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Introverts Are Not Failed Extroverts

Upending the stereotypes about introverts.

I wanted to cheer when Sophia Dembling, a PT blogger, made these comments about introverts:

  • Having been told all our lives that our way is not the right way…
  • Introversion is not an illness, it’s not a pathology, it’s not a bad thing.

The parallels in the worldview of introverts and only children are striking in many respects. Introverts, like only children, are stereotyped and often viewed as lacking or suffering.

To her first point, if you are the parent of one child or thinking about having one child, you have probably heard that your “way” is not right; that children need siblings. As an introvert, says Dembling, “You are told that introverts are less successful and less happy than extroverts, and that we should want to change our nature and be less introverted when really, we are perfectly OK with it.”

To her second point, if you are the parents of one child, you have probably heard the negatives assigned to singletons. As psychologist G. Stanley Hall stated in 1896, “being an only child is a disease in itself.” But, over a hundred years later, we know that being an only child, like being an introvert, is “not a pathology; it’s not a bad thing.”

In her book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, Dembling smashes the stigmas and stereotypes linked to introverts. Introverts are misunderstood and Dembling makes that crystal clear. She provides an operating manual to help introverts navigate a society that, in many cases, devalues introversion.

She notes, “All our lives introverts have bought into the myth that extroversion is better and the American way…introverts get pressure every which way to behave differently. (Parents of onlies reading this are probably saying, “Yup, that’s what we hear—have more children; only children are lonely, shy…negatives, a whole list of them.”…. These introvert labels caught my attention immediately because many are the very same stigmas attached to only children.

In explaining the idea that introverts are lonely, Dembling reassures us that being alone is just fine, it is not the same as loneliness. Loneliness implies being separated from others in ways that make people feel sorry for you. Sound familiar, parents of onlies? Friends and relatives feel sorry for your child who has no siblings to play (and argue) with. Don’t feel badly for introverts, explains Dembling, they enjoy solitude and tranquility and that is very different from being lonely.

In examining shyness, the assumed stereotype that adheres to introverts and only children alike, Dembling points out that shyness is a behavior. Extroverts can be shy, too. It’s just that introverts have a weak desire to be with people. Dembling, herself an introvert, is not shy.

Often, as parents of onlies can attest, family members are the toughest. Dembling notes correctly in the context of introverts: Relatives “think they know you better than you know yourself…criticism from family is hardest to deflect because there will always be niggling doubts in the back of our minds.” I cheer again because family and close friends question what you are doing when you want to be by yourself or, similarly want one child. The doubt surfaces every time someone in the family tells you that your child would be happier if you fell in line with accepted protocol—have the requisite two children.

There is much to learn from The Introvert’s Way whether you are an introvert or an extrovert who lives with an introvert—a parent, friend, or relative. Most importantly, one is not better than the other. Like one-child families and large families—they are simply different. The takeaway Dembling points out—and again it applies to any group that is questioned and stigmatized—is to “learn to live the way we feel most comfortable and complete.”

If you want to be by yourself more than with others (or if you want one child when everyone else is telling you to have two), Dembling says, “When we identify and live true to our nature, we find comfort and grace, and life is suddenly simple.”

You don’t need others to validate your personality or your choices. When someone comes forth with suggestions for how you should be or what you should do, ignore them.

Related: Stereotyping by Blood Type and Birth Order and Why Stereotypes Stick

Copyright @2012 by Susan Newman

Photo credit: <a href="">One Way Stock</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>