Relationships: The power of the introvert

ELLE Canada explores how introverts function in an extroverts' world.

Jan 03, 2014
Rosemary Counter
Leda & St. Jacques
Relationships: The power of the introvert

"Did you go out today?" asks my boyfriend after a long day at the office. It suddenly occurs to me that I am still in my pyjamas, working on my laptop and curled up in the same spot as when he left. He's just curious, he says, but I hear only criticism.

"No; why?" I snap, defensive. He gives me a list of valid reasons - exercise, the weather, human interaction - but I'm not convinced by any of them. I suspect he thinks I must be bored, or boring, or clinically depressed. For the record, I'm not. Nor do I have seasonal affective disorder or agoraphobia. I'm not allergic to the sun and I'm not "just shy." I happen to be an introvert - and there's nothing wrong with that.

Carl Jung coined the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" in 1913, just as Western society was moving from what could be called a culture of moral character ("Are you a jerk?") to a culture of personality ("But are you a fun jerk?") - one that values charisma and magnetism above all else. Bold and outgoing, the extrovert's experience was normalized as the introvert's was made to seem pathetic.

They're happy, outgoing and confident; we're guarded, private loners. And with 75 percent of the population on team extrovert, they dominate pop culture and political arenas; we introverts like to stay home and read books.

"People often think of introversion as synonymous with being anti-social or asocial," says Susan Cain, proud introvert and author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. That is truly incorrect - and I'm living proof.

For the record, I have friends, I like to party when the mood's right and I can rock an extrovert costume like nobody's business. Two hours later, however, and unlike a genuine extrovert, I'll be ready for a nap.

"Think of yourself as a battery," says Cain. "Extroverts are charged up by being in groups, while introverts feel depleted."

Don't feel guilty if you're a dead Duracell - according to some psychologists, where you fall on the introvert/extrovert scale is coded in your DNA. One study - 23 years old and counting - looked at "high-reactive" (fussy) and "low-reactive" (chill) babies.

Due to elevated sensitivities, the former grew into introspective introvert while the latter tended to become the relaxed and confident type. "It all relates to how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation," explains Cain.

Learn what the world is like for introverts on the next page...


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