Introverts are NOT Broken Extroverts
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Someone posted a question in the INFJ community this week that got me thinking a bit. The post said, “Which introvert type best describes you? Social, anxious, thinking or restrained?”
I had never heard the theory that there are different kinds of introverts so I asked him for the link to where he found this info.
It comes from a psychologist named Jonathan Cheek, who teaches personality psychology at Wellesley College. He studies shyness, self-concept, and identity orientations.
In his research, he equates shyness with being introverted. In fact, he says that they are synonymous and that which category you fall into depends on how comfortable you are with the term.
His names four subcategories of shyness, as described in an article on Psychology Today:
Shy-secure – self-identify as shy. They have some social anxiety but don’t need a lot of interaction and don’t stress about it. “When asked to converse with a new acquaintance, they were very low key,” explains Cheek. “It doesn’t necessarily interest or excite them, but they were calm and they would talk.” (This is how a number of us here have described our introversion. Yeah, we can socialize. When we want to or must.)
Shy-withdrawn – are more anxious about affiliating with others. “They have a lot of sensitivity to rejection, fear of negative evaluation, concern about becoming embarrassed and of social faux pas,” says Cheek. Shy-withdrawn people struggle more than the shy-secure because, in our society, they must frequently do that which makes them anxious. These shy types also might get lonely.
Shy-dependent – want so much to be around others, they are overly accommodating and compliant, and self-effacing. “If you think about it as a social strategy, the withdrawn move away from other people but the dependent move toward other people,” says Cheek. “They are affiliative, they go along to get along. They have a better short-term social adaptation profile but long term, how can you build a relationship based on mutuality if you are volunteering to be the junior partner?”
Shy-conflicted – have a high need for affiliation, but also are anxious about it. Cheek calls it the approach-avoid conflict. “They have a conflict between withdrawing or seeking autonomy versus moving towards others,” says Cheek. “They vacillate and tend to have anticipatory anxiety.” While Cheek is fine with the shy-positive movement (he cites such books as The Highly Sensitive Person and The Gift of Shyness), he thinks shy-conflicted shyness may not be benign. “That type of person tends to, among all shy people, have the most problems,” he says.
Here’s the problem with this theory
When Dr. Creek makes being shy the same as being introverted he’s saying that being introverted is a psychological problem that needs to be corrected or fixed. He is supporting the theory that introverts are broken extroverts who need to be fixed as well. That’s simply not true.
I’ll give you an example. The article that mentioned these 4 types of introversion is about careers. It’s called 10 Careers for Introverts Where Success Doesn’t Require Feeling Socially Drained.
It says, “being bold, outspoken, and extroverted in general are valued qualities in the workplaces, traits like “assertive,” “loud,” and “outwardly friendly” are desirable to have when you’re looking to get hired, promoted, or just simply be successful in your current gig.”
Let’s stop there for a second. Who says that traits like being bold, assertive and outwardly friendly are reserved for extroverted people? Who made that decision? And why does everyone just buy into it??
I can be very bold, loud and assertive when I want to be. It’s not my first choice, most of the time, but when it’s necessary I do it. Does it tax me? YES, sometimes. Do I let that show at work? NO! Absolutely not!
The assumption that being introverted is being broken leads to conclusions like these, that positive traits are equated with extroverts and the negative traits are equated with introverts. It’s especially true when you’re looking for a job. No one assumes that introverts are friendly. No one associates leadership traits, like being bold, assertive and commanding, with introverts, ever. They just assume that introverts are not good leaders, so they don’t want them.
Not only does that make it hard for introverts to find the right careers but it also leads us to believe these things about ourselves, that we won’t make good leaders and we can’t be good with people. It’s a vicious cycle.
Introverts are not broken
Speaking about introverts like they are broken extroverts does a lot of damage to all of us who are introverted. It makes us feel like we are not enough and like we don’t belong. Those feelings lead down a spiral of confusion and self-hate.
You start to ask yourself questions like, “Why am I not like everyone else? Why am I broken? What do I need to do it fix it?”
Then you launch into this mission to fix your broken introvertedness. You might spend years trying to fix it before you realize that it’s not fixable. You can’t overcome your need to recharge by yourself. You can’t outwork your desire to read instead of socialize. You can’t fake being a people-loving extrovert until you make it. It just doesn’t work.
What happens is you get burnt out trying to do those things all of the time. And eventually, you’ll crash. What they crash looks like is different for different people, but it could end up being really bad.
Then you plunge even deeper into the world of self-hate and feeling like you aren’t enough for anything or anyone. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I felt that way for most of my life. And it’s a terrible feeling that I don’t wish on anyone.
One of the big things that helped me out of it was accepting that I’m not like everyone else. I’m not BROKEN because I’m introverted. I don’t need to be FIXED. I wasn’t born with something missing from my brain. There is nothing wrong with me. Being introverted is not wrong.
It’s perfectly normal to want to read instead of go out with friends. It’s wonderful to have 1 good friend instead of 100 friends I barely know. It’s amazing to write rather than talk all of the time. It doesn’t need to be loud and noisy all the time. I love the quiet in my little apartment. I soak it in.