I am privileged to meet with a number of introverted clients, and I find that one of the most common struggles is self acceptance.  So many introverts simply are not OK with their natural inclination towards turning inward and reflecting, and needing solitary time to recharge.  They somehow got the message, either from others or themselves, that their quiet, thoughtful and introspective personalities are somehow wrong. Many feel as though extroversion is more valued in our society, and if you look at the structure of our educational institutions and workforce, there is truth to this.

I’m happy to see that introversion has been discussed much more frequently in the media lately.  I would highly recommend Susan Cain’s TED talk, “The Power of Introverts.”  And though there are numerous blogs and articles out there detailing the truths and falsehoods about introverts, I feel compelled to write my own reactions and thoughts about this personality type.

Given my work and experience, the following are my opinions about introversion myths:

1) Introverts cannot thrive in so-called “extroverted” activities

This is definitely not true.  Some of the greatest musicians, politicians, artists and performers have been introverts (basically think of any of the great rock legends of the 70’s, ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin).  These figures all lead very public lives and their jobs required them to be extremely outward.  More often than not, I find that introverts thrive in performances, and can deliver public speeches very well.  Why?  Because when they perform or speak in these settings, they have a purpose.  They’re not required to make idle chit chat, but to channel their energy, passion and rich inner lives in a meaningful way that just happens to be more public.  Introverts can do quite well with larger crowds and working in teams, so long as there is a purpose and direction to it.

2) Introverts do better with solitary jobs

Though this can be true, I’ve lately been speaking with many introverts who have very social jobs.  They have jobs that require them to answer to people all day long, or jobs that require them to work in teams.  Though they often feel drained by the end of the day, many of them enjoy these jobs for several reasons.  To return to point #1, when they are in a setting where they have a purpose and direction (ie, working with a team towards a common goal or helping people), many introverts can do quite well.  They may also find that they appreciate having a job that gives them built in social time, so they can enjoy their solitary time even more, guilt free.  So long as introverts have enough time to recharge in a solitary setting, they can find a healthy balance between social time and much needed solitary time.

3) Introverts are quiet

Introverts can be blessed with the “gift of gab” just as much as an extrovert.  However, to get an introvert talking, it’s usually best if the introvert is in a one-on-one setting where he can feel more comfortable to speak freely.  Also, introverts can be perceived as quiet because they usually take more time to process what the other person is saying.  They may take more pauses or be silent for a few extra beats because they want to think before speaking.  Unlike extroverts, they do not derive energy from the outside, but rather from within.

4) Introverts do not like random chit chat by strangers

This myth has actually been debunked by research.  Studies indicate that about 80% of introverts don’t mind random chit chat with strangers, so long as it’s time limited (i.e., an introvert is much less likely to be open to chit chat by a stranger if he’s sitting next to one on a transcontinental flight for 6 hours, in a setting where an easy escape is impossible). If you’re an extrovert who likes to strike up conversations with strangers, just be mindful of the stranger’s non-verbal cues.  You may be talking with an introvert who is trying to signal to you that they are done with the conversation. Small talk is fine for an introvert in small doses, though it can be quite draining after a while.

5) Introverts are socially anxious

There is a sizable difference between introversion and social phobia. Individuals with social phobia dread and avoid social contact due to fear of embarrassing themselves and being judged.  This is not the same as being introverted.  Introverts can enjoy people just as much as anyone else, and can be completely engaging and confident in their social abilities, so long as they eventually get that balance of solitary time to recuperate.  If an introvert needs to take a break and step out during a party or large social gathering, it’s not because they’re filled with dread and embarrassment.  He may simply need to take a moment (or two) to think, reflect and recharge the batteries before re-engaging.

6) Introverts lack confidence

Though some introverts lack confidence, the same can be said for every other personality type, extroverts included.  Introverts may appear as though they lack confidence due to being more quiet in larger settings, and more willing to allow other people to assert themselves and take the main stage.  This doesn’t mean they don’t believe in themselves or their abilities, it simply means that their interaction style does not lend itself to being “in the spotlight,” which can be perceived as a lack of confidence. Generally speaking, introverts are thinkers before doers.

7) Introverts are rigid

Introverts like to think things through, and are not as amicable to brainstorming on their feet as extroverts.  Their thoughtful nature doesn’t easily lend itself to spontaneity.  This isn’t related to a rigid way of thinking or being, though.  In fact, more introverts than not tend to be more open, creative and abstract thinkers.

8) Introverts don’t like people

Introverts are usually very curious and interested in people, but for them, their relationships are about quality, not quantity. They need more solitary time and may keep a tighter social circle, though this has nothing to do with disliking people or being “antisocial.”  Introverts become very drained by small talk, so they thrive and highly value one-on-one interactions or small groups because they can go deeper in their conversations more quickly, where small talk is not as necessary.

9) Introverts can’t tolerate loud or stimulating environments

It is true that introverts prefer less stimulating environments to environments where there is a lot going on.  However, introverts can find loud concerts, festivals, etc. just as stimulating and energizing as extroverts, so long as it is time limited and they can look forward to rejuvenating on their own. It’s also helpful if they are with people they love and care about in these environments, so they can share the experience with someone and perhaps reflect about it later in a quieter environment.