-by David Mein
If you call yourself an introvert, what do you mean? Do you mean that you prefer to stay home and watch a movie over going to a party? Do you mean that you find small talk tedious? Do you mean that you and all other introverts belong to one camp and all extroverts to another? Do you mean that extroverts are the enemy?
That might be taking it a bit far, but that’s certainly how it can sound when “introverts” get into a group (particularly on internet message boards or *ahem* blogs) and start complaining about extroverts. This is why I think it’s important to remind ourselves that there is no such thing as an introvert or an extrovert. Of course, there is such a thing as introversion and extroversion, but these exist on a continuum, and no one is entirely one or the other. To quote Carl Jung, the psychologist who coined the terms introversion and extraversion*, “there is no such things as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”
That’s not to say that such terms are useless. “Introvert” and “extrovert” are perfectly fine words to describe another person or yourself. Of course, it would be more correct to say that someone is “more introverted” or “more extroverted,” but there’s no problem as long as everyone is on the same page.
“Introvert” as an identity, is also a useful way of understanding yourself. If you prefer quiet nights at home to parties, it’s great to be able to find other people like yourself. It’s particularly useful to have an alternative to extroversion. If you prefer quiet nights in to loud nights out, it’s a good thing to know that you’re just introverted, not that there’s something wrong with you.
This becomes a problem, however, when people start using introversion not to understand themselves, but to define themselves and, in particular, when they use it to divide themselves from extroverts. There’s no harm in complaining every now and then about little everyday annoyances, including annoying people, but it should be clear why a statement like “I can’t stand extroverts” is completely ridiculous. Since no one is either one or the other, the complainer, of course, has their own extroverted tendencies. The complainer is also assuming that the person being complained about acts the same way all the time. In fact, we can imagine a scenario in which there is some other “introvert” out there who happened to meet the original complainer at a moment when they were being more extroverted, complaining about the “extrovert” they ran in to.
At the same time, defining yourself as an introvert becomes a problem when you use it as a reason to limit yourself. As I explained in an earlier post, introversion should never be used as an excuse for why you can’t do something.
Understanding introversion is a great way to understand ourselves, enabling us to grow as who we are, rather than trying to be someone we’re not. There’s no need for introversion to become another dividing line among people. We already have enough as it is.
*Throughout this blog, and even in this post, I intentionally use the spelling “extrovert,” something that Susan Cain does, too, and even makes a special note about in her book Quiet. I am using the difference in spelling to differentiate between the actual scientific term “extraversion” and “extroversion” as it’s popularly understood and used.