I just read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. The title says a lot: although the western world values and rewards us for being outgoing and busy, there are also hidden advantages in occasional – or personality-wide – stillness.
When my husband and I presided over the Canada Montreal Mission, I often got positive feedback on talks or lessons I gave, but one stood out above all the rest. For months missionaries asked me for the notes or told me how helpful that training had been. For literally years, even their parents would mention this training as something that had been invaluable to their son or daughter. The subject of this training was, “Introverts can be Missionaries Too!”
Introversion is not so much about shyness (which may be more of a fear of people or of social situations) or poor social skills (introverted people can have very good social skills or extraverts poor social skills). Rather, introverts are people whose energy is depleted by being with other people (especially strangers or large groups) and who restore energy with privacy, solitude, and involvement with their own thoughts. In contrast, extroverts are more energized by being with others and may feel bored, depressed, or depleted by being alone. People can also be some of each.
An extravert may feel inadequate or unnerved when alone or when interacting with the same few people intensely. An introvert may feel inadequate or unnerved by large groups or new faces. Both extraverts and introverts need people, but in different quantities and in different ways. And both extraverts and introverts benefit from reading, prayer, or quiet reflection, but they need these things in different quantities and balances.
Most of us have some capacity for acting extroverted even if we are introverts by nature, or for enjoying solitude and our own inner world even if we are naturally extroverted. But it takes some self-awareness to manage our universal needs for both connection and self-reflection in a way that works well for us. I notice that both introverts and extraverts enjoy Sixteen Stones seminars, for example, but probably for somewhat different reasons. The introverts are usually more worried about having to share too much, and the extraverts wonder how they’ll handle the introspective time.
Introversion and extraversion are not the only persistent and apparently inherent aspects of our personality, but they have far-reaching implications for how we function day to day, how we feel about ourselves, and how we relate to others. Recognizing these innate differences can free us to both meet our needs more consistently and stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones with less shame or anxiety.