and generalizations.

Introverts often get labeled as aloof, awkward, shy, withdrawn, lonely. That hurts. The biggest misconception is that introverts don’t like people. This misconception damages the image of introverts—who wants to hang around with some introvert who doesn’t like you?

But introverts like people just fine. They happen to like them in smaller doses, they happen to have fewer people in their inner circles, they happen to be quieter and often think before they speak, they happen to get overstimulated and drained of energy when they’re around people for too long.

Bottom line: Their social sweet spots are different than for extroverts.

To recharge, introverts need a big dose of solitude, something extroverts rarely crave and may even fear. I say give introverts the space they need. I say introverts unite and fight for your rights! I’ve got your back.

Full disclosure (as if you haven’t guessed; I’ve written about this often enough): I’m a certified introvert. I also happen to love presenting in front of a packed room, I like talking to strangers one-on-one, I even enjoy social gatherings. But afterward, you won’t be able to find me. I’ll be off somewhere alone—and grateful for it.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

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