When I tell people I’m an introvert, they usually laugh at me. That’s because they confuse introversion with shyness. Shyness is when you’re terrified of people, scared to draw attention to yourself for fear of being judged. Since I can public speak your pants off and be the life of the party, people assume I’m an extravert. But those qualities are not contrary to introversion. What makes me an introvert is that I need to recharge after I do those things. Introversion means that social interaction drains me of energy, not that I can’t be socially charming. There are a few misconceptions about introverts and about my specific type on the Myers-Briggs, the INTJ, that I’d like to dispel here.
Misconception #1: Introverts are shy.
Okay, I already covered this, but it bears repeating. Shy people avoid social interaction because they fear being judged. Introverts don’t necessarily avoid social interaction (more on that later), but when they do, it is for other reasons.
Misconception #2: Introverts hate social gatherings.
Most introverts like social gatherings as much as the next person. Personally, I initiate my fair share of social gatherings. The difference is, introverts prefer social interaction in smaller groups, or for a shorter period of time, or both. For example, if we’re talking about a party with a lot of people (or a smaller one where I don’t know the majority of the people), I can last about two hours max before I’m ready to leave. (That’s maximum. Often, I’m itching to leave after an hour or so.) If it’s a smaller party, with just a few people, all of whom I know, I can last longer. Limits vary by introvert. So don’t be offended when your intro pal cuts out early or only wants to meet in small groups. You can be their favorite person in the world, and they will still need to cut out earlier than an extravert does.
Misconception #3: Introverts have low self-esteem.
You’re equating introversion with shyness again. Introverts aren’t quiet because they’re afraid to speak up or worried that they’re not worthy of contributing. They’re quiet because they put more emphasis on listening and observing, gathering information, and gathering their thoughts before they speak.
Related to #3 is misconception #4: Introverts hate speaking.
We don’t hate speaking; we hate small talk. Small talk seems superficial and disingenuous to us, and it’s sometimes almost painful to engage in it. However, when the topic turns to something serious, we can talk your ear off if you let us. In a way, it is easier for an introvert to give a public address to a large audience than it is for them to have to network with those people afterward.
Misconception #5: Introverts are loners.
Yes, introverts like “alone time” more than extraverts do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy and even crave company. When I’m with the right person, I can spend hours with them and not be exhausted, because it is only one person, and if they are the right person, that time is spent engaged in meaningful conversation or pleasant activities, not small talk. Yes, an introvert is more likely to prefer working alone to a group project, but that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate being part of a good, well-functioning group. And, yes, introverts see no need to fill up their social calendar, but that doesn’t mean they want their social calendar to be completely blank. Introverts aren’t islands with no need for human interaction. Think of them as a car with great mileage. They still need gas (social interaction); they just don’t need to make as many trips to the pump.
Before I continue, I need to explain what INTJ is. There is a Jungian system of “typing” personalities called the Myers-Briggs. There is a lot of information about it available online, so I won’t go into the basics, only cover what it means to be INTJ. INTJ is an acronym for:
Introversion (vs. Extraversion)- INTJs tend to be introverted and prefer to work alone.
iNtuition (vs. Sensing)- INTJs look at the big picture and like to focus on abstract information rather than concrete details.
Thinking (vs. Feeling)- INTJs place greater emphasis on logic and objective information rather than subjective emotions.
Judging (vs. Perceiving)- INTJs like their world to feel controlled and ordered so they prefer to make plans well in advance.
INTJs are often described as being very logical, creative, and analytical, valuing knowledge and intelligence. They set high standards for themselves and others. They focus on the future more than the present. They spend a lot of time in their minds. They do not base decisions on feelings and are reluctant to show emotion. Often they see social traditions, like small talk, as being illogical and a waste of time.
Misconception #6: INTJs are cold, heartless machines.
There are a couple reasons for this misconception. One is the type itself. We are less touchy-feely than other types, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. INTJs just don’t show their emotions as much and don’t allow their feelings to influence important decisions. In the course of the above mentioned facebook discussion, I was accused of being “jaded and logical” as opposed to “romantic” because I approached the lyrics of the song analytically. It is common in our society to deem logic and romance as being incompatible. They are not.
Another reason for this misconception is that the nickname created by Myers-Briggs for the INTJ type is “Mastermind.” It’s meant as a compliment, maybe, or at least simply as an accurate description of the type. INTJs are predisposed to masterminding things. They are great at analysis and creative problem-solving and logic. However, in our present day society, the word calls up connotations of evil megalomaniacalism. This misconception is compounded by the fact that there are a disproportionate number of fictional villains that are considered INTJ. Professor Moriarty, Voldemort, Hannibal Lecter, Sauran, Darth Vader, Lex Luther, and Mr. Burns from the Simpsons are a few who are generally considered INTJs. One site that attempts a humorous description of the MBTI types based on the stereotypes surrounding them describes INTJs thusly,
“The INTJ sees life as a problem to be solved. For that reason, the INTJ is the person
a company brings in from the outside to streamline production processes and identify
redundant assets for termination. The INTJ's combination of analytical problem-solving
skills and complete and utter disregard for the morality or consequences of his actions
also make him ideal for the job of hatchet man, CIA operative, and helpdesk operator.
RECREATION: INTJs are often baffled by the strange and incomprehensible
recreational rituals of other people, such as going to parties, watching television,
and having sex. Instead, they prefer to spend their leisure time installing twin missile
launchers in their cars to deter tailgaters and playing chess with megalomaniac
CEOs of the Tyrell corporation.
COMPATIBILITY: Silly person, INTJs don't have relationships! They may, however
build their own friends.”
I must confess I laughed when he mentioned CIA operative (once my career aspiration) and installing missile launchers to address tailgating because I’ve considered that more than once. Certainly this particular site is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek, but the fact is, there is a lot stuff out there that earnestly depicts INTJs as uncaring, tactless, and unconcerned about other people. Many people tend to use “sociopath” and “Asperger’s” when discussing INTJs, but that’s ridiculous and dangerous rhetoric. INTJ is a personality type, not a mental disorder, and like any of the MBTI types, there are good and bad among them. The idea that INTJs are devoid of emotion and empathy, are bent on world domination, etc. has led to a large number of memes like the following on the internet:
So, when your friendly introvert turns down an invitation to a social event, keep in mind that it most likely has to do with their introversion, not their personal feelings toward you. They just need more alone time. And when an INTJ engages you in debate, even though it might feel like an attack, it’s best to see it as a compliment because it means you’ve piqued their interest. Most of all, it would nice if people recognized that just because a person doesn't wear their heart on their sleeve, doesn't mean they don't have a heart at all.