I don’t know if I was taught this somewhere along the way or if it was just a misconception, but as I was growing up I had the idea that an introvert was someone who was indoorsy, not as physically active (and therefore probably a little pudgy), quiet, and didn’t have many friends, whereas an extrovert was more physical, active, outgoing, talkative, and loud.
Evidently I’m not the only one with incorrect ideas of what it means to be an introvert. I was talking with a friend yesterday who said that she has sometimes been accused of being antisocial and once even of being sinful due to her introversion (the latter was said teasingly, but still, that kind of thing stings).
Over the last year I’ve found myself reading a number of books (Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh, both linked to my thoughts on them) and articles about introverts that helped clarify my own thinking and understanding. But as I was commiserating with my friend yesterday, one problem is that extroverts aren’t likely to read books about introverts, and therefore misunderstanding continues.
No one is completely all introvert or extrovert, but most people do lean strongly one way or another. The differences between the two aren’t just a matter of preference: Cain quotes a number of sources documenting that introverts are neurologically wired differently. So it behooves us (both introvert and extrovert) to understand and accept our differences, to realize that God created people differently and has different ways they can each minister, rather than trying to make each other more like ourselves or make everyone fit into one mold.
One of the main differences between the two are their sources of energy in relation to people. Introverts are drained by much social interaction: extroverts thrive on it. Introverts are not antisocial: they do like to get together with people but usually prefer smaller groups. If they are in a large gathering, they’ll likely be on the sidelines talking with one or two people rather than mixing and mingling with many (and they’ll likely collapse at home afterward).
Introverts also tend to be more analytical and slower to process their thoughts. That’s one thing that makes them lag a bit in group discussions and conversations: by the time they process what is being discussed and what they want to say, the conversation has moved on. That’s also why they can panic or at least strongly dislike being called on in a class or small group, and why they don’t think “on their feet” well and often express themselves better in writing than speaking. Introverts are generally more quiet because they’re thinking and processing (and because they prefer quietness and calmness), whereas extroverts often think things through by talking.
Not all introverts are shy: shyness may involve some of the above but may have the added factor of fear, or may just be habit. I was actually raised with the phrase, “Children are to be seen and not heard,” and it is hard to just flip the switch as an adult and start talking. God has helped me with that a lot (that may be a subject for another post). But even if shyness is due to fear, it isn’t helped by rebuking a person for it. Take whatever you’re most afraid of (public speaking, heights, spiders, etc.), and tell yourself “Just stop it!” and see how far you get. Then apply that to a fear of people, and perhaps you’ll understand a bit better. One can learn coping mechanisms to help with shyness (and should, since one needs to learn to interact with people), but understanding and empathy help more than a superior or judgmental attitude.
Few if any introverts want to be total hermits. They do need and want people – just preferably in smaller doses. Some of us can talk a blue streak once we get to know and feel comfortable with people. And we can learn to be more talkative than we are really comfortable with. We do need to reach out and be involved in community – all those Biblical “one anothers” do involve other people. But it is comforting to know that Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
There are other characteristics of introverts (which is why, after all, whole books have been written about them), but the main point I wanted to make today was just that we need to understand and respect differences. God made people different and as such He has a place and a purpose for each. The church needs both introverts and extroverts both for balance but also so they can minister to those most like themselves as well as to each other. One of my favorite e-mails came from Karla Dornacher, when I had posted a comment on her blog in a post where she had mentioned being a bit of a loner even though she does well at speaking to crowds. She responded that she couldn’t be alone in her studio so much of the time if she couldn’t be content with being alone for long stretches, and God gives us personalities to fit our callings. That was one of those proverbial light bulb moments for me. I’ve appreciated ways that God has opened for me to minister to others that fit in with the personality He has given me.
There are times, though, that He has pushed me out of my comfort zone. Every trait has its good and bad tendencies, and Adam’s book in particular cautions introverts against some of their potential problem tendencies (some of the most helpful quotes are here). We can avoid people sometimes just out of selfishness rather than need, and we need to realize that a lack of interaction can be hurtful and seem rude even if it is not meant to be. Adam also encourages us that when God does call us to make sacrifices or extend ourselves, He will provide the grace to do so.