Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
Home | About Dr. Phillips | Forest Garden Office | Reading Room | Advice Line Articles | "Office Staff" | Other Services | Psych-mobile | Choosing a Therapist | Affordable Therapy or Life Coaching | Dedication
Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?



WHO DOES THE STRESS MONSTER LIKE MORE?  INTROVERTS OR EXTROVERTS?  Keep reading to find out. If you are a regular reader of this column, you know about the Stress Monster. It's big and ugly with jagged teeth and claws and attacks you when you're down. It loves to creep in at night in the darkness, sowing seeds of worry and depression. But don't call the Chatham County Sheriff or Animal Control to drag the monster away, because it can't be controlled so easily.


So let's talk about introverts and extroverts.  If you enjoy spending time alone, if you look for deep relationships in friends, if you are a good listener, if you appear calm and self-contained, if you usually think before speaking or acting and if you often feel drained after a lot of socializing, then you may be considered an introvert. If you enjoy talking, even to strangers, if you know lots of people and consider many people your friends, if you like activity and variety, if you feel energized rather than tired by social activities, and if you often speak or act before thinking, or think while speaking, you may be considered an extrovert.  The difference is a personality characteristic which is considered to be stable over time and not easily altered.  All people have some introverted and some extroverted characteristics, although most can be classified in one or the other personality dimension.


A caveat. It's important to realize that introversion/extroversion is only one part of your personality. The totality of an individual's personality is much more complex than this dimension by itself. Nevertheless, this characteristic is important because it's effects can be seen in social, work and public settings and it is related to career success. The "life of the party" will usually be an extrovert. When an introvert attends parties, he or she may more often be found conversing one-on-one. Think of a politician or a salesman and you will be usually thinking of an extrovert.  Think of an artist or a writer, and you will usually be thinking of an introvert. Don't be misled by stereotypes, however, as other personality characteristics or skills may be responsible for what you observe. Many actors, for example, are often introverts although their professional skills certainly suggest extroversion.


Which personality type is rewarded in our society? Usually the extrovert whose public presence may seem more friendly, outgoing or sociable while the extrovert may appear more quiet, reserved or even withdrawn. Don't spend too much time reading media articles about these personality types as the information is often very superficial and at times demeaning, especially to the introvert. If you rounded up the adjectives used to describe these personality types, there are more negative judgments and critical adjectives applied to introverts. It's important to realize that introversion has nothing to do with shyness, social anxiety, neuroticism, depression, antisocial isolation or aloofness. The introvert may like social activities as much as the extrovert, although their social interactions may be more personal and reflective. Both orientations have been unfairly judged, however.  Extroverts have been criticized as superficial or narcissistic or even less intelligent when they talk before they think. If you want additional information and reading about introversion and extroversion, check out the Advice Line section of my website. (You might even find out if I'm an introvert or an extrovert.) See Additional information below.


So who does the stress monster prey on more?  The stress monster loves them both.  Neither personality type is immune from the current stress epidemic. Additionally, both suffer when placed in situations or jobs more suited to the other personality type. The extrovert suffers from boredom and discomfort when restricted from social activities and when placed in situations where reflection and deep thinking are prioritized. Introverts suffer from criticism that they are social isolates or have unfriendly personalities when they avoid coffee room conversations or parties.  


What is my conclusion? Let's be kind to both introverts and extroverts, realizing that these are just differences in personality not reflective of moral, intellectual or social deficiencies. No matter whether you are an introvert or extrovert, applaud your personal gifts and don't worry about the differences. A very wise man, Shakespeare, offered this advice, as worthy today as when he wrote these words, "To thine own self be true."


Additional Information.  I've received requests to write more about this topic, especially introversion, which I will do in my next Chatham County Line article. If you want to read more, an excellent book is "The Introvert Advantage by Marti Laney, Workman, 2002." Interestingly enough, I couldn't find any books about extroversion except a book about how to write if you are an extrovert. It's pretty clear that introverts are writers while extroverts generally are not. Dr. Laney is a therapist and writer and introvert as I am.  While both introverts and extroverts can relate well to others, their preferences are different. Introverts do relate well on a deep level with others and in one-to-one situations. This characteristic would make an introvert a good therapist while not necessarily a good politician! See the next article for more information.