Wednesday, August 17, 2011


This entire post was copied and pasted from here. The annotations in italics are mine.

On Introversion
Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D. Gifted Development Center Denver, Colorado

The American dream is to be extraverted. We want our children to be "people who need people." We want them to have lots of friends, to like parties, to prefer to play outside with their buddies rather than retire with a good book, to make friends easily, to greet new experiences enthusiastically, to be good risk-takers, to be open about their feelings, to be trusting. We regard anyone who doesn’t fit this pattern with some concern. We call them "withdrawn," "aloof," "shy," "secretive," and "loners." These pejorative terms show the extent to which we misunderstand introverts.

The majority of Americans are extraverted (about 75%), but the majority of gifted children appear to be introverted (about 60%), and the percentage of introverts seems to increase with IQ (Silverman, 1986). In addition to the problems encountered with being gifted, these children are frequently misjudged because they are introverted. Introversion is a perfectly normal personality type identified by Carl Jung. It is actually healthy to be an introvert. The only unhealthy part of it is denying your true self and trying to disguise yourself as an extravert.

Introverts are wired differently from extraverts and they have different needs. Extraverts get their energy from interaction with people and the external world. Introverts get their energy from within themselves; too much interaction drains their energy and they need to retreat from the world to recharge their batteries. People can be extreme extraverts, extreme introverts, or a combination of both. Since extraversion is the dominant mode in our society, there are no "closet extraverts," but there are many "closet introverts," people who are so ashamed of their introversion that they try to be extraverts.

Here are some tips on the care and feeding of the introverts in your family or classroom:


  • Respect their need for privacy.
This refers both to physical privacy and informational privacy. Introverts need to be alone, but they also need to have secrets, and they need to feel that those secrets are respected. They will share when they feel ready, but you shouldn't try to force them to divulge information in the name of intimacy and sharing.
  • Never embarrass them in public.
To you it may be a minor event that everyone can laugh over in a few days. To the introvert it is a moment that will haunt them to their dying day, and their hearts will be full of bitterness toward you for the part that you played in their humiliation.
  • Let them observe first in new situations.
My mom always tried to get me involved in things right away, convinced that i was not having fun if i was not participating. To an extravert, part of the fun is making a fool of yourself with a bunch of other people while everyone is getting to know one another. To an introvert, part of the fun is observing the social dynamics of the group, and they won't be able to relax and have fun without this prior period of observation. There are many situations where i have more fun watching than i ever would participating (and yes, i have learned this through trial and error).
  • Give them time to think. Don't demand instant answers.
You know how some people like to think out loud? They may simply need to hear a voice speaking in order to form their thoughts, or they may need to bounce their ideas off of another person. Either way, they process externally. Introverts, on the other hand, process internally. A long pause before an answer means that they are thinking, not that they are ignoring you or zoning out.
  • Don't interrupt them.
You may have gathered at this point that it is rare to hear an introvert speak. When they do speak, they are rarely babbling thoughtlessly. They are usually divulging something about which they have thought long and hard, something that is important to them. For you to interrupt those words is deeply hurtful and frustrating.
  • Give them advanced notice of expected changes in their lives.
I do really well in two situations: when i have a tightly regimented, extremely detailed schedule that i follow exactly, or when i have no plan at all and simply make it up as i go along. Anything in between these two extremes causes me deep anxiety. If you have given me a schedule and you need to change it, do your best to inform me well ahead of time. Even if the change is better and easier, it will freak me out if i find out about it at the last minute.
  • Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing before calling them to dinner or moving on to the next activity.
See above.
  • Reprimand them privately.
DO NOT "make an example" of an introvert by reprimanding them publicly. This is the same as public embarrassment, and far from teaching them to behave themselves in order to avoid such humiliation, it will simply make them hate you.
  • Teach them new skills privately rather than in public.
This should need no further explanation at this point.
  • Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities: encourage this relationship even if the friend moves.
Okay, i am not this pathetic and i don't know any other introverts who are. We have more than one friend, and often more than one best friend. However, if a very good friend does move away, it can be very difficult, though introverts are often pretty comfortable with and skilled at maintaining long distance relationships.
  • Do not push them to make lots of friends.
When it comes to friendships, or really any social interactions, introverts prefer quality over quantity.
  • Respect their introversion. Don't try to remake them into extraverts.
This one is HUGE. I know it is difficult and confusing for extraverts to see their introverted friends sitting quietly in the corner at a party. I know you think you are helping them when you push them to socialize or to try new things. But introversion is perfectly healthy and normal. Believe me when i say that it is far more enjoyable for an introvert to sit quietly at a party and watch everyone else "have a good time" than to actually participate in what is going on. Don't ignore them completely, but let them be.

Introverts need to learn about the positive benefits of their personality type. They need to be taught that reflection is a good quality, that the most creative individuals sought solitude, and that leaders in academic, aesthetic and technical fields are often introverts. Parents need to know that more National Merit Scholars are introverted than extraverted, and that introverts have higher grade point averages in Ivy League colleges than extraverts (Silverman, 1986). Contrary to public opinion, success in life is not dependent upon extraversion. Introverts also have an advantage at midlife in that long, hard journey to the soul which heralds the second half of the life cycle. The time has come to respect the introverts in our families and classrooms, and the hidden introvert in ourselves.

I recommend the book Please Understand Me for parents, teachers and students to gain a better grasp of the different personality types in our lives. Great for family reading!

Keirsey, D., & Bates, M. (1978). Please understand me: Character & temperament types. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
Silverman, L.K., (1986). Parenting young gifted children. In J.R. Whitmore (Ed.), Intellectual giftedness in young children. New York: The Haworth Press.

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