Our culture treats extroversion as the king of personality types. We’re told from a young age that to be successful, we have to be bold, daring, forward, and outspoken. The presumed value society places on being outgoing and sociable has been called the “extrovert ideal.” But what happens when that “ideal” conflicts with the core of who you are?
If you thrive with large amounts of alone-time and seek quiet space to think and recharge your batteries, your neural pathways may be wired toward introversion — which is great! That’s part of the identity you were created with. That identity can be a source of strength and power if you know how to tap into it.
So here are some concrete ideas on how to celebrate introversion. Whether you’re someone who needs time to yourself to be grounded, or know someone like this, these insights can help maximize the gifts introverts have to offer.
How to stretch comfort zones
To get things done, sometimes it’s necessary to step into the spotlight. Introverts can — and even should — act out of character if doing so furthers our “core personal projects.” As Susan Cain writes in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, “Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”
For example, an introvert might decide to plan a baby shower for their best friend or give a TED talk on their latest research. These endeavors are important to them, and even though the actions might be associated with extrovert activities, it’s worthwhile to stretch into those roles.
Just be careful not to overextend yourself in roles that could continually drain you — that’s a recipe for burnout. When you do find those opportunities worth stretching for, think about also taking time to restore yourself. Going against your personality type will wear you out, so make a plan to recharge.
How to talk to people of the opposite type
How do we get along with people who have a polar opposite personality type? I’ll admit that some of my best friends are highly extroverted people, and while it can be tiring to be around them in large doses, they are a source of great joy and I couldn’t imagine living life without them. You’ve probably seen some unlikely matches in romance as well — introverts and extroverts are often drawn to each other. Each member of the pair can provide something that helps balance the other out.
When conflicts arise between two people of different personality types, however, each should lean on their strengths carefully. Extroverts would do well to take a deep breath and calm themselves down before they say something they regret. They can then speak from a more rational place, and even give room for introverts to gather their thoughts.
Introverts can avoid slipping into a hole of guilt and defensiveness; it is only human to not have it all figured out. Introverts also can remember the need to speak their truth — no one else can! — and step out of their comfort zone to voice an opinion or their side of the argument.
Recognize your strengths and tap into that power to be the most authentic person you can be, and then make room for others to exercise their gifts.
How to find safe space
For anyone in your life who is introverted — yourself or your partner or children, friends, or coworkers — it is important to recognize the “extrovert ideal” and the way it influences boundaries and expectations in our schools and workplaces today. This is a first step in realizing that some of these standards are not directed at the success of everyone — just a certain type of person.
When you encounter introverts, give them space and patience to relate to people in their own way. Don’t take offense if someone would rather stay home than go out to dinner with your group of friends, or wants to leave a party early. Or maybe you have children, and you notice that they like to spend a lot of time alone. While interaction with other children can be healthy and beneficial for their development, make sure they are balanced with time and space for themselves.
Introverts can grow by asking for the time they need to gather their thoughts — that signals to others that you’re engaged and interested, but just need some space to process. If you are extroverted and create space for introverts, you won’t be disappointed — just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in their head. Usually, it’s just the opposite.
Everyone deserves a safe space in which their gifts can thrive.