Who am I? Reflections on being an Introvert

Isabel Briggs Meyers

Isabel Briggs Meyers

Mary takes her lunch alone, sitting on a bench.

Johnnie stays in his room, reading as his friends go off to play.

Susie likes to sew by the hours.

Neil is glad the party got cancelled.

I’ve always been interested in personality dynamics, or the way we interact with others,  our environment, and even ourselves.  Then I came across Carl Jung’s notion of two selves resident in all of us: one Extravert; the other, Introvert.

Unfortunately, psychology often goes astray, treating one dynamic as sum total, when both exist in perpetual tension, though one will prove primary. Think of it in terms of being left or right-handed.  We’re born with a tendency, or preference, to use one hand over the other.  While we use both hands throughout the day, that preference reveals itself when we take to writing our signature.  If you’re right-handed, try writing your signature with your left hand, or vice versa.

It was Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Meyers, however, who provided popular access to Jung’s personality archetypes, or modes, and built upon them through the eponymous inventory they developed.  Its advantage lies in its facility for speed, simplicity and scope in identifying sixteen distinct personality types.  The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is now routinely used universally, taking-on adjunct status in the business world as a screening tool for new employees or setting up work teams, etc.

The test measures four basic components comprising a personality type (see Tieger and Tieger, The Art of Speed Reading People [1998]):

1.    How we’re energized:  (E) Extraversion ——(I) Introversion

2.   How we access information:  (S) Sensing ——-(N)  Intuition

3.   How we make decisions:  (T) Thinking——(F)  Feeling

4.   How we organize our world:  (J) Judging——(P)  Perceiving

I remember taking the MBPI years ago and how accurate, despite its brevity, it turned out.  It was me!  INFP.  Like your fingerprints, it’s your fixed id when it comes down to what makes you tick. While you can’t put the MBPI under a microscope, we know empirically that it functions well in assessing personality dynamics.  It may even help you to better understand and relate to those around you or even to avoid relationships fraught with potential personality conflict.

What I’d like to do here has simply to do with Introversion, the canopy I come under, though I’ll also contrast it with Extraversion.

Introversion trademarks:  less talkative, more reserved; thinks first, then talks; slower, more precise conversation quietly delivered; focused; doesn’t mind being alone at times; shuns spotlight; cautious;  sequential in conversation, providing transitioning.

These traits are in marked contrast to those of the Extravert:

Extraversion trademarks:  noisy, enthusiastic;  talkative; thinks aloud; desultory  in  conversation; easily distracted; enjoys attention; impulsive; interrupts or finishes sentences.

In my school days I daily envied the football players who seemed always to hold their place in the sun, the focus of school assemblies, and loved by girls.  Older folks would tell me to enjoy this time as best ever, though I couldn’t fathom why.  Tall, gangly, pimple spattered and timid, I found shyness got me nowhere, except I compensated some through academics.

I can’t say life beyond high school made it any easier in a world enthralled with high profile athletes, movie stars, TV celebs,  charismatic politicians and other People Magazine types.

On the other hand,  I’ve found fellow soft-voiced Introverts with their reserve a relief to be around.  They tend not to dominate a conversation, or have need to gesticulate with their hands, or interrupt you at nearly every turn, or to stray in their attention.  There’s often a sincerity to them that one finds frequently missing with all-talk Extraverts.

Introverts are linear in their preferences. They shun the desultory, preferring to exhaust the topic before moving to the next and keep a steady gaze, unlike the perfidious Extraverts with their disconcerting, wandering eyes.

Extraverts draw strength by the numbers they keep.  They love Facebook and accumulating long lists of friends for validation.  They prefer doing over thinking, flamboyance rather than simplicity, the latest fashion, the flashy car, loud colors.  Introverts, not liking the spotlight, prefer simpler amenities, say a Prius over a Lexus; subdued colors, a less frenetic music.

Introverts are often strong people, able to find a pathway away from the crowd,  confident in their values while avoiding arrogance.  Revolution and social change begin most always with the Introverts, whom the Extraverts eventually follow.

Sometimes you can distinguish the two entities by way of the hobbies they keep.  If you like gardening or fishing,  reading or chess, sports like tennis or golf, you’re more likely to be an Introvert.  On the other hand, if you’re into team sports like softball, or enjoy card playing, or participating frequently in social networks, then it’s likely you’re an Extravert.

Extraverts and Introverts can be found across the job spectrum, so that generalizations can be faulty as to which occupations allure them.  Introverts, however, with their preference for fewer numbers, quieter spaces, and focused challenges, are often found in endeavors associated with medicine, college teaching, libraries, accounting, and computers.  On the other hand, Extraverts perhaps find greater contentment in occupations such as entertainment, marketing,  and public relations.

Introverts, as proponents of the inner life of the imagination, are often the Artisans, whether in painting, music or literature.  Extraverts, in their need for people, make for great actors.  We need both:  the Introvert to teach us to reflect; the Extravert, to make us laugh; the Introvert to broaden our horizons; the Extravert to make us feel good about ourselves.

But back to Introverts, per se, since this is my primary focus here.  We Introverts needn’t deem ourselves second-class citizenry in a gregarious world or be overwhelmed by the social pressures exerted on us in such a world.  I would even wager that overall we’re a happy, well-adjusted bunch, at peace with ourselves and proud of our contributions to making a better world.  I always remember that Steve Jobs was one of us.

Do well.  Be well!

–rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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