It’s not unusual for introverts to run across prejudice, even in the clinical setting. They are encouraged by spouses, bosses, and some therapists to be more “outgoing,” “on,” “cheerful,” and “energetic.” They are told that if they put more effort into what amounts to an extroverted way of being, that they will be happier, enjoy more success at work, and please the people around them.
Susan Cain makes the case in her bestselling Quiet that this bias stems from a culture that is predominated by extroverted ideals coupled with a misunderstanding of what constitutes introversion. As a psychotherapist who’s an introvert, I’ve developed an interest in this topic both personally and professionally. Here are some of the observations I’ve made about my clinical practice.
1. Introversion is normal.
Introversion/extroversion is one of the basic dimensions of personality. A preference for an introverted way of being is normal and includes more time for solitude, not wanting to assert oneself in a self-promotional way at work and other social situations, and a preference for, and even preoccupation with introspection.
Introversion is not synonymous with shyness, depression, or schizoid tendencies. It does, however, overlap with Elaine Aron’s concept of high sensitivity. Introverts are not misanthropes. Most have social skills comparable to extroverts.
Introversion and extroversion exist along a continuum and, according to Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) data, may be normally distributed. Therefore most people (two out of three) will be within one standard deviation of the mean and will have well expressed introvert and extrovert traits. Because of the need to act extroverted in many work and social situations, people who have an introverted center of gravity may wittingly or unwittingly be acting in extroverted manner. Having a better understanding of what it is to be an introvert can empower people to be more authentic and to practice better self-care.
2. You may be an introvert yourself.
Many helping professionals are introverts. They are drawn to counseling work by an interest in the inner workings of the mind and a preference for significant, one-on-one conversations. Even though the work is meaningful, it can be draining. If you are not predominately an extrovert, you will have to work to restore your energy from doing the work to offset exhaustion. Mindfulness can help with this process of energy restoration
3. There are methodological issues measuring introversion.
The most common research method for measuring introversion doesn’t measure introversion but rather the degree of extraversion that is present. Researchers Peter Hills and Michael Argyle are some of the few researchers to identify the anti-introvert bias present in research. They lament, “The view that extroversion is a preferred state has come to be widely accepted among social psychologists. In consequence, introverts are sometimes represented as withdrawn, isolated or lacking social competence, rather than as individuals who seek independence and autonomy.”
4. The culture is biased against introverts
Psychotherapist Ester Schaler Bucholz in her book The Call of Solitude pointed out, “Health professionals are actually not that different from the average person. Like a relative or companion, they may see the self-possessed introspective person as less malleable, less normal.” They differ in how they feel when those skills are expressed and the situations they prefer to express them within. For example, I prefer an in depth conversation to small talk of the cocktail party variety. My appetite for socialization differs in that I feel a strong need for compensatory solitude after most social forays.
5. You probably have a lot of introverts in your clinical practice
Psychotherapist and introvert advocate Laurie Helgoe discusses in her book Introvert Power that introverts are more introspective and curious about their inner life and therefore more prone to present to treatment. This could create a bias since the depressed or anxious introverts are sitting in your consulting room in greater numbers than extroverts with the same degree of symptoms. They don’t have more psychopathology, just more willingness to address it
6. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for introverts
Introspection has its own set of pitfalls: rumination, obsession, and worry. Introverts can get stuck in their stories and may need help getting out of their heads and into the present moment. As the embodied practice of awareness to this moment, mindfulness is an ideal fit for introverts. Mindfulness meditation practice can help them (and everyone) to better navigate the interior dimensions of the mind to foster creative imagination while mitigating rumination.
7. Introverted ways of being can be helpful for introverts and extroverts alike
As a culture, we have gotten out of balance and squeezed quiet and solitude out of our lives. This, no doubt, contributes to the stressfulness of life. We work longer hours, devote more time to children, and have access to 24/7 information and social media. Mindfulness meditation can help to restore quiet solitude in everyone’s lives. Extroverts can benefit from more quiet; introverts desperately need it.