Introverts versus Extroverts – A Personal Take

imagesAre you an introvert or extrovert? I sure know which I am. (Why do you think I’m sitting here by myself writing a blog?)

One of my book groups has read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The basic theme is that introverts aren’t defective, just different, indeed in some ways superior, and the world can benefit from that. There are more introverts than you think; many hide it.

I believe we read books like this to better understand people, but especially to find ourselves in their pages, and ponder the comparisons and contrasts with others. Certainly true for me. I had many flashes of recognition reading Cain’s book.

A repeated motif is how introverted children and youths suffer, trying to fit in. This I did not experience at all. Why? I think I was such an extreme introvert, so socially isolated, that other kids, and their attitude toward me, just didn’t matter to me; hardly even registered with me. Maybe that was good because I grew up uninjured. Albeit socially clueless.

UnknownOne take-away from the book is that it’s complicated. There are so many convoluted and seemingly contradictory points about intro/extroversion that one’s head spins. It’s no clear-cut, either/or thing. It’s a spectrum, and moreover, what Cain calls intro- and extroversion each entails such a host of disparate characteristics that any given person can mix-and-match.

Surely true of me, despite my childhood. I’m not a down-the-line introvert (or libertarian or conservative). But I do tick a lot of the boxes. One in the book that really rang my bell: “I often prefer to express myself in writing.” images-1Bingo! E.g., this blog again. But it also brought to mind how often in my romantic history I’d felt compelled to take pen to paper, composing some immensely long screed trying to set things right with a woman. (It never worked, except for the last time.)

One introvert profiled in the book, who experienced childhood agony, but wound up successful and happy, says he frequently imagines going back to tell his nine-year-old self how well it will all turn out. Another flash of recognition for me: I do this too. But for my self in my twenties. If I didn’t suffer as a kid, I did then – over women. images-2So I like to go back and tell that earlier self about the fantastic wife he’ll wind up with. I even show him a photo. (But, unlike the guy in the book, I don’t think the message actually got through.)

Another profile, of an introvert-and-extrovert married couple, also gave me an aha! moment, and fresh insight concerning my relationship with Pam, who lived with me unhappily and finally left after twelve years. She was initially attracted to me because I did something much out of character (as a “bad boy;” I’ve written about this), but I didn’t live up to the promise of that episode, and she came to peg me, understandably, at the wrong end of the cold/hot spectrum. Interestingly, that needle moved in my favor (temporarily) when, toward the end, I again did something uncharacteristically hot blooded – a play for another woman. But meantime, our frequent quarrels much resembled those of the couple in the book. Pam was a volatile let-loose type, whereas I, always futilely seeking to dampen conflict, would try to be as restrained as possible in responding. This actually drove her nuts – just like the husband in the book.

So – how did the ultra-introvert child become a seemingly more or less almost normal adult? The book talks a lot about the coping strategies of introverts for achieving their goals, mostly faking extroversion at times. But in my own case, my saving grace was ultra-rationalism. Whereas the book portrays introverts as often struggling with fears, phobias, and anxieties, I never did. Unknown-1A salient example is the extremely common fear of appearing in public. I’ve done it fairly often; I know I’m okay at it; so I’ve never had any stage fright. I think I’m really good at sizing up risks rationally and seeing them in proper perspective.

(Not that I claim perfect, consistent rationality. E.g., with Pam; and (see below) my career choice.)

The book makes a strong case for free will – emotions may be hard to control, but we can and do control our behavior. Introverts especially, tending to be sensitive and reflective. When I finally got out of school (and, importantly, my parents’ home), like many introverts I changed my behavior to get what I wanted. It wasn’t a social life, exactly; what I wanted was girls. Unknown-2So I started doing social things, to meet them (this was pre-Tinder); and brazenly asking out any girl on any pretext. If she laughed in my face (it happened), would it be The End Of The World? That was again my ultra-rationalism at work, figuring the potential gains outweighed the costs. (Though it did take persistence, it paid off in the end, with a jackpot.)

Career is a particular problem for introverts, in a world where “hail fellow well met” is the ideal and flash often trumps substance. While one can, again, fake it, up to a point, the book emphasizes that there are actually a lot of ways for introverts to succeed. It profiles one classic introvert who became a super salesman – basically by perfecting the art of listening to customers. The thing is to seek a career path that actually fits one’s personality type. imagesI became a lawyer – a big mistake of my clueless youth – yet luckily stumbled into a job where most of my work was solitary. (No law firm would hire me; I must have been abysmal in interviews.) Later I stumbled into a different remunerative career (coin dealer) where I rarely even have to encounter other humans in the flesh. Perfect!

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16 Responses to “Introverts versus Extroverts – A Personal Take”

  1. DAN Says:

    I AM CERTAINLY AN INTROVERT!!!

  2. Roger Green Says:

    I consider myself an introvert. Most people don’t believe me.

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Roger, you? No, I don’t believe you.

  4. Bumba Says:

    Introvert-extrovert is not a psychiatric diagnosis. The official diagnoses do have some value, but mostly don’t capture things either.

  5. Rashad Says:

    Introversion vs Extroversion is only one dimension in which a /personlity type/ is described in the MBTI. Although there exists more empirically performing personality tests today, the MBTI has some empirical merit. You can find out about your type here: http://www.celebritytypes.com/test.php, which will score you as an INTJ (I recommend not reading anything about INTJ or MBTI before taking the test so you can make sure nothing will influence how you will take it). I haven’t read Cain’s book, but watched her speak about it many times. I found her confusing Introversion/Extroversion (I/E) with the other dimensions of personality described by the MBTI. Indeed, in the MBTI you get 8 different types of introverts. One dimension that gets mixed up a lot with I/E even by people who already know about MBTI is the N/S dimension. You can learn more about the MBTI here: http://www.celebritytypes.com/articles.php or by reading the original 1921 work by Carl Jung /psychological types/. Have fun exploring and please let me know if I guessed right.

  6. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks. In fact, my wife-to-be gave me the test shortly after we met. I believe I did score as “INTJ” (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment). Apparently, she considered that acceptable.

  7. Andrew Semeiks Says:

    I took this test http://www.celebritytypes.com/test.php. Thanks for the link.

    However, I found the questions too stark in that they did not allow for grey areas. On some questions I could agree with both choices, or neither, and often some mix of the two answers was most valid for me. My answers would also depend on my mood at the time. I also think that people see me differently than I see myself.

    Overall I found the test inconclusive and not particularly meaningful.

  8. rationaloptimist Says:

    Andy, you are in a category of your own.

  9. Rashad Says:

    Andrew, many people have the same issues with the test.

    However, I can assure you that the questions and answers on the test are not really important. That is because the test simplifies the theory.

    Originally, Carl Jung talked about 8 “cognitive functions”. Every two of those come with each other, so you get 4 function axis. Then every person has 2 of those axis, so you get 16 types. The types come from functions.

    However, the test does not even attempt at measuring functions. Instead, it measures 4 dimensions: Introversion vs Extroversion (I/E), Intuition vs Sensing(N/S), Thinking vs Feeling(T/F) and Judging vs Perceiving(J/P). You also get 16 types, but not from functions.

    So the test does not represent the theory.

    Yet, it does a good job at guessing your type in the original theory. The only problem is that, maybe because of the issues you mentioned, most people get results around the middle. So you get a bell curve instead of a two humps curve. That means that the test does not show that types really exist. The dimensions it measures do acceptably correlate with the most scientifically accepted personality test we have today, the Big5, which does not postulate types and can perfectly accept someone being halfway between introverted and extroverted — but till today no empirical evidence that types exist.

    So if you got a result around the middle, don’t worry, lots of people do, but it most likely is the correct result.

    Finally, if you learn about the types, you do not need the test anymore. I typed rationaloptimist just from reading one blog post by him yesterday for the first time. He showed everything I would expect from an INTJ.

    Note: We are talking the about the specific version of the test at celebritytypes.com, but all the problems also apply to any version of the MBTI test ever conceived, including the official MBTI test. Most tests online do not even have the good.

  10. Rashad Says:

    If you really want to get a taste of the underlying theory beyond the test, you should check out this article: http://www.celebritytypes.com/blog/2012/12/guide-to-jungian-function-axes/

    Or read the function descriptions by Jung.

  11. Kim Draiss Says:

    Well, I have to admit that in my complete neglect of my electronic in box, I have failed to keep abreast of your musings these last several months but am very glad to have stumbled across this one! The subject is near and dear to me, but I would argue that those of us who are introverts are not at all “faking” our moments of extroversion- of which we are very capable- but, rather, we are different in our need for substantial amounts of time to “recharge” after the fact. 😉

  12. rationaloptimist Says:

    Kim, the book notes that often introverts do enjoy social occasions, but only up to a point, and the point comes when they just want to go home. This is very true of me.

  13. Lee Says:

    To my ear, introversion sounds similar to rugged individualism and extroversion sounds similar to touchy feely kumbaya thinking. Does this spectrum correlate with the conservative to liberal spectrum?

  14. rationaloptimist Says:

    A good question, which the book did not address. My guess is that there’s no correlation. Liberals have built an entire industry psychoanalyzing conservatism and finding it the result of all sorts of mental disorders. All bunk.

  15. Rashad Says:

    @Lee:

    “Scientists like John R. Hibbing, Ph.D., Kevin B. Smith, Ph.D., and John R. Alford, Ph.D., argue that differences between the political left and right are not just a cultural phenomenon, but that they are rooted in genetics as well.

    Scientific research has shown that the same genes that predispose you to certain political options also predispose you to lead a certain lifestyle. Thus it should be possible to deduce your political orientation from your lifestyle.”

    http://www.celebritytypes.com/political-left-right/test.php

    They have other political attitudes tests on their homepage as well.

    Also, personality tests like the MBTI and the Big Five attempt to measure more than the dimension of introversion/extroversion. The “Openness to experience” dimension in the Big Five, according to wikipedia, “is believed to have a genetic component. Identical twins (who have the same DNA) show similar scores on openness to experience, even when they have been adopted into different families and raised in very different environments.” Furthermore, “there are social and political implications to this personality trait.”

    The details are here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Openness_to_experience#Social_and_political_attitudes

    Here you can take a version of the Big Five test and then compare your results to those of US presidents as assessed by professionals: http://www.celebritytypes.com/big-five/test.php

  16. Rashad Says:

    Oh, and I’ve just read this now: “Although the factors in the Big Five model are assumed to be independent, openness to experience and extraversion as assessed in the NEO-PI-R have a substantial positive correlation.” (same article). This is news to me!

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