Through the years there has been a lot of study of introverts and extroverts and the differences in how their lives unfold as a result. Even lay people can appreciate that it is not surprising that extroverts tend to seize opportunities that introverts may not.
This is largely unsurprising because by adulthood most of us would have seen (or been) introverts that were stopped, not by the quality of an idea or our interest in it, but rather by discomfort with the interpersonal relations required to enact the opportunity. In these states were are intimidated, and every human being will experience that in life.
While this leaves introverts at a disadvantage in a competitive landscape (which nature naturally is), this is not to suggest that there is something ‘wrong’ with them. Every human being has limitations that can prevent certain kinds of success, but there are no ‘wrong’ personalities.
If some person enjoys a lot of time alone and works well off by themselves, then they should pursue that and feel healthy. There are some well-known iconoclastic artists and scientists and other people who have lead fruitful, enjoyable lives, largely tucked off on their own.
That said, there is also a large group of separate introverts who self-hate themselves for their inability to seize opportunities they later regret having passed up.
Being a bit ‘aspy’ and enjoying time alone focusing on something for hours can make someone seem unhealthily obsessed, but if the motivation is the feeling that it must be done, then that is an example of a human being living their life in a way that suits them. That is what it is to follow a calling. There’s no external sense to it, but it works for the person living it.
If life wasn’t like that, we may have waited for some time for another Newton to sort out gravity and calculus. He didn’t love people, he loved ideas. In fact, he was known to pretty much hate people, he hated bathing, and he worked naked a lot. He was often seen as an unpleasant person.
Importantly, one gets the impression that Newton was too busy being Newton to care what others thought, and that is a form of spiritual health I write and speak about often. It may not seem like a naked, smelly, unfriendly person can live a quality spiritual life but they can and they do.
It’s all a matter of –do we think we’re living our own life, or one stifled by uncertainty about our place in the world? Newton would have been very troubled were he forced to leave his lab only to be bathed and dressed and liked by people he had no interest in. So he was healthier in his lab, alone.
Be they in the arts or in science or accounting or engineering or any other field, those sorts of intense passions represent what it is to healthily separate ourselves from others. That is not what crippling introversion is.
This small study is yet another look at how some people are subtly and negatively affected by their introversion, and how they can benefit from actually learning to be more assertive.
Keep in mind, Newton had no trouble with assertive. He had confidence in his way of being. However, if our ‘aloneness’ doesn’t also have a confidence with it, then we’re likely in the group that would do better by learning to be more assertive.
This ‘change’ should not be seen as an improvement of a person because what is being asserted is the real person. The pain I see in many introverts comes from them chastising themselves for missed opportunities because, in essence, they feel that they are not living up to their natural potential. They, in effect, lack the courage and/or confidence to be the person they truly feel they are inside. That is not what Newton felt.
The logic of both Newton and the crippled introvert makes perfect sense with what I teach and what this blog is about. While unhealthy introverts are thinking debilitating, enervating thoughts about lost opportunities that have prevented personal success, Newton’s introversion had a certain confidence to it. He fought for the right to spend time with the one person he wanted to spend it with; himself.
With rare exceptions like Newton aside, it is a very human thing to function in groups. This increases our mental and physical health in many ways. A strong sense of community and connection is directly linked to our health. This is why it ends up being a positive experience for an unhealthy introvert to work toward being more extroverted –their lives end up being more social, and society is good for individuals.
The difference between these two groups is simple and both tend to instantly know which kind of introvert they really are. Newton wasn’t trying to be liked or be acceptable, he wasn’t even thinking about Newton’s place in the world.
Newton’s thoughts were on his science. He was a confident extroverted introvert, doing exactly what he wanted to do. He didn’t care what others thought and so he lived successfully by his own standards. Meanwhile, many crippled extroverts are prevented from doing what they want to do by their thinking.
Learning to stop all of that thinking, and becoming more comfortable with others through experience does take time. But with each successive step, a less secure introvert becomes stronger and stronger, until there is a day where they can finally feel that they are more fully being their true and healthy self.
If we’re cloistered away and we’re loving life, then we’re fine. But if we are the sort of introvert that deep down wishes they were living a life they can imagine, then it is time to take action to alter how we are using our thoughts. Otherwise, we can use them to build a jail for our spirit. That prison will always only exists in our heads, but if those thought-based walls are not taken down, they will lead us to suffer the pain of not fully realizing ourselves.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.