I wrote this list in late-2008. Around that time, I was lucky enough to discover a book called, The Introvert Advantage (How To Thrive in an Extrovert World), by Marti Laney, Psy.D. It felt like someone had written an encyclopedia entry on a rare race of people to which I belong. Not only had it explained many of my eccentricities, it helped me to redefine my entire life in a new and productive context.
Sure, anyone who knows me would say, “Duh! Why did it take you so long to realize you’re an Introvert?” It’s not that simple. The problem is that labeling someone as an Introvert is a very shallow assessment, full of common misconceptions. It’s more complex than that.
A section of Laney’s book (page 71 through page 75) maps out the human brain and explains how neuro-transmitters follow different dominant paths in the nervous systems of Introverts and Extroverts. If the science behind the book is correct, it turns out that Introverts are people who are over-sensitive to Dopamine, so too much external stimulation overdoses and exhausts them. Conversely, Extroverts can’t get enough Dopamine, and they require Adrenaline for their brains to create it. Extroverts also have a shorter pathway and less blood-flow to the brain. The messages of an Extrovert’s nervous system mostly bypass the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which is where a large portion of contemplation takes place.
Unfortunately, according to the book, only about 25% of people are Introverts. There are even fewer that are as extreme as I am. This leads to a lot of misunderstandings, since society doesn’t have very much experience with my people. (I love being able to say that.)
So here are a few common misconceptions about Introverts (not taken directly from the book, but based on my own life experience):
Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.
Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.
Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.
Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.
Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.
Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.
Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.
Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.
Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.
Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.
“You cannot escape us, and to change us would lead to your demise.” <-- I made that up. I'm a screenwriter.
It can be terribly destructive for an Introvert to deny themselves in order to get along in an Extrovert-Dominant World. Like other minorities, Introverts can end up hating themselves and others because of the differences. If you think you are an Introvert, I recommend you research the topic and seek out other Introverts to compare notes. The burden is not entirely on Introverts to try and become "normal." Extroverts need to recognize and respect us, and we also need to respect ourselves.
Let me know your thoughts.
These myths sound exactly like the traits of Autism / Asperger Syndrome. Have you ever been evaluated for these?
Not officially. But lately I’m starting to be OK with viewing myself that way. However, if this list fits the description of Autism / Asperger Syndrome, then it would seem there is a very large population of women with Autism / Asperger Syndrome out there. I get a lot of daily thank you emails from “seemingly neuro-typical” moms and grandmothers telling me how perfectly my list described them. But I’m no expert. I personally suspect that if more people had Autism / Asperger Syndrome, the world would be a better place. Check out Wrong Planet. Kudos to them!
How has this topic influenced your creativity?
The struggles of being an Introvert in an Extroverted world are central to all of my creative projects. I recently wrote a short story called Cuyahoga! that offers a science-fiction explanation for Introversion and Autism.
Why are you prejudiced against Extroverts?
It’s just a push-back to the bullies.
Do you have any scientific references to back up the information on dopamine and Broca’s area of the brain?
The only reference I have for that brief section of this article is The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, PsyD, MFT, Psychoanalyst. I have no way to verify whether it is true; I’m not a scientist or doctor. If you’d like to dispute it, please contact her at email@example.com. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did in getting a response.
Do you think Introversion can be caused by anything?
Not in my own opinion. I’ve been “this way” for as long as I can remember. However, I believe it made me more susceptible to developing PTSD after a bad car accident I had in late 2006. But that would be another article / book.
What if I’m half-Introverted and half-Extroverted?
If Introversion and Extroversion are mental orientations (and not behaviors), I honestly don’t know what that means. No one is forcing you to join a team. But you can certainly exist somewhere on a spectrum. I mostly hear from people who strongly identify with my list and only disagree on one or two points. So it seems to be a polarizing phenomenon.
What if I am an Introvert but I can be Extroverted at parties?
I think that’s called being Outgoing, not Extroverted. I can do that, too, depending on the party, how long I’ve been there, and how much stress I have been under lately. In my teens and twenties I loved being on a stage and performing for audiences. I could be a real jackass sometimes, wearing costumes and making lots of noise. But then I wanted to go home afterwards, not linger around. You’d be surprised to find out many famous actors and television hosts are Introverts. Legendary business lecturer Zig Ziglar claimed that Introverts made the best salesmen. So it has nothing to do with how much you talk or move your body around when in public.
Can I read this article in other languages?
Yes, so far it has been translated into German.
If you are so Introverted why do you want to be friends on Facebook / why do you write on Facebook so much, etc.?
Social media is the perfect way for me to connect with people at my own pace, find out about current events outside of mainstream news, and chat with people from around the world who have the same weird interests as me (music, philosophy). But social media doesn’t replace having a true friend in real life. Feel free to add me on Facebook or Twitter.
If this article was valuable to you, please consider tipping me with a little donation. I’d love to be able to write more often.
And if you’re interested in reading more of my ideas, I’ve published a book called So, You’re A Creative Genius, Now What? It’s a creative career survival guide (artists, musicians, writers, directors, actors) written from the perspective of an extreme introvert.