When I was in entering my junior year in college and the placement office had me complete a set of evaluations to help determine my best career options. The guidance counselor advised me, with evident concern, that I had tested as being fairly “introverted”. He indicated that this might mean that I would need to consider jobs that did not require significant contact or work with other others- like a librarian or an accountant.
I remember feeling rather self conscious at the designation “introvert”. It carried a certain stigma that somehow I was missing something essential for being successful in the world. This feeling was only reinforced by being the child of a very talkative and anxious mother who equated being outgoing with strength and success. She repeatedly reminded me that “men are direct and bold…a woman will never like a man who is quiet and mild…she will think he is weak…”. The implication was clear- speak up or you will never belong.
Later in my education I was introduced to “type theory”. This was a model of personality theory first proposed by the great Swiss analyst Carl Jung. Jung proposed that the human personality could be described as a three types- each defined by ranges of functioning, preferences and skills: Introverted vs Extroverted, Intuitive vs Sensing, Feeling vs Thinking [later researchers, Myers and Briggs, added the fourth element: Perceiving vs Judging].
In Type Theory the introverted versus extroverted type proposes that an individual is naturally inclined to lean more toward the ‘introverted’- preferring quiet, thoughtful, and more intimate interactions with the environment or the ‘extroverted’- preferring the more active, direct, and interactive engagement with their environment. Individuals can fall anywhere on a continuum between the two extremes. Jung proposed that individuals naturally moved toward the center as they matured- the introverted become sociable and the extroverted become reflective.
Jung and Type theory have identified that quiet, shy people are not impaired in some way- rather they are following their natural inclinations as introverts. Introversion can thus be understood as a personality style that lends itself to a appreciation of and an ability to utilize solitude, reflection, and introspection in many powerful and productive ways. The ability to tolerate and thrive in quiet, time alone, and reflection has not been readily appreciated in our society yet it is an essential ingredient in key areas of industry, education, and finances. Research, accounting, documentation/writing, art, and even many facets of the communication industry rely upon introverted individuals working diligently in their private spaces to problem solve, create, and communicate key discoveries and insights.
Jung noted that Western culture repeatedly demonstrated a prejudice for and glorification of extroverted individuals and functioning. Introverts must identify your own strengths and the significance of your contributions of society. Validation will not always come readily. Recognizing your ‘type’ can be an important first step in understanding yourself and your unique responses to the world. Your personality is not a “diagnosis”- it is a means to understand yourself and your unique ways of perceiving the world. It is your guide to finding the people and places which can embrace and nurture you.
A recent All Things Considered radio broadcast featured Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Will Not Stop Talking. Check out her interview here for an appreciation of how introverts have been pivotal characters throughout history.