I used to feel bad about being an introvert. It’s just really supremely nerdy to prefer to stay home and read. I was born that way, though, what can I say. Even when I was little I remember my mother yelling at me, “Cathy, stop reading and go outside and play.” In a minute, Mom, in a minute. After I finish this paragraph, this chapter, this 800-page book.
America is an extravagantly extroverted culture. People are judged on their social skills, their level of apparent happiness and “positivity,” and their lack of thinking deeply. Other cultures, such as Asian ones, do not particularly value extroversion, and introverted people don’t feel as ostracized as we do here.
Someone once defined the difference this way: extroverts reach out to other people for stress relief while introverts prefer to be alone. This is only partially true, as everyone gets a mood boost from the company of others; rather, it is the number of people to whom one turns. Extroverts love hanging out in groups; introverts prefer meeting one-on-one with close friends.
While extroverts are partying down, introverts prefer less stimulus and more time for listening and reflection. Without introverts, we wouldn’t have artists, writers, musicians, scientists, or computer geeks. The extrovert’s primary life value is happiness; for introverts, it is meaning. Introverts can even find happiness a distraction from sorting out what has meaning, and from being engaged in meaningful activities. Extroverts, of course, find this insane.
Very few people are completely one or the other. Introversion/extroversion exists on a spectrum, with most in the middle. With age, people broaden to incorporate more of the opposite characteristics, becoming less extreme and more moderate. Mature introverts may even enjoy parties and meeting new people, as long as it is balanced with enough time alone. I read once that the least amount of time one can spend at a party without seeming rude is one and a half hours, so I’ve encouraged my introverted clients to plan to attend social functions for that amount of time only, before escaping home. We all find this a huge relief.
Innies and outies often find each other wrong while it is really a matter of difference. Introverts can feel defective living in the US, and find solace realizing it is purely a cultural prejudice. And for me? Finally, I prefer to go outside and play rather than read a book. As long as that book is waiting when I come back home.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth