The Introvert's Corner

How to live a quiet life in a noisy world

Don't Call Me Neurotic (Unless I Am)

A field guide to introverts, misanthropes, neurotics, and shy people

A study published in the Academy of Management Journal compared extroverts with neurotics at work and found that while extroverts tend to dazzle at first blush, neurotics are more likely to be productive in the long term.

It’s an interesting study not only for what it tells us about extroverts, but also it because it compares extroverts not with introverts, but with neurotics. In this interview, researcher Neha Parikh Shah says that they chose those two groups because, “…extroverts have historically been the people who are at the top of the status hierarchy and neurotics are the people who are at the bottom of the status hierarchy.”

Introverts have embraced this study because it is more evidence that extroversion has its drawbacks. But putting extroversion and neuroticism on two sides of a comparison also adds yet another facet of misunderstanding to our perception of introversion. People confuse introversion with shyness, with misanthropy, and now they might start lumping us with neurotics. We seem to have a hard time teasing out pure introversion.

There is often crossover, of course—I’m introverted and neurotic. And certainly I’ve heard from plenty of introverted misanthropes and shy introverts. But getting to know yourself and your introversion means figuring out what you do that can be attributed to introversion and what’s a result of some other qualities.

So herewith is a little primer illustrating the different ways these four groups think. (For your entertainment only. It’s not a diagnostic tool. But you knew that. Except somebody won’t and will take me to task for not being scientific. Which I’m not.)

You’re standing at the threshold of a party already in full swing.

Shy: I wonder if I can slip in there without anyone noticing me.

Neurotic: I’m pretty sure 87 percent of the people here are going to hate me.

Misanthropic: What a bunch of losers.

Introverted: Can I go home now?

You have to give an oral report in front of your class or colleagues at work.

Shy: With any luck, the world will come to an end before I have to get up there.

Neurotic: I’ll probably forget everything I’m supposed to say the minute I get up there.

Misanthropic: These half-wits probably won’t understand a word I’m saying.

Introverted: C’mon, let’s just do this so I can go home.

An attractive stranger across the room appears to be looking your way.

Shy: Oh no! What do I do?

Neurotic: Is my zipper open?

Misanthropic: What are you lookin’ at?

Introverted: Let’s see what happens if I make eye contact.

The gang invites you to join them for happy hour after work.

Shy: Eeeeeek!

Neurotic: They probably feel sorry for me.

Misanthropic: I get enough of you idiots all day at work.

Introverted: All things considered, I'd rather just go home.

You have to work on a team on the job or at school.

Shy: I’ll just wait until someone tells me what to do.

Neurotic: I hope I don’t screw things up for everyone.

Misanthropic: Great—all I need is to have my reputation hanging on the work these knuckleheads do.

Introverted: Here’s what I can do, just let me go do it.

Remember that as far as we know, introversion is inborn. So is neuroticism. So if you fit into those, just run with them. Be the best neurotic introvert you can be. Misanthropy and shyness can be changed if you want, although I suspect that shy people might be more open to change than misanthropes, who have already decided I’m a dumbass who doesn't know what she's talking about. And I'm just neurotic enough to think they might be right.

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Can't get enough of me? Buy my book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. Or come hang out on my Facebook page. And I'm trying out Tumblr, with The Quiet Traveler, though that's a work in progress. So much Sophia, so little time.

Sophia Dembling is a widely published Dallas, Texas-based writer. Her latest book is The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

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