The stigma of the silent

I’ll confess: I enjoy being alone. I like to recharge in my room — my sanctuary, my haven — and snuggle right into that cotton cocoon I call my bed with a book or two. Despite this feature that goes to the very core of who I am, I’m typically described as outgoing and sociable.

I still remember in grade school, at those meet-the-teacher events, my parents would receive praise for my “bubbly” character.

I can conclude that I’m not anti-social or aloof. Instead, I’m slightly more introverted than extroverted. I require solitude and I embrace my cerebral nature.

Introversion and extraversion are personality types: two complementary ways of operating in the world.

Psychologists have, for a long time, debated whether human beings fall into ideal types or along a continuum.

According to Cynthia Fekken, associate vice-principal (Research) and psychology professor, most psychologists would argue that there isn’t a specific typology or “two bins.”

“I offer the analogy with these traits like being left-handed or right-handed,” Fekken said. “If I’m going to brush my teeth, I’m going to use my right hand, if I’m going to throw a ball I’m going to use my right hand, but when I tie my shoes I’m going to use both hands.” Essentially, we’re all ambidextrous. And despite our preference of being right-handed or left-handed, however, the majority is comfortable operating with both.

Thus, a lot of us undulate between both personality traits, meaning introverts and extroverts can do the opposite of what they’re familiar with.

They can be more or less outgoing, respectively. They’re not strictly limited either to the inner world or the outer world.

However, Fekken notes that working with your opposite hand requires greater mental effort.

“Naturally we go to the thing that’s easier for us. The extrovert may accept your invitation to watch Netflix, but that may be harder for him or her than going to the club,” she said.

This is a result of both situational influences on how extroverted or introverted people behave and individual differences where some people feel more comfortable acting a certain way.

Bias, therefore, erupts when we attempt to characterize a person; it reduces our very organic complexity.

Humans are obviously complex beings — our personalities are comprised of various traits — and we simply pass judgment by misunderstanding these terms as being fixed, rather than fluid.

According to Megan Hendry, a fourth-year English major, there are issues involved with classification.

“[W]hen you’re trying to sort people into being wholly an introvert or an extrovert, you’re really taking away the possibility for people to be unique and have overlapping interests and qualities,” Hendry said.

In accordance, she classifies herself as an “outgoing introvert” to merge her introverted and extraverted qualities.

“I like to go out for a night, have a good time with my friends, then need to come home at the end of the day, recharge, and I can do it again,” she said.

“I just become a miserable person when I don’t have the time to be quiet and draw back into myself.”

What’s most interesting are the ways in which slightly more introverted or extroverted people think and perform — especially the different perspectives and personalities they take into different situations and the different types of energy they seek in order to recharge.

“In my eyes, it’s not that I don’t like any of those [activities] individually, it’s when you throw them all together into a two-day-long marathon that I just can’t compete with it,” she said.

“That’s not who I am … I’m not someone who can rally well. So I find if I ever really try to push my extroversion it just goes downhill, like a train without breaks.”

As described in Susain Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, the ideal self is “bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight.” We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire individuals who are comfortable putting themselves out there.

Steve Kim, a self-identifying introverted history student who atteneded Queen’s for two years before transferring to the University of Ottawa, believes a pressure exists in society to be extraverted.

This stems partly from the fact that people interact with others in the public sphere, which is where extroverts are cultivated to shine.

For example, there seems to be an emphasis on being social in university.

We’re encouraged to constantly make friends, establishing contacts, enhancing networking skills, joining various club and being involved.

“For extroverts, this is much more natural to do,” Kim said.

They tend to love meeting new people and being in large groups of people, and feel energized being in those environments.

“Whereas for introverts, we have to force ourselves out of our comfort zone to do those things and oftentimes we don’t quite enjoy ourselves,” he said.

The extrovert’s main interest is the external world of people and things, while the introvert is more involved in the inner world of thought and feeling.

University may, in result, seem like a minefield for introverts by providing them with the ultimatum: join or suffer the consequences.

If you couldn’t balance parties, volunteer work, student government clubs and befriending everyone on your floor, you might as well curl up at home with a laptop and a bowl of popcorn.

However, Kim recognizes the value in stepping outside your comfort zone.

“There’s definitely merit in being involved in those kinds of things and putting yourself out there, but there’s only a certain limit to how much we can do that.”

Kim admits to preferring lectures over seminars because he doesn’t feel obligated to actively engage. Instead, he can hide amongst the rows of students in lecture.

“[Seminars] force me to actually participate ... with people who I don’t necessarily know, which is often a scary thing,” Kim said.

“But I think it really cultivates your skills as someone who can think quicker on your feet, develop critical thinking and reading skills.”

Being introverted was one of the reasons why Samantha Hazelton chose sociology as her major.

“Even choosing that program was based on that because you get to pretty much write yourself out,” Hazelton, ArtsSci ’15, said. “We don’t get put into a lot of extrovert positions. We get to write a lot of our own papers, generate our own ideas, we’re not put into a lot of groups.” Sometimes, for example, there are seminars where you don’t know what to expect — anything’s fair game.

But introverts like to be as prepared as humanly possible.

Hazelton always e-mails her TA requesting for a “heads up” by asking questions regarding what to focus on or think about while trucking through mandatory readings.

“Otherwise I won’t say anything,” she said.

Additionally, being introverted inclined her to choose to live alone for her first two years at Queen’s, in a single residence room and by herself off-campus the following year.

“I’d tell people when they’d ask where I’d be living next year, ‘I’m living … alone, up there’. They’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ and be dumbfounded,” Hazelton said.

“Or when I would live there, people would ask to sleep over all the time, because I live near the clubs. I would say no … I live alone for a reason — I need you to leave now.” According to Cain’s book, one-third to one-half of us are introverts. That’s one out of every two or three people you know.

But you’d never know, would you? That’s because introverts learn from an early age to act like extroverts.

Many introverts feel there’s something wrong with them and try to pass as extroverts. But whenever you try to pretend to be something you’re not, you lose a part of yourself along the way.

It’s not that introverts are inferior to extroverts, or vice versa. Simply put, they operate differently, bringing diverse perceptions to the table.

Everyone knows deep down how to be comfortable in his or her own skin.

By exploring your own temperament or simply using that other hand, everyone can find their own niche within this diverse world.

— With files from Chloë Grande

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