Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Who Rules the World? Introverts or Extraverts?




Since my last article I’ve received requests for more information about introverts and extroverts.  Extroverts get their energy from sources outside themselves including socialization with others. Extroverts tend to appear energetic, seek variety, are energized by activities, like to be in the middle of things, enjoy talking even with strangers, are self promoters and networkers, may be aggressive in bids for attention and monopolize the limelight, may think out loud and prefer face-to-face contacts over written communications. Introverts derive energy from their internal world of emotions and ideas. They often appear calm, self-contained,  may prefer to observe rather than interact, prefer deep close relationships with fewer friends, may feel uncomfortable or drained in social situations,  may be slow to offer personal information to others, may prefer communicating one-to-one, usually need time to think before responding, may prefer written to verbal communication and may be creative and imaginative.


By now you may be able to place yourself in one or the other groups or you may have qualities found in both groups. People are born with these temperaments. Identical twins raised separately retain these characteristics regardless of the parenting style of their caretakers.  Most data sources indicate that, at least in this society, more people are extroverted than introverted. Psychologists know there is no stigma, mental illness or dysfunction characteristic of either group; they are just different. Popular culture, however, has tended to criticize introverts as being shy, anxious, neurotic or aloof. But let's not judge a book by its cover. Introverts have a lot to contribute if you take the time to listen to them. In fact, introverts have been found to constitute 60% of highly gifted individuals. Einstein was an extreme introvert. In fact, in elementary school he was so quiet and withdrawn that he was actually thought to be "dull-witted."


Given that we live in a highly judgmental society, both introverts and extroverts may feel different or deficient because they lack the valued characteristics of the other group. Introverts are often criticized for their lack of easy socializing. They may not feel comfortable in participating in group interactions at work. Introverts may feel overstimulated and overwhelmed when attempting to follow the pace of extroverted friends. Extroverts often feel bored, impatient and lonely when energizing social situations are not available to them. They may feel frustrated when asked to work in solitary situations or produce written materials. As extroverts get older, they may have less energy and more need for internal resources, especially in retirement. My primary recommendation is for everyone to recognize their own strengths and advantages and not judge themselves negatively in comparison to others. It's important to nurture your own type of personality and adjust to life with stress reducing and happiness habits as I have described in other articles on my website.


There are, however, important reasons for understanding and developing some life strategies similar to the other temperament group. Introverts and extroverts are often attracted to each other and marry. Then, after the honeymoon, they may become uncomfortable with their personality differences. Introverts and extroverts often mingle in the workplace without a good understanding of how to interact with the other group. Social situations may be awkward when introverts and extroverts come together. You may find it helpful to learn more about the characteristics of the other group and learn how to develop some of their coping strategies for yourself.  Unfortunately, extroverts rarely write books. But introverts do, and they talk about both temperament groups. I recommend "The Introvert Advantage" by Marti Laney, Workman, 2002. (A word of caution. Dr. Laney writes about her style of introversion which is not necessarily the same as all introverts.) Nevertheless the book has valuable advice about relationship, communication and workplace issues between introverts and extroverts.


So who rules the world? Both, of course. Introverts may be our great thinkers and writers and extroverts may be our politicians and leaders.  As our friend Albert Einstein advised, "Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value." Ultimately one's life path should be measured according to your own purpose and values, not external achievements.