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Introverts are shy, and other myths about this misunderstood personality type

A psychotherapist counters the common stereotypes of the introvert

There is a cultural bias towards extroverted personalities. We honour those comfortable in the spotlight – people who are a little daring and vibrant. Much of our world is geared toward and designed for the extrovert. How we work and play is interactive, social, connected and unhindered by our capacity to take on board our loud and ubiquitous world. For this reason, introverts are considered second-rate.

They are misunderstood and, all the while, navigate an exhausting world as they attempt to blend into the world of the extrovert. Balancing these personality traits has meant many introverts live their life pretending, behaving and acting out of character to fit in while balancing between intense social interaction and attention and simultaneously not wanting to stand out.

With almost a third of us considered to be an introvert (including me), Christine Doyle, psychotherapist and member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, helps to counter the common stereotypes of the introvert, some of which include the assumptions that introverts are socially awkward, hate people and are almost always creative.

1) Myth - Introverts are shy

Shyness is considered the main trait of an introverted person, but this belief heightens the misunderstanding of this personality trait. Being an introvert is far more complex than simply being shy and sitting at the back of the room.

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“Shyness is an emotion, whereas introversion is a personality type,” says Doyle. “Introverts are not always shy, and likewise, not all shy people are introverts. Whereas shy people, who fear being judged negatively, often find social situations awkward and uncomfortable, introverts find large groups overstimulating and recharge their energy by spending time alone. To put it simply, introverts need to be alone to gain energy, as opposed to avoiding social situations out of fear of others’ evaluation of them.”

The words shyness and introversion are used interchangeably, but the distinct difference comes when we consider that a shy person may feel fearful of a situation and an introvert needs the mental energy and capacity to engage.

2) Myth - Introverts don’t take risks

“Introverts are, contrary to popular opinion, just as likely to take risks as extroverts, but they differ in the approach they take to risks,” says Doyle. “Deep thinking and conscientiousness are character traits of introverts, and this ensures that introverts calculate risks rather than rushing in. The introvert will likely spend time writing the pros and cons of a situation and can be trusted to make an informed decision when it comes to risk, as opposed to the extrovert, who can lack control over their emotions and tends to act more impulsively. In the business world, where risk-taking is essential, the calculated approach of the introvert is far more prudent than the fool-hardy approach of the extrovert.”

Because of this belief, introverts are also said to make poor business leaders. However, research has found that the opposite is true. Introverts can be just as daring as extroverts and make a distinct mark on their business. They work well in both teams and on their own, and because preparation is often key for an introvert, they can be highly successful at making an impact at public engagements.

3) Myth – Introverts don’t like to be around people

How an introvert and an extrovert socialise may be quite different, but that does not mean that they do not like people. In fact, an introvert will happily attend a daylong conference with more than a hundred delegates, engage in conversation, and wine and dine in the evening. How they manage that day will be different to an extrovert with a solo break-out session needed to regroup.

A key trait of an introvert is enjoying solitude, their own space and quiet introspection. Introverts make distinctive choices about how they socialise, which can highlight the false notion that introverts are socially anxious. Instead, an introvert will likely choose quality relationships and connections over quantity.

4) Myth - Introverts and extroverts don’t get along

Classifying ourselves as an introvert or extrovert can only go so far because the truth is, there may be times when we veer closer to one trait or the other. Introverts attend concerts with a crowd of 5,000 other people. Extroverts can indulge in deep conversation in a quiet snug with one other person. And both can easily bond over anything at all. Our preferences of how we manage our connections are not a defining characteristic of how we create friendships.

“Opposites attract is never truer than in the dynamic of relationships between introverts and extroverts,” says Doyle. “The introvert superpowers – loyalty, listening, empathy and self-awareness – are a great complement to the extrovert qualities of sociability, chattiness and excitability, and often what the other is looking for more of in life. The extrovert who relies on having others around them and, as a consequence, can attract the wrong type of person has a strong connection to the loyalty and nurturing traits of the introvert. Likewise, the introvert who is happy in their own company is comfortable in letting the extrovert take centre stage. Like in every relationship, communication is key; understanding each other’s needs, not personalising the differences that arise, and accepting each other for all that you are.”

5) Myth – An introvert is more likely to get depressed

Further myths and assumptions about the introvert include that they have low self-esteem, poor confidence, are unhappy and as a result are more at risk of depression or poor mental wellbeing. Because introverts may be happier to veer away from large gatherings, intense conversations, information and sensory overload, we wrongly assume they are isolated, running the probability of becoming depressed.

There is no connection between introversion and ailing mental health, and it is destructive to consider the possibility. There are many factors that increase the likelihood of depression. Introversion is not one of them.

Myths Series

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family