Growing up, I learned the word “introvert” from adults who wanted me to change. For a long time, I rebelled against the label, instead claiming to be a “shy extrovert” because I perceived an overall negative association with introversion. My extroverted teachers, coaches, and relatives presented it to me as something to overcome, or a weakness, so I didn’t want to consider it part of my identity.
As an adult, I now understand that being an introvert is not a character flaw. We just see and interact with the world in a different way. Sometimes, however, we live and work within systems that don’t attract many fellow introverts. As a teacher, for example, my profession is heavily saturated with extroverts. In situations like my own, it’s not uncommon to run into people who expect introverts to change their behavior to act as extroverts would. While I could attempt to do that, it would both drain me and make my work less effective.
Instead of trying to overcome a perfectly natural aspect of my personality, I make an effort to stand by my actions and educate the people around me about what being an introvert means to me. It’s difficult to address all misconceptions, so I’m going to explore a handful of them here, using my preferred method of communication: writing.
Here are five damaging misconceptions about introverts.
5 Misconceptions About Introverts
1. Introverts aren’t as passionate as extroverts.
I have an extroverted friend who often points out how the introverts in the room don’t contribute as much as she does to group conversations. The problem with her pointing out this obvious fact is that the word she uses to distinguish herself from the introverts is “passionate.” (“I can’t help but be this talkative. I’m just a passionate person.”)
She isn’t the first person I’ve met who defines passion as a state of constant and nonspecific excitement. Often, an introvert may appear to people like my extroverted friend as passive or unambitious. This is why so many people jump to the conclusion that introverts just aren’t as passionate as extroverts.
What they don’t understand is that introverts tend to be more frugal when it comes to investing their dedication. They are more likely to be fiercely passionate about the things that are personal and meaningful to them, and less excited, or even indifferent, about anything else. Also, because introverts are more likely to spend a lot of time in their own heads, their passions can be far deeper than others realize.
So yes, we may seem unenthusiastic, or maybe even apathetic, when discussing the weather or other routine, generic conversation topics. But get us going on something we really love, and you’ll be surprised how passionate we can be.
2. Introverts aren’t as confident as extroverts.
I do not enjoy being the center of attention. I will not jump at the chance to speak to a large group of people. When I am put on the spot, and expected to do these things without warning or preparation, I do not respond well.
Some people believe this makes me insecure, nervous, or shy. I disagree. When I have a good reason for taking charge of a room, and there are times when that is necessary in my job, I do it without hesitation or concern.
As an INFJ, one of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, I find myself in a strange, contradictory position when it comes to this issue. Some describe me as strong-willed and self-assured, while others claim I am extremely lacking in confidence. The biggest reason I am accused of the latter is that I never hesitate to admit the things that I don’t do well. To those around me, especially extroverts who are in a state of constant self-assurance, I come across as someone who is consumed with self-doubt.
This is simply not the case. INFJs and many other introverts highly value integrity and sincerity; they know what their strengths are, and they’re not afraid to confidently admit what they are not. My strengths are not the kind that paint me as bold, authoritative, or assertive. And that’s okay.
3. Introverts aren’t as fit to lead as extroverts.
I spent most of my childhood under the false belief that only extroverts were fit to be leaders. Once that misconception was shattered by the few teachers in my life who saw leadership potential in me, I developed another misconception: that introverts could only be effective leaders if they imitated their extroverted counterparts.
After serving in several leadership positions in collegiate and community organizations, and even spending a year or two as the president of a sorority, I worked my way into understanding the unique strengths an introvert can bring as a leader. For one, people who spend a lot of time in their own heads are some of the greatest planners. And because introverts are more likely to prefer working behind the scenes (a college professor of mine once described my methods as “inconspicuous”), delegation is effortless — and the key to executing those well-thought-out plans.
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4. Introverts aren’t as intelligent as extroverts.
While some assume that introverts are wittier and smarter than everyone else, others make the mistake of believing that people who are soft-spoken or less social are actually less intelligent than those who are more outgoing.
I see this misconception the most in the classroom. Though I’m confident that the teachers I work with are not the culprits, the internet is full of examples in which introverted students feel undervalued or underestimated by instructors who mistake their preference to internalize, rather than participate, as a sign of inferior understanding. Educators who do not understand introverts, or provide them alternative ways to communicate their understanding, such as writing, are not going to see their introverted students’ full potential. This can easily lead some of them to believe that students who don’t speak up either don’t care or don’t understand.
From a social perspective, many introverts take a long time to truly open up to people. Personally, I’ve found that the people who have only just met me respond to me as if I’m not very bright. They over-simplify or over-explain, even though I don’t need it. And because I don’t want to ruffle feathers or hurt feelings, I usually just play along until I can escape the conversation. Eventually, people I spend time with realize that my quiet, unassuming nature does not limit my intellectual capacity.
I do have to recognize that this misconception is not something that all introverts have experienced. I envy the INTJs in my life, who somehow exude intelligence from the moment they step into a room.
5. Introverts are just shy extroverts.
There are countless articles online preaching to introverts about how to “be more [insert any word that describes extroverts].” Many of the ideas in these articles are founded on the notion that to be introverted is to be shy. While it’s not something to be ashamed of, most people who describe themselves as “shy” desire to improve that aspect of themselves. Accompanied by fear, apprehension, or anxiety, shyness is more of a behavior than a personality trait.
Personally, I can be very shy. And while I see the need to improve that about myself, it has nothing to do with the personality traits that make me an introvert. For example, I know that I don’t like to be surrounded by a lot of people for long periods of time. I often prefer the dialogue and imagery in my own head to small talk or my physical surroundings. I prefer to communicate in writing and definitely don’t like phone conversations unless they are with people with whom I am close. Many introverts share these traits, many of whom would never describe themselves as shy.
Over the past few years, I’ve been so pleased to find more material online, like this blog, educating the world about what it means to be an introvert. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t see an article, meme, or comic depicting daily life from the perspective of an introvert.
Whether it’s the advancement in technology and social media, finally allowing introverts to communicate the way they prefer, or simply an increased interest in psychology and human nature, I am happy for the representation and what it does to minimize misconceptions — especially those that falsely paint introversion as a character flaw.
My advice to my fellow introverts, especially those who work in “extroverted” environments, is to take the time to realize the unique ways you respond to the world differently because of your introversion. When you identify those aspects of your personality, stick by your decisions and — better yet — educate your extroverted friends and family about what it’s like to be an introvert in an extrovert-heavy world.