Converting the Introverted

I think one of the most difficult aspects of being an introvert is dealing with those people in our lives who want us to become extroverts. I have experienced this phenomenon many times with individuals who I didn’t feel the need to impress or explain myself to, but the more challenging encounters have been those involving people whose opinion mattered to me. I write about these encounters in the past tense, since I now feel secure enough in my introvert-hood to withstand most attempts at conversion (however annoying they may still be). But as a child and adolescent, the opinions of the adults in charge of my upkeep and education held immense influence over my self-image.

Luckily I was blessed with parents who are introverts themselves, so I didn’t experience much parental pressure to behave in an extroverted way. However, I can remember extroverted teachers and professors who did not understand what I was going through, and who tried to make me fit into a mold that felt extremely uncomfortable. The sad part is that I think they really did believe they were doing me a service by trying to draw me out of my “abnormal” inwardness. They felt I needed to behave differently in order to be successful in the external world, when what I cared about most was the inner world of my feelings and impressions.

I was reminded of these painful memories when I read a post on the June Harbor Web site. The author begins by lamenting the treatment of female introverts by society (another topic on which I have strong feelings to be discussed at a later date), and continues on to voice an insight I felt to be very poignant:

Being an introvert does not make me unhappy. What makes me unhappy is the number of extroverts who insist that I am not happy as an introvert, and that I need to “get out” and party, etc., in order to qualify as a satisfied individual.

I think this is spot on, because others’ misunderstanding of our deepest nature can truly make us miserable at times. And adding to that, it can be very difficult for introverts to explain themselves to people who have never learned the “vocabulary” of introversion; the concepts just don’t make sense. As an example of this, further on in the post the author links to an article, Introversion: The Often Forgotten Factor Impacting the Gifted, that aims to inform educators and parents about the particular needs of gifted introverted children (again another interesting topic to follow up on at a later point). While I think the article is a good attempt at raising awareness, I disagree with the overall approach to the subject matter.

While I don’t mean to be dismissive, the two authors themselves state that they are, respectively, an extrovert and a “coping introvert.” This identification seems to set the tone for the article. I was especially struck by the statement that introversion is “…similar to perfectionism in that a little is beneficial and too much is harmful.” Huh? To me perfectionism is a bad habit that causes problems for those suffering from it; I don’t feel that way about introversion at all. It’s not something I can turn on and off and experience in degrees; in other words, it’s not simply a behavior, it has to do with one’s whole orientation to the world. To be fair, the authors do make a lot of good points about how to create more comfortable home and school environments for introverted children (which I applaud). However, overall the article seems to imply that introverts are fragile beings who must be protected from extroverted society, instead of advocating for fair treatment of both introverts and extroverts as equals.

I think this is what rankles the most when people try to convert the introverted; the unspoken bias that introverts need to be “fixed,” that they are somehow fundamentally flawed and need to be saved from themselves in order to succeed in life. I don’t buy into that belief system—I’ve got my own religion and it doesn’t involve repenting of any introvert sins.

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31 Responses to “Converting the Introverted”

  1. Becki said:

    I love your insight. I too suffered from an insecurity of sorts for quite awhile until I embraced who I was and became comfortable in my own skin. We don’t need to be fixed or converted to the other side. We ARE.

  2. Laiane said:

    /applaud

    To have the dichotomy between extroverts and “coping introverts” implies that the Extrovert View is “the norm” and the Introvert View is “the Other.” A flawed argument from the get-go. I ask myself, Why is the Extrovert View the norm? Because they’re louder than we are? Because they take up more space? Because we’re comfortable in our universe and need not trumpet out that our view is the Way Things Should Be? Things for me to think about.

  3. Brian Clasby said:

    I think ‘extroversion’ seems more the norm simply because extroverts are more easily noticed. It’s easy to remember the life of the party or the one who runs around and talks to everybody. The guy who mostly kept to himself you already forgot about – but he is out there – WE are out there.

  4. Foozler said:

    I speak from the view of teaching psychology for 35 years. Introversion is a natural state, and doesn’t cause trouble unless it crosses with anxiety, and then you get neurotics. Extroversion is the other end of the continuum. Introverts brains are much busier and therefore we need little input from the environment to be at a comfortable brain activation. Extroverts need a lot, and so there you will find people who jump out of planes, rollercoast, and the like. Cross extroversion with anxiety and you get psychopaths and other highly aggressive, trouble-filled people. Most people are in the middle. Incidentally, downers are the drug of choice of the introvert, and uppers for the extrovert. Curiously, the effect of the drug is to make the extrovert more introverted (or passed out, which they do easily), and make the introvert more extroverted, so now we can get up and dance. Perhaps this last is the basis for the extrovert’s urging us to loosen up, because when he sees that a couple of drinks do loosen us up, he thinks we need help otherwise.

  5. spectatrix said:

    Becki:

    Exactly! We are who we are, and we don’t need to apologize for that.

    Laiane:

    Good question. I think I often ascribe this phenomenon to the fact that the majority can remain ignorant of the minority more easily than vice versa. As I am also left-handed, I see the same process at work when assumptions are made about what is “normal” handedness (although introverts are a larger percent of the population than lefties are).

    Brian:

    I’ve had that experience so many times. Feeling invisible because I’m not front and center in every conversation. Fortunately, there are usually at least a few people I can connect with at such events, but if not, I’m fine with being thought “enigmatic.”

    Foozler:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Your description of introverts’ brains being active enough without needing more input really rang true for me. It turns upside down the notion that introverts are just “sitting there,” when in fact we are engaged in intense activity. And I knew there was a reason I’ve never been tempted to go skydiving 🙂

  6. Mind Matters | spectatrix said:

    […] Converting the Introverted […]

  7. Conciously Living said:

    Um, me thinks you may be framing this whole discussion wrong by assuming a normative judgment on the options introversion or extroversion. Possibly both are correct … at the correct time.

    Possibly knowledge, understanding, discretion and self-control are all that stand between anyone and the correct application of either characteristic ?

    You may be an introvert by nature, you may be an introvert by nuture, but only a mature adult human being can actively reject both genetics and experience to conciously choose the most appropriate response for any given situation. To fail to do so is to give up responsibility for your own destiny and subject to the whims of others. To fail to do so is to become no more concious than a lab rat.

    For the record, I am an ex-extrovert.

  8. Diana said:

    Neither being an introvert or extrovert is completely healthy. A balance is needed to be healthy and proactive…Particularly those introverts with spouses and children. I have an introverted mate. Sometimes the traits of being an introvert come off as uncaring, dis-interested and arrogant. It’s difficult at times for a spouse and children to deal with the “mood” swings.

  9. spectatrix said:

    Consciously Living & Diana:

    The way I understand it, introvertedness and extrovertedness are determined by the way your brain is wired, just like being left-handed or right-handed. In the past, left-handed people were forced to “become” right-handed because it was considered the right way of doing things, but now we know that there is nothing wrong with being left-handed (and in fact there are some benefits). Similarly, I think that introversion or extroversion are neutral qualities, not inherently bad in themselves, just different. A lot of what I write on this blog is meant to reclaim introversion from negative stereotypes, so that one type of tendency (extroversion) is not valued over the other (introversion). I say tendency, because although one’s “orientation” affects behavior, it is possible to modify one’s behavior (as Consciously Living suggests), but it’s like right-handed people being forced to write with their left hand; it’s not entirely comfortable or natural.

    Some people fall in the middle of the extrovert/introvert spectrum, and are therefore more likely to exhibit both introvert and extrovert characteristics (as you both advocate for everyone). However, the great majority of people tend to one end of the spectrum or the other, and are therefore more likely to act in those ways. I don’t see any problem with this as long as there is awareness of and mutual respect for both ways of being in the world. If we only see other people from the limited perspective of our assumptions (e.g. being quiet means being uncaring, disinterested or arrogant), we are not respecting the real truth of that person’s emotional life. Whether someone exhibits introverted or extroverted behavior does not determine the content of their character or their capacity for kindness. We do each other a great disservice by making assumptions based solely on external behavior.

  10. Conciously Living said:

    Extending your right-handed/left-handed analogy:

    Choosing to use your strong hand for writing is a natural preference, but refusing to use both hands to catch a baby dropped from a burning building is negligent.

    I have no problem with introversion except where ‘a tendency’ becomes ‘a reason’, thus attempting to reverse causation with hindsight to excuse your previous actions.

    In genuinely perfect isolation, the introvert and extrovert can believe, say or do whatever they like. It is only when either is required to interface with others that their behavior (posture, words, actions or inaction) is required to be chosen appropriately.

    The tendency towards introversion creates a natural barrier to intimacy – appropriate behavior in low trust situations (competitive work environment), inappropriate behavior in high trust situations (i.e. marriage – ref: Diana’s comment).

    Do not let your primary skill become your primary weakness.

    You have been gifted a conscious mind with a natural inclination towards introversion. However, it is your responsibility to use your discretion when to follow your primary skill (natural introversion) or consciously choose to nurture your secondary skill (extroversion).

  11. spectatrix said:

    Consciously Living:

    I find your arguments interesting (although not persuasive), but I don’t find them constructive in the context of this blog. As I mentioned in my previous comment, because I believe that extroversion and introversion are neutral qualities, I don’t think it’s helpful to debate their relative “merits.” Also, from the tone of your comments, it seems like you have certain people in specific circumstances in mind, but instead you’ve made generalizations that are not supportable (for example, it has been my experience that introversion actually promotes intimacy). I welcome your comments, but please include mention of the real experiences of real people, and not solely abstractions.

  12. Patrick said:

    Consciously Living,

    As an introvert I find your comments offensive and completely lacking in compassion. You comments have so many vocabulary choices that point to a bias against introversion that it is impossible to take any alleged appreciation that you have for diverse personalities seriously. When you describe introversion as if it is some kind of disease that needs to be ‘tolerated’, you are exemplifying someone who does not care to understand how introverts work.

    Additionally, all of your alleged problems with introversion are simply problems due to its perception in society; they have nothing to do with introverts themselves, and most need addendums to fill in the assumed parts which were left out. For example: – The tendency towards introversion creates a natural barrier to intimacy FOR EXTROVERTS. Introverts have no trouble feeling intimacy for someone they love. If an extroverted partner is having trouble with intimacy due to their partner’s introversion and cannot understand their alternate form of intimacy, then I suggest that the extroverted partner does not truly love the introvert, because the extrovert’s form is just as perplexing to an introvert.

    As for the ‘appropriate’ behavior, perhaps you are confusing shyness with introversion. Introverts have the capacity to act ‘normally’ in any social setting. We just don’t go out of our way to interact with anyone, since this is not where we draw our energy from. In fact, introverts find ‘normal’ behavior from extroverts to be very tiring. Agreed, shyness is more often found in introverts, but this is because society expects us to be extroverted, and gives constant messages to us that our natural personalities are somehow incorrect, thus we lose our self-confidence. Extroverts can be shy as well, though they would probably then be perceived to be introverts.

    The changing back and forth between personalities to fit the moment is exactly the sort of thing that introverts find phony and turn us off to social interaction. Introverts are often very comfortable with themselves and cannot understand why an extrovert would want to act in any way that is not their true nature.

    In summary: Introversion is only a weakness as perceived by an extrovert. If an extrovert is so close minded that they believe introversion is an inadequacy or problem to be ‘fixed’, then screw them, they aren’t worth spending time on.

  13. spectatrix said:

    Patrick:

    You’ve pinpointed some of my concerns much more articulately than I was able to. I think I was having trouble expressing myself well because I was responding defensively (letting someone else set the terms of the argument) rather than reframing the entire question from an introvert’s perspective as you’ve done. So thank you for that clarity.

  14. lizzy said:

    WOW THANK YOU !

  15. Martina said:

    Thanks for this interesting blog. I am an introverted woman who has a particularly hard time finding other introverted women. Technically I know why that is so. “We” (us introverted women) are often too quiet to be noticed. I’m surrounded by extroverted women who seem desperate to convert me and it’s getting very frustrating. That’s why I have been googling “introverted women” on the web and this is where it took me. I love knowing that I’m not simply wired “wrong”, and that there are others with similar experiences. It seems particularly hard for introverted women to find footing socially. Men seem to get away with being the silent and stoic type, women with the same tendencies are seen as aloof and arrogant. At least that’s what I’ve been called not just a few times. I am very curious to know how other introverted women navigate life amidst the ocean of extroverts.

  16. spectatrix said:

    Martina,

    I’ve been doing a bit more reading lately about my own Myers Briggs type (INFP), and although I don’t think everything can or should be explained/analyzed through this lens, I think it’s helpful in this case. Basically I realized again that there are some introverts who are in a double bind when it comes to social relationships; as much as it is uncomfortable and/or draining to be around other people, we still long for social connection. Not all introverts have the same need to the same extent. Some introverts (e.g. INTJ types), might be happy with relatively little social interaction. While I’m sure this diversity of need also applies to male introverts, I think there is an added dimension for female introverts, who may have been socialized to attach extra importance to “being liked.” If we weren’t worried about being liked (and along with that, being understood), we wouldn’t care if people had a false or unfavorable opinion of us.

    On the one hand, I like the fact that I am sensitive to the opinions and concerns of others (compassion and empathy are great skills to have), but on the other hand, I am realizing that I need to be more objective about how much I let these opinions affect my own self-image.

    I don’t know if these ramblings are helpful to you, but that’s my two cents.

  17. Martina said:

    It is helpful. These are some great points. I was definitely socialized to attach great importance to being liked. My mother (who is a social butterfly) was always worried about my being so reserved. She was so worried in fact that she called people for me so they would hang out with me. Needless to say this ruined about every shred of social ease and confidence that I possessed (cause I do possess it when I’m comfortable).

    I need to figure out what my needs really are, and not what they “should” be, and that it’s ok to take time do so. I’ve been treating my social life like a job. I set “projects” and “deadlines”. Not good.

    One good thing about being introverted is that I don’t mind growing older. I feel more comfortable in my own skin now than when I was a teenager or in my early twenties. I feel less of a stir to “stay young”, I’ve always been “old”. I finally feel “permitted” to contemplate and take it slow:)

  18. smokey said:

    consciously living, i don’t agree at all that introversion creates a barrier to intimacy. i think it may be true for you but not all. i’m an introverted woman and i have found very deep and satisfying intimacy…in takes more than words to develop it. i’ve developed intimacy with both introverts and extroverts. but, i also see your point about using the secondary skill. in my career i have had to develop more extroversion. but it is a facade and an act, no matter how necessary.

  19. Jennifer said:

    I’m an introverted female married to an extrovert and I’m miserable. My husband has slowly beaten me down to the point I feel numb. I find him repetative and I can no longer explain to him why I do the things I do. We’ve been together for 13 years and married for 9 years and I see no real end to this problem. When he noticed that I didn’t care anymore, he decided to try to let me be who I am but it’s too late. It took him about 11 years to come around and there’s a lot of hearache and anguish to deal with.

    I find myself ignoring him, not caring about anything he does. The sad thing is I gave him what I had to offer. Being an introvert, I thought what I had to offer was something special but he proved me wrong time and time again.

  20. spectatrix said:

    Jennifer,

    I’m very sorry to hear about your difficulties with your husband. Although I’ve never experienced what you’re going through, on a lesser level I know how painful it can be to feel misunderstood and disrespected by someone close to me. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you’re able to find some peace eventually in this situation.

  21. Jennifer said:

    Hi Jennifer, I worry that your experiences will be mine too. I am dating a very extroverted guy and I don’t always understand his social needs. I am a very good listener and very considerate, but he figures I should be aggressive and interrupt him since he is so talkative. I don’t feel appreciated for some of my ways and I am starting to get sick of it.

  22. Frustrated Introvert said:

    I have also experienced people trying to convert me to extroversion, specifically since I have reached my twenties. When I was a child and then a teenager, I experienced much difficulty as an introvert, both at home and at school. While attending advanced placement classes in high school, I felt like I was in the twilight zone because most, if not all of the other students were extroverted. These students were talkative, liked to participate, and had friendly relationships with the teachers. I was completely different from them. I was always quiet. I kept to myself in class unless it was absolutely necessary to talk to the other students. I remember that there were some classes in which the teachers made it a point of having the students work in groups. Now, any introvert knows that group projects and working with other people can be extremely stressful because it means that we as introverts are going to have to put on the extrovert mask and try really hard to step outside of our personalities in order to make everyone else feel comfortable. I just couldn’t do it. I always felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I’m sure that the teachers felt like working in groups was just a regular part of attending class. This was a very bad time in my life because of the lack of understanding about my temperament. I remember that there was one Advanced Placement teacher who was not used to having a student like me in her classes. She was comfortable around the extroverted students but I made her feel uncomfortable because I barely talked. There were times when she would actually pick on me and try to make me feel ashamed because I never spoke. Now a days, that would be considered harassment. Since I hit my twenties, I have mostly experienced backlash toward my introversion in the workplace. I have had coworkers tell me that I am too serious, that I never smile, that I need to loosen up. I usually try to ignore these people because I know that there is nothing that they can say to make me change. I am an ISFP introvert, which means that I am naturally quiet and serious and it is difficult to get to know me unless I feel comfortable around people.

  23. spectatrix said:

    Frustrated Introvert,

    I can really relate to your high school horror stories. I especially disliked being graded on things like “class participation” because I did feel like I was engaged in learning, even if I wasn’t so verbal about it. Group projects were a special kind of torture for me too; it wasn’t so much that I felt the need to be more extroverted, but that my focus was divided between navigating interpersonal issues while also getting the work done well (I was pretty obsessive about grades). Strangely, this sometimes meant that I would try to be the leader of the group, or that I’d end up doing a lot of the work myself, because no one else cared about it as much. Ah, the life of a nerd 🙂

    I’m sorry to hear about your negative experiences in the workplace. I hope you are able at some point to find an ally (or two) who understands your perspective, and that you can’t fundamentally change who you are.

  24. Frustrated Introvert said:

    Spectatrix, I completely agree with you about “class participation”. I remember when I was taking French classes in college. That was an absolute nightmare for me because language classes are all about class participation and engaging with other students in order to practice speaking the language. I always dreaded the times when the professor would ask us to get into groups and practice having conversations based on what we had just learned in class. I tried to participate but I always felt nervous and my mind would go blank. Most of the other students loved this part of the class because they enjoyed the opportunity to talk and socialize. My French professor picked up on the fact that I wasn’t big on participation, so after awhile he stopped asking me questions. But the funny part is that whenever he gave us written tests, I would always get an A for the grade. Even though I did not participate in class in order to lean the material, I would go back to my dorm room and read the chapters in the text book. So when it was time to take the tests, I was always prepared. My professor was a very nice guy though and he would always joke with me about my good test grades because he recognized that I was a good student even though I barely participated in class. However, I did get the feeling that he thought I was a bit weird. LOL

  25. spectatrix said:

    Frustrated Introvert,

    I had much the same experience in French classes (for some reason I felt bolder when studying German). Now that I’m living in France it’s like having an oral exam everyday, which I usually fail 🙂

  26. Llewelyn said:

    I think, as I am restoring from some anxiety, that an introvert’s natural social function is to downstimulate. This is something that might not be taken well by others (I don’t know…). But this behaviour is essential for the introvert him/herself, to not be overwhelmed by letting things in (by giving way), by putting undue emphasis on externals.

  27. Karena said:

    Frustrated Introvert:

    Unfortunately for all introverted students out there, the American educational system is now built around collaborative learning. The “experts” say that group work is the best way for children and teenagers to learn, so in most classrooms across the country, you will probably find at least 25% of the student population gritting their teeth through group instruction. Even though I am an introvert, and I can personally empathize with my solitary students, my administration requires me to create collaborative learning experiences in my classroom. I’m sorry if your anguish in high school was caused by someone like me.

  28. Katz2u said:

    I came across this blog searching for “introvert” and so far this is the only site that has helped me to understand them. I have a “little” sister that is an introvert,I am also the wife of an introvert (19 yrs) and can relate to Diana very strongly. They both come off as uncaring and non interested. Intimacy is very awkward for them. Not sure what kind of introvert they are ( INT/INFP??), but neither has trouble sleeping (they are out as soon as their heads hit the pillow), neither one was an “A” student, infact they barely got by in school. Their both great procrastinators and they both come off as very lazy people, and for years people (family) has seen them as “void” of emotions. This site and a few others though, have helped me to understand what is going on inside them (so to speak) I also know after all my readings my husband and I will definitely need counseling to make our marriage work. I have badgered him about changing, showing his emotions more, about his lack of caring etc to the point of now understanding maybe WHY he has trouble with intimacy now. I have told him for years that I didn’t care how he was with other’s but that he NEEDED to open up to me, and that I needed to be needed, to know I am appreciated and loved. I am so tired of going to him for a kiss or hug, and that he never comes to me for anything. Have nagged him to the point that I can see where I handled all of this wrong. I have also told him I’m at my wits end and cant live like this any longer, even though I love him and that I wont. I have also told him for years that we would make better room mates then husband and wife. Not sure what the outcome of “us” will be, but I do want to thank you for starting this site and for helping me to understand my husband and my sister a lot better now then I did an hour ago. Sincerely, Katz2u

  29. Morgen Jahnke said:

    Katz2u,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective from the “extrovert” side, although I’m sorry that your experience with the introverts closest to you has been difficult. Since I don’t know your partner or sister, I can’t speak to their particular “good” or “bad qualities”, but I hope that the site has given you a bit more understanding about why they act the way they do. Introverts are not perfect people, but after hearing the same kind of complaints from extroverted partners/friends/siblings of introverts (that they are uncaring or cold), I do wonder if it boils down to communication style, rather than an absence of affection. You’ve given me some food for thought that may show up on the blog some day. Thanks.

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  31. bobby said:

    Does anyone suggest any treatment , any specific drugs to change from introverted at least a while ?