The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths
Marti Psy.D.

Ended: July 31, 2012

• 75 percent of the world is extroverted. • Being introverted affects all areas of your life. • Nothing is wrong with you. • Introverts feel drained and overstimulated. • Being introverted is something to be celebrated.
In the following chapters, I will focus on the advantages introverts have to offer. We bring important attributes to the party—the ability to focus deeply, an understanding of how a change will affect everyone involved, the capacity to observe, a propensity for thinking outside the box, the strength to make unpopular decisions, and the potential to slow the world down a notch.
• Introverts are different and it’s okay. • We are different in three main ways: • Energy creation • Response to stimulation • Depth vs. breadth • Innies do like people. • The world needs introverts with their unique and precious qualities.
Introverts have social skills, they like people, and they enjoy some types of socializing. However, party chitchat depletes their energy while giving them little in return. Introverts enjoy one-on-one conversations, but group activities can be overstimulating and drain energy.
Since extroverts don’t generate as much internal stimulation as introverts do, they need to get it from outside. Maybe this is why extroverts put introverts down—we annoy them because they feel we are withholding, and we threaten them because we don’t shoot the breeze or socialize in the way they need.
Since it takes a great deal of our energy to engage with other people, we are reluctant to need to spend too much energy on socializing. That’s why we don’t enjoy idle chitchat. We prefer meaty conversations, which nourish and energize us.
Without self-reflection, it’s all too easy for people to get caught up in a cycle of repeating the same behaviors over and over.
Introverts dislike interrupting, so they might say something softly or without emphasis.
Too much guilt can cause introverts to withdraw. There are a number of reasons introverts may feel guilty. Many introverts see the bigger picture of how we are all interconnected, so they are concerned about how their actions affect others. Introverts may also think that what bothers them—for example, interruptions—bothers everyone. Since they are often quite observant, they may feel guilty over small indiscretions. Many times they are worried about mistreating others when they really haven’t. Furthermore, to avoid doing something that might cause harm to another person, introverts sometimes retreat even more from the world, thereby reducing their own satisfaction with life.
If you feel guilty, try to find out if you really hurt someone. Sometimes we think we offended another person when we didn’t. For instance, introverts don’t like to interrupt people. If they do jump into a conversation and step on someone’s words, they can feel guilty. But many people don’t mind being interrupted. So before you assume you’re responsible for upsetting someone, check with the person.
The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. —ALBERT EINSTEIN
Introverts, Jung wrote, conserve their energy, have fewer children, have more ways of protecting themselves, and live longer. Because they appreciate a simpler life, make intimate attachments, and plan and reflect on new ways of doing things, they encourage others to be prudent, develop self-reflection, and think before acting.
Jung thought extroverts, on the other hand, expend their energy, propagate more often, have fewer ways of protecting themselves, and die off faster. Extroverts act quickly when danger threatens and have the ability to get along with large groups. Because they have a quest for venturing farther afield to locate new land, food, and other cultures, they encourage far-ranging exploration.
The novelty seekers were found to have a long D4DR gene and were less sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Therefore, they need to experience life’s thrills and chills in order to produce higher levels of dopamine. Hamer then studied people whom he identified as “low-novelty seekers.” He concluded that their D4DR genes were short and that they are highly sensitive to dopamine. Because they receive enough dopamine in quiet activities, they don’t need as much “buzz” in their lives.
One other interesting tidbit is that estrogen prevents a decline in acetylcholine. This is one of the reasons why during menopause, as their estrogen levels decline, women experience memory loss.
Pathways using acetylcholine, which increases attention, memory, and a sense of well-being, dominate introverts.
They reported in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills that they found the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system to be dominant in introverts.
Left-brained people take in new material in sequence. They learn by repetition and understanding principles, main points, and theoretical ideas. They may need to word or the word of an authoritative source. They may need data that supports what someone says in order to trust their information.
And then there’s the issue of “otherness.” Carl Jung thought that as humans we are constantly seeking to be a complete person. Therefore, he believed, we are attracted to and select mates who are our opposites. Another reason introverts are drawn to extroverts is because extroverts often assume the talking and “doing” duties in the relationship, which means introverts can relax and feel less pressured.
Advantages and Challenges The advantages to the male-innie /female-outie couple are: • The woman may have more power than in traditional relationships. • The man listens to her and values her opinion. • He has less pressure to take the lead. • Both partners have personal space, and they balance each other’s activity levels.   The challenges to the male-innie /female-outie couple are: • The man can feel overwhelmed or suffocated by the woman. • The woman may not have emotional needs met; she may become demanding. • She may feel ashamed of her partner; she may see him as weak, passive, or avoiding. • His self-esteem may decline.
Introverts tend to: • Keep energy, enthusiasm, and excitement to themselves and share only with those they know very well. Hesitate before sharing personal information with others. • Need time to think before responding. Need time to reflect before reacting to outside events. • Prefer communicating one-to-one. • Need to be drawn out or invited to speak, and may prefer written to verbal communication. • May occasionally think they told you something they didn’t (they’re always going over things in their head).
The type of conversation engaged in at most social gatherings is made for extroverts, providing them with a lot of stimulation. But it goes against an introvert’s natural grain and is extremely demanding. The chitchat often focuses on subjects like the latest news, weather, and sports; it’s often loud, competitive, and fast-paced. People usually talk standing up; their faces are animated, and they make direct eye contact. They speak spontaneously, interrupting each other right and left, and ask a lot of personal questions. People who don’t keep up with the chat often look and feel awkward. They are not drawn out but rather overlooked and ignored by the group.
Introverts can be energized by one-on-one conversations about subjects that interest them, and they are recharged (up to a point) by a complex discussion where each person considers the other’s opinion thoughtfully. I think of this as a generative conversation because it keeps spawning new ideas. The pace of these evolving talks works better for introverts because they can sit down.
If you want to join a group with an ongoing conversation, research shows that the best entry line is to ask a question about the topic under discussion. Don’t come into the group and shift to a new topic. The group can feel threatened.
If you realize there is negative talk going on in your head after you exit a social encounter, try picturing the “judge” who is criticizing you. First tell him or her to “put a sock in it.” Next, switch channels to thoughts of something pleasant, like a beach, a campfire, a snowy or rainy day. Finally, replace that critical voice with a kinder, gentler, more supportive one: “You’re doing fine.”
4. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t like the phone. It’s not a character defect. It helps to understand why you don’t like it.
Studies have shown that introverts often have trouble multitasking in social situations. This means that they are so focused on regulating their antsy feeling and expending energy interacting with others that they often do not realize how other people react to them. For example, introverts often don’t pick up on the fact that other people like them, and so the relating doesn’t seem as enjoyable. In other words, they may not notice social signals that someone is responding to them in a positive way by smiling, leaning toward them, and seeking them out.
So the next time you leave a convivial gathering, just remind yourself that lots of folks enjoyed your company. In fact, I have found that most introverted people are appreciated at social gatherings—after all, those extroverts need good listeners!
Introverts • like quiet for concentration • care about their work and workplace • may have trouble communicating • may know more than they reveal • may seem quiet and aloof • need to be asked for their opinions and ideas (won’t simply supply them) • like to work on long complex problems, and have good attention to detail • need to understand exactly why they are doing something • dislike intrusions and interruptions • need to think and reflect before speaking and acting • work alone contentedly • may be reluctant to delegate • prefer to stay in office or cubicle rather than socialize • do not like to draw attention to themselves • work well with little supervision • may have trouble remembering names and faces
Another reason introverts may not share their knowledge is because often they don’t realize all they know. They take their rich emotional, intellectual, and imaginative life for granted. Unless a particular topic happens to come up with a friend, innies may not realize that they are a wealth of information on, for instance, sailing.
At the same time, introverts often feel they don’t have to let other people in on what they are up to—at work, in particular—because, if they were the boss, they would notice how much time and effort they were putting in. Innies don’t realize that extroverted people don’t pay attention to the same behaviors in the same way they do.
The last reason innies don’t expose their internal selves is because they aren’t looking for outside approval. Though they want to be appreciated for their achievements, getting public attention can be painful and/or uncomfortable—like hearing fingernails scratch on a blackboard: squirmy and shrill.
Extroverts often argue in a win-lose style. They emphasize being right. Sometimes this leaves the other person (often the introvert) feeling wrong. Many introverts argue in a win-win style. They want each person’s ideas to be heard. In general, introverts tend to question more and criticize less. They are less invested in their own perspective, and they tend to consider all points of view valid.
Studies show that many introverts have trouble with face and name recognition. In fact, some researchers theorize that the difficulty of recognizing familiar names and faces adds to introverts’ anxiety about social and work encounters.
In his book High Energy Living, Dr. Robert Cooper says that water “stimulates increased energy production throughout your body and increases alertness in your brain and senses.”
According to most studies, one of the most effective ways to motivate employees is to recognize them. This is more complicated than just giving raises and promotions. It means finding rewards that match their personality. Introverts are not motivated by the same incentives as extroverts. Extroverts are motivated by external reinforcements like praise, opportunities for rewards, public acclaim (like being “employee of the month”), and competitive contests. Introverts, by contrast, like to stay out of the limelight. They find being the object of public attention a punishment rather than a pleasure. This doesn’t mean they don’t respond to validation and feedback. They do, as long as it isn’t too overstimulating.
When innies are faced with a daunting task, they immediately imagine how much energy it will consume. A step-by-step approach instantly reduces the fear that they won’t have enough stamina.
One of the quickest ways to find out what has meaning to you is to think about your own death. Try jotting down the main points you would like included in your obituary. Imagine your life as if you were a newspaper reporter. What stands out? What are you proudest of? What do you care most about? What moments in your life have the most meaning to you? Now, make a list of some of the things you haven’t yet learned, experienced, or completed. Write down what you would like to accomplish before the end of your life. Anything is okay; don’t limit yourself. Jot down any idea that occurs to you. You can always change it in a month or in a year. This list won’t be carved on your gravestone. Keep in mind this is your list—what you want for yourself—not what others expect of you.
Determine what you truly want 1. The first step to understanding what your life is about is to write down your goals in the following areas (it’s okay to do a few at a time as they occur to you): • Your health • Your renewing time • Your family life • Your personal growth • Your marriage or partnership • Your career • Your friendships • Your creativity • Your social life • Your spiritual self • Your hobbies and play • Your _______________ • Your _______________ 2. From your goals, determine your overall priorities. 3. Write down some steps that you can take toward achieving your priorities. 4. Make a list of four steps you can take this week. Remember to keep them small, one baby step after the other. 5. Ask yourself what barriers are keeping you from achieving your goals. 6. How can you overcome those barriers? 7. Reevaluate your priorities. Do you still want everything on your list, or should you adapt them a bit? 8. Reward yourself for any progress you’ve made.
Left-brained introverts (mentioned in Chapter 3) often develop rigid parameters, too. They value thinking over feelings and interpersonal relationships. They’re like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, who overcontrolled his feelings and always relied on his logical thinking. Such individuals use a detached style to manage their lives, not shape-shifting to anyone. But this leaves them missing something important: the glue of human connection—feelings. Some of the other consequences of having rigid parameters are: • feeling relationships as demanding or invading • feeling helpless and hopeless • feeling trapped and unable to see choices • being unable to grow emotionally • being controlling, thought of by others as having an “anal personality” • appearing self-absorbed and critical • pushing people away
I have worked with many introverts who did not think they were very smart. Ironically, about 60 percent of the intellectually gifted are introverted (Silverman, 1993). The real problem is that they have been in an overloaded state all of their lives. They think “nothing” is in their brain when actually there’s “too much” in there. However, if they are not aware of the need to give themselves time to sift, sort, and contemplate, they may feel they can’t think. Or, worse, they think their head is empty.
We need natural light, especially bright morning light, to help us feel awake. At Harvard University, researchers studied the link between light and alertness. They found that people felt more energized all day when they had at least fifteen minutes of bright light first thing in the morning. Natural light is vital to all of us but especially to introverts, since they function on the less energized side of the nervous system. Natural light regulates levels of a hormonelike substance called melatonin, which has a powerful effect on mood, sleep, and the reproductive system. An insufficient amount of light can cause a buildup of melatonin, resulting in depression and lethargy.
Use full-spectrum lightbulbs or a lamp that replicates daylight if you live in the northern latitudes.
One of the reasons introverts can have trouble sleeping is because they have such active brains. The blood flow to the stimulation areas of their brains is greater than in extroverts, and they are constantly bombarded by a variety of stimuli—from the inner as well as the outer world. They can’t switch their minds off, shut out the world around them, or quiet their inner voices. This often makes it harder for them to simmer down, relax, and get the seven or eight hours of sleep experts say they need. Here are some tips to help bring the Sandman: • Introverts are usually quite sensitive to caffeine, so confine your coffee drinking to the morning. • Put opaque shades on your bedroom windows and use earplugs or a sound machine to shut out noises. • Take the TV out of your bedroom. • Create a bedtime ritual that is comforting, and go to bed and get up at the same time every day. • Keep the bedroom cool. • Deep breathe, if you can’t sleep, and tell yourself you are helping , your body, which you are.
1. What things in my life are most important to me? 2. What would I like to contribute to the world? 3. In this lifetime, I hope to 4. How can I make these things happen in my life? 5. Who are the people I want to be with on my journey?
Here are some of the advantages they do have going for them: the ability to focus well for long periods of time, to be persistent, to take many factors into account, to master new information, to strive to do a good job, to contemplate, and to create in imaginative ways. These are just a few qualities on a pretty impressive list, I might add.
for introverts, getting going can be like scaling Mt. Everest. Because they know it takes extra energy to climb out of their well-worn path and because they aren’t rewarded with Hap Hits from moving their bodies, it is easy to stay sedentary. Less energy is needed to confront the familiar. And, if innies aren’t in the world enough, they can assume they have more problems than other people, reinforcing the notion that something is wrong with them. They feel even more ashamed and increase their isolation. Innies often don’t realize that life has built-in stresses and strains and that everyone struggles in one way or another.
Extroverts don’t like to listen for very long and may stop listening to innies if they talk slowly or hesitantly. Some extroverts think innies aren’t very smart or are wishy-washy because of their soft voices and their ability to see both sides of an issue.
Research shows that people are perceived as smart if they speak quickly, in a loud voice, and they avoid slang words and phrases. Whether you are talking in a classroom to your child’s teacher, in a meeting at the office with your colleagues, or at home at a family gathering, speak in short, decisive sentences in a firm, strong, and clear voice, making direct eye contact. If you are in a group, always make a firm, short, connecting statement: “I would like to add ...” Or “As Jim said, I think ...”
The irritations of life usually upset introverts more than extroverts. Since they are more alert to their internal world, they notice their reactions to stress sooner and more intensely. As their inner upset increases, it is harder to soothe themselves. (Since extroverts are less focused on their inner world, bad news often rolls off them like water off a duck’s back.)
Introverts, on the other hand, constantly evaluate what they have said. They have that active internal voice in the Broca’s area of the brain, which controls speech and understanding language. It is on the pathway with other areas of the brain that assess reactions and compare the past, present, and future. Sometimes this internal voice can become critical. Extroverts can have a critical internal voice, too, but it’s more focused on what they do rather than on what they say. Introverts’ internal voice often focuses on what they say, which can have the unfortunate effect of reducing their speaking out loud. Are you aware of your internal voice? Is it friend or foe? Is it encouraging? Discouraging?…