Success as an Introvert
Joan Pastor, Ph.D., Published in The Los Angeles Psychologist, July-August 2014
Understanding the introvert and the extrovert is essential for distinguishing those personality traits which are damaging or conducive to the introvert’s success in life. That understanding is key to working with patients who exhibit high introversion to the detriment of their happiness and general well-being.
Introvert vs. Extrovert
People often assume introverts are quiet, do not like people much, are in their heads a lot, and shun group activities. Many assume extroverts are the exact opposite. In truth, the differences between introverts and extroverts have little to do with these misconceptions. Instead, it has much to do with what I call “the allocation of energy.” Individuals who are introverted tend to feel energized by their thoughts, their ideas, and internal analyses. Introverts feel more energetic and passionate about their work when the energy comes from within.
Extroverted individuals truly need and like people (Fishman, Ng, & Bellugi, 2010). Extroverts gain energy when they can interact with others; they literally take energy from their interactions. Regardless of orientation, the ultimate result of one’s social proclivity in life, introvert or extrovert, is that one feels more energized, bigger than oneself, better about oneself.
One should not blindly label an introvert as shy, socially phobic, anxiety-prone around other people, a strictly thinker- type, or overly analytical. Although some introverts do have these traits, each person is unique and must be worked with in a different way.
Is It Nature or Nurture?
Does Mother Nature decide whether you are introverted or extroverted before you are born? The answer is not clear. Genes definitely influence whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, but there is no single “introvert gene.”
One way scientists investigate this question is by studying twins. Identical twins share all their genes, while fraternal twins share only half. So far, twin studies show the effect of genes is pretty significant (Bouchard, Jr, & Hur, 1998). But it is equally clear that, as stated above, no single gene makes you an introvert. Instead, being introverted or extroverted (or both—being “ambiverted”) is the result of various combinations of genes. Research indicates introverts are extremely vulnerable to sensory overload. It has been postulated that this causes withdrawal from external stimuli, including people interaction, as a means of self-protection (Schaefer, Heinze , & Rotte, 2012; Wired Up, 2005).
Although a lot of evidence shows that introverts are wired differently from “party” animals (i.e., introverts have more activity in brain regions we use for problem-solving, making plans, and recalling events; Soglin, 1999), how individuals express their personality also may depend on where they live and how they were raised.
Coaching the Introverted Child
As a parent of an introverted child, one mistake to avoid is encouraging the child stay with their friend(s), while not addressing the anxiety he or she may feel in a large group. While we live in a social world and much of our livelihood and independence requires interacting with others, a parent could mistakenly push an introverted child into being “more social” or extroverted. This is not necessarily wrong, but it has to be done very, very carefully.
Highly introverted children need a great deal of coaching in terms of social skills, and the expectations should be set so that children feel comfortable and self-confident when they are with other people. When they do interact with others, they understand and believe that “I just happen to gain more energy from my inward thoughts, but I’m still able to interact with people in the world.”
Introverts as Leaders
Introverted people are capable of being public personas (e.g., Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, J.K. Rowling). They learn to use specific skills for being “on” when they are interacting with other people. Nevertheless, key differences between introverts and extroverts are easily detected in social situations. Introverts will tire more quickly in groups of all sizes. They need much more alone time to go inward, to restore their energy, and to replenish themselves. An extroverted person can interact for much longer in social situations and with much greater enjoyment because they gain energy from people.
Some of the best leaders in the work place are often introverted. Their strength is the ability to look at situations and to think about them deeply, plan or think things through before they respond impulsively, and cultivate the strengths of both extroverted and introverted employees.
Another advantage introverts have in today’s workplace is that business is Internet/technology-based, requiring the ability to work in front of the computer for long periods. Social media is often a source of great comfort for the introvert. In the past, business was done mostly on site, in meetings, e.g., sales people generally sold in face-to-face meetings. As a consequence of advancing technology, today’s introverts can become quite successful in their own businesses.
Helping the Introvert/Extrovert
Helping introverts or extroverts involves both leading them to understand the source of their energy and examining their strengths and assisting in creating a more balanced lifestyle. Introverts need to be more socially engaged, and extroverts need to learn to withdraw and reflect.
This approach helps introverts and extroverts take advantage of their strengths and develop themselves to operate optimally in the world, while simultaneously maximizing their personal happiness and satisfaction in life.
Joan Pastor, Ph.D., is licensed in both clinical and industrial-organizational (business) psychology. For more information, please contact her through The Healthy Brain and Body Centre of Beverly Hills or JPA International, Inc. She can be reached at Joan@JPA-International.com or US 1-760-945-9767. Her latest book is Success as An Introvert for Dummies.
References available on request from the LACPA office, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bouchard TJ Jr, Hur YM. Journal of Personality. Genetic and environmental influences on the continuous scales of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: an analysis based on twins reared apart.
1998 Apr, 66(2): 135-49.
Fishman, Inna, Ng Rowena, Bellugi, Ursula. Cognitive Neuroscience. Do extraverts process social stimuli differently from introverts? 2010 Nov, iFirst, 1-7. Epub: www.psypress.com/cognitiveneuroscience DOI: 10.1080/17588928.2010.527434.
Schaefer M, Heinze HJ, Rotte M. Neuroimage. Touch and personality: extraversion predicts somatosensory brain response. 2012 Aug, 62(1), 432-8.
Soglin Becky. University of Iowa News Services. Brain activity differs in introverts and extroverts, UI study shows. 1999, Mar. epub: http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/1999/march/0329intro-extro.html.
Wired-up. Lemon juice experiment. 2005, Mar 18. Issue: 22. Note that this is an online demonstration of research published in peer reviewed journals.