Amanda’s note: I wrote the following a few months ago after seeing someone say that introverts could “become” extroverts. The idea annoys me. So when I unearthed this last weekend, I decided it was worth sharing. Because quiet isn’t bad. And I know I am quiet—and that people don’t always know how to react to that.
I have a tendency to get riled up when people equate extraversion with being outgoing and assume that introverts are somehow deficient because we aren’t as social.
First, introversion and extraversion refer to what we need to recharge. An introvert needs solitude; being around people for extended periods of time is exhausting. Extroverts need to be around people because, for them, people energize them. It’s why extroverts make good teachers, for example. And it’s why I don’t.
With that definition of both introversion and extraversion, it’s possible to be outgoing whether you’re introverted or extroverted. An outgoing introvert is still going to need solitude after a long day of being around people. Introverts still need to be around people, but their preference to recharge is solitude.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted. No shame in saying, “Sorry, but I’d like some time to myself right now.”
Being outgoing, however, is something that the US culture holds up as ideal. Outgoing = good, quiet = bad. This means that if you’re not outgoing, you’ll eventually be judged negatively. If you’re quiet, you’re disinterested or stuck up or rude. Or you don’t like the people you’re with.
I’m not quiet because I’m any one of those things. I’m quiet because I have social anxiety, and social anxiety is like wearing a muzzle. I’m usually fully engaged in the group without saying a word, because that’s how my anxiety works.
Social anxiety can strike you whether you’re introverted or extroverted. It has nothing to do with recharging and everything to do with how you process interacting with people. As an introvert with social anxiety, I can spend long periods of time alone and be perfectly okay with it.
Being an introvert is not bad in and of itself. It’s not something that needs to be changed or “fixed”. I think many introverts struggle with being outgoing, however. Without the driving need to be around people, we perhaps spend less of our time honing our social skills.
As with everything, becoming outgoing—or, at least, being comfortable with dealing with people—is a habit one needs to develop. The idea that outgoing is good and quiet is bad, however, needs to die. It’s a cultural construct that often serves to negatively label people for simply being who they are.
Don’t we already have enough trouble learning to love and accept who we are?