Sunday, July 6, 2008

Extroverts and Introverts

Extroversion and introversion are terms used to gauge social styles. Extroverts are more comfortable interacting in groups and are more energized by being with others than by being alone. Introverts, on the other hand, are more at home with their own company than in throngs of interacting people. They are stimulated by private activities like reading, listening to music, or working on a hobby or project. The latter have to be dragged to parties, and the blizzard of festivities around Christmas and New Year’s ranks right up there with colonoscopies and root canals.

Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, the introverted wife of 38 years to an extroverted husband and author of The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, prefers quiet conversation while her husband seeks the stimulation of others. Sound familiar?

Why do extroverts end up marrying introverts? Psychologist Carl Jung, the creator of the personality descriptions of introversion-extroversion, says the individual seeks wholeness. The outgoing type seeks balance by marrying the more inward individual and vice-versa. Extroverts are easy to understand. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs and thrive on interaction with other people. They also make up most of us.

Three-fourths of all people are extroverts. And, unless they have mastered compassionate acceptance of all sentient beings, they think introverts are plain odd. Extroverts have little understanding of introverts. They assume the company, especially their own, is always welcomed and cannot imagine why someone would need solitude. Understandably, they have many friends and find it easy to strike up a conversation with strangers.

Not all introverts are as misanthropic as philosopher Sartre, who said, “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Some enjoy breakfast with people who have quiet conversation. They usually have a few long-time friends and are exhausted when engaging with large groups. They need quiet, secluded time to recharge their batteries.

Despite being outnumbered, introverts do have their spokespersons. One is Jonathan Rauch, author of Caring for Your Introvert. He writes: “Introverts may be common but they are among the most misunderstood and aggrieved group in America, possibly the world. I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually I am far from shy. I love long conversation and explore intimate thoughts and passionate interests. Remember, someone you know, respect and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts.”

There are definitely benefits to being an introvert. Introverts do better in college and graduate school. They divorce less and change jobs less than do extroverts. However, a study of 258 college students found that extroverts had higher self-esteem and fewer sleep problems. So there are trade-offs. Says Laney, in defense of her way of being, “I eat slowly, too. I have learned to be prepared for waiters to try to snatch my plate….I talk more slowly, and my clients are used to waiting for me to finally eke out my words. I may plod along in life, but I get quite a bit done.”

Rauch adds, “…extroverts are over-represented in politics, a profession where only the garrulous are. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Bill Clinton. They seem to come fully to life around other people….Extroverts therefore dominate public life. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place.” It’s not likely they’ll get the chance.

... HealthLeader, an award-winning online health, prevention and wellness magazine, produced by the Office of Institutional Advancement of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

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