It all starts in elementary school, where screeching children decimate a wall with muddy rubber balls. Off to the side is the kid who walks, eats and lives with his best friend: the book. Society labels this kid “the loner.”
“The loner” is a stereotypical introvert and society looks down on him because of that. Roughly half of the U.S. population are classified as introverts, according to Forbes Magazine and it is widely accepted in America that introverts are reticent people who keep to themselves, refrain from contributing their ideas and opinions and instead remain in sullen solitude.
Although introverts’ desire for solitude may lead others to believe there is something wrong with them, in reality, introvertedness is natural and not actually a problem.
Society and media perpetuate the stereotype of the reclusive introvert. We see this represented in the beginning of the popular film “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” The protagonist is explicitly introduced as an introvert because he is shy, anti-social and also happens to have depression. “Perks of Being a Wallflower” perpetuates the idea that introverts are all defined by certain traits, even though these traits may not always be applicable.
Contrary to popular belief, an introvert is really just someone whose energy flows better when they are alone. Palo Alto High School AP Psychology teacher Melinda Mattes defines introverts in a way that challenges the stereotype.
“Introverts find solitary tasks energizing, whereas extroverts find social situations energizing,” says Mattes, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford University. “That does not mean that introverts are unable to engage in social situations or that an introvert doesn’t like social situations. Similarly, even extroverts enjoy some solitary activities.”
In other words, introverted is not synonymous with antisocial. The comparison between introverts and extroverts is not binary; it’s a spectrum and neither personality type is bound to behaviors defined by their category.
Just because introverts may not express their ideas as often as extroverts does not mean that they possess ideas of lesser value. Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” argues that introverts actually have more creative ideas to contribute.
“When psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them,” Cain writes.
Often, introspectiveness brings us the best ideas and leaders. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Ghandi and Abraham Lincoln are only a few examples of successful self-identified introverts who made significant contributions to society. However, society pressures people to develop extroverted traits, even if that isn’t the most conducive to success for an introvert.
This emphasis on extroversion is growing and prevalent in the school system and workplace. In “progressive” classroom environments, teachers are beginning to increase the number of required class discussions to encourage students to become closer to the “extrovert ideal.” These changes can be as subtle as grouping tables together so students face each other and feel more inclined to exchange ideas with one another, or more straightforward like mandatory participation in discussions. However, these systems of learning are not always compatible for introverts.
Junior Julian Knodt, a self-proclaimed introvert, expresses his frustration with the expectation to conform to the “extrovert ideal.”
“I try to avoid large crowds,” Knodt says. “It’s not that l can’t stand them; I just feel that when I am in large crowds, people don’t hear me and everything I say isn’t useful.”
The expectation to be extroverted and “contributive” is enforced past high school and into the workplace. In meetings, successful employees are expected to be constantly immersed in the group setting, vocalizing their ideas and actively reaching out to others.
It’s not that being outgoing at work is bad. However, not everyone can be expected to be outgoing. By creating these ideals, society pushes introverts into roles they don’t want or need to take and in many cases, society actually ends up restricting their productivity and creativity.
Everyone is different. No one set of conditions or lifestyle is best for everyone because people come in a spectrum of personalities. For this reason, it’s time that we end our introvert stigma and respect the fact that various people require different conditions to reach their full potential.