Extroversion privilege

(This post has a definite US slant, simply because that’s the only country whose culture I’ve experienced firsthand.  I suspect it’s different elsewhere – feel free to comment.)

This all started from a comment made by DNi on my post, Personal Privilege List. I started thinking about it, then some stuff happened, then I thought some more, and then I reached a conclusion: yes, there is a definite privilege extended to extroverts for no good reason.

First, a definition session since people often use “introverted” to mean shy and “extroverted” to mean friendly.  It’s not that simple. Extroverts are people who need external stimulation from others.  Introverts are people who are stimulated by their own thoughts and ideas, and sometimes need to limit external input because they’ve got so much going on internally.

When I tell people I’m introverted or that I enjoy time alone, I tend to get a couple of negative responses.  The first is boredom, because I’m talking to an extrovert and my response to “what did you do this weekend?” isn’t providing them any external stimulation.  They have every right to find me dull.  Unfortunately, society takes it one step further, inviting them to judge me as lesser because I don’t provide the stimulation they want.  It’s considered normal that introverted kids who do well in school – “nerds” or “geeks” – should be bullied by extroverted jocks or popular girls.  It’s considered okay to promote a less qualified employee with a “better personality” (read “extrovert”).  And so on.

The other negative reaction I get is the assumption that I’m emotionally damaged, and that’s why I’m introverted.  This assumption rests on the assumption that everyone is naturally extroverted.  In fact, there’s data to indicate that extroverts and introverts may simply be wired differently; brain chemicals in introverts may simply be a lot more active than in extroverts.  They’re more often in output mode than input, while extroverts are the other way around.

Furthermore, while I agree that emotional damage can lead to introversion, in my observation it leads to extraversion even more often.  Ever met someone who can barely function without a romantic partner?  Will lie to people to maintain friendships just so they always have someone to hang out with?  Constantly steps on people to get with a “better” crowd?  These aren’t exactly functional examples of extraversion.  And what about functional introversion?  Introverts are less likely to engage in damaging relationships because they’re content to be alone.  They’re less likely to get bored and frustrated when there’s not much going on.  They’re not going to create drama just to get something going on.

As I see it, the world needs both kinds of people.  My theory on why extraversion is considered normal and introversion aberrant in the US is that introverts are independent thinkers, and that doesn’t make for good little consumers, obsessed with “keeping up with the Joneses”.  It doesn’t make for the preferred type of voter, either – one who puts candidate likability ahead of capability.  One who votes for what their friends or family vote for, instead of examining the issues.  Introverts are likely to notice those rather simple solutions you’ve been avoiding out of laziness or because your real motive has yet to be revealed.

And most offensive of all, introverts don’t want your approval badly enough to torture themselves to get it.


  1. donalda says

    Yeah. I’m a shy introvert myself. And of course extroverts have privilege in this society. Are you kidding? The fact that being an introvert is not seen as normal, that people consistently confuse it with shyness or even just being “quiet” I think says it all. You consistently hear being outgoing as in she’s so outgoing! as a virtue up there with generosity and compassion. You never hear she’s so introverted and thoughtful! spoken of as a virtue. But you WILL here that the crazy guy who shot up everyone at work “kept to himself.” or was “a loner.” all descriptions apparently synonyms for introversion.

    I just married into a family of extroverts and bless my husband he tries to understand that I need space to breathe. I’m trying to think of clever ways to duck out of a party so I can do some reading on my smart phone. LOL. I have learned to block out a lot of the loudness. I will NEVER understand the whole small talk for hours in a loud-ass bar thing and standing up no less.

    I keep reading that I’m not interested enough in others, but sometimes in those situations you’re lucky if you can get to talk to somebody for five minutes before they tune you out. Some people don’t click. And I find it a painful, awkward exercise trying to tease anything out of people who are supposedly more outgoing than I am. I just don’t think that these bar functions are a good place to get to know people. It seems so shallow.

    Plus, there are always filters and judging that gets in the way of any real communication. What race is the person talking to, gender, what are they wearing, what’s their class, what’s their tone of voice. All of these things figure into how you communicate to them. Or whether you even want to. It’s all power and popularity. And if you don’t have either of those things you will be disregarded.

  2. The Fleas' Knees says

    Bubbly introvert! You’ve pegged me beautifully, I was trying to work out how to describe my type of introversion as I can be social at times, but then I’ll always need a good break and recovery period afterwards. Though I do think sometimes I can slip into being “fake” when I’m around people socially because I feel presured to be friendly, or even “entertaining,” rather than… oh, I don’t know… introverted. :P I tend to only truly feel like myself when I’m alone or one-on-one with trusted friends.

    Also, did you mean to say “shy extrovert” rather than “shy introvert“? Just wondering, as you describe them as needing external stimuli.

  3. says

    Oh, man, don’t get me started on small talk. What useless blabbering THAT is! If small talk was actually used to get to know someone, maybe. But knowing “I have a kid, an english degree, work as an assistant, etc. etc.” Isn’t really knowing someone. I need me the conversations like “so I was reading this article in Science about deep space telemetry as a method of searching for ETI and…” or “So let’s discuss the physics of God” or “I am so sick of The Man!” Haha, yeah. I like conversation, I guess. Not chatting. I think that’s the big difference. Though I have become a pro chatter with people i know, I can never ask the right questions when just meeting someone. Because, well, I’m NOT interested in the litle details I’ll forget like what car they drive or whether they watched the game last sunday or whatever.


    (P.S. I changed my handle over here now too–I will at both sites now be “The Other Anne” [You’re awesome, The Other Patrick!] FYI!)

  4. says

    My dad only really understood what it meant to be an introvert when he started dating my now step-mom. She’s a bit more introverted than me. She actually sat him down and explained that she would need her alone time and how she did everything and why. Both my parents are incredibly extroverted, and of the three of their children I am the only introvert. Most of my life they thought I was just a bitchy, shy loner. And sure, in puberty I had m moments, but a LOT of the bitchiness people can perceive in introverts is, I think, a frustration at the idea that we should be “normal”–as though we aren’t. It’s not like I didn’t have plenty of friends–it’s that I didn’t seek out companionship all the time. ;P

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Also, I’ve found most extroverts don’t get the concept of liking someone but needing “time off” from them occasionally, so they assume you are actually rejecting them whenever you ask for alone time. In my experience, no amount of explaining it to them will make them believe me, so I only bother to form friendships with introverts anymore. I don’t have time for people who think I’m a liar.

  6. sbg says

    Confession: I’ve only just figured out why one of the reasons watching America’s Next Top Model is so frustrating. Every. Single. Year. There’s a girl who the judges rag on for having “no personality” or, in their words, are boring. Those girls? Introverts. All season long, they’re being told they have no personality and they need to fix it – and I sit out here eating my bon-bons relating to those unrelatable, “broken” girls.

  7. elle says

    What I hate is that everybody has a personality! Having a “personality” is not synonymous with being an extrovert. That’s one thing. Second of all in the case of ATM I don’t watch it but I would think that an introvert would radiate what’s inside of them on camera. I really don’t think these girls with “no personality” are necessarily introverts. They may be bashful or just stiff, attributes which are no more synonymous with introversion than having a “personality” is with extroversion. That being the case, the stiff girls who radiate nothing from the inside perhaps should not be in modeling. They are only broken in the sense that they do not fit that particular profession. That is different from telling introverts that they are broken as human beings and too introverted to live.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Actually, looking at models, I don’t think they WANT any personality radiating from them – might distract people from the crap their bodies are being used to sell us – so the show is probably full of shit on that level, too. :D

  9. sbg says

    Maybe they aren’t introverts, but they were being told repeatedly that their personalities as they were needed to extroverted more. FCOL, there’s also always a contestant who eventually bursts into tears and the judges say, “Finally, some emotion, yay!” as if not showing emotion readily means there is a void.

    I totally get that some just aren’t capable of emoting in two dimensional photos, extroverts and introverts alike, really, but I do think the girls are being judged on more than just that. “You don’t smile enough. You’re not bubbly enough. You don’t talk enough.”

  10. Fancy Nancy says

    Personally, I’m not sure about this extra-intra thing … I seem to be both. Whilst UK society seems to be favour showing emotions more than it used to, I am suspicious of extra-intra labelling and anyway I think I’m both!

  11. elle says

    “You don’t smile enough. You’re not bubbly enough. You don’t talk enough.”

    I have actually lost two jobs because this is what was said of me! People still have this problem with me. I’m not bubbly, I’m not a non-stop gabber, and what in the f*ck do I need to be grinning for 24/7? Yes, there are these expectations of women to be the social sex. Men can be strong and silent. If a woman is quiet there’s something the matter with her. You’re either a cheerleader or a b*tch.

  12. Kayle says

    Your professor is a moron. Reminds me of the kind of doctors who tell you you’re fine because “everything’s normal” when you’ve just spent the entire appointment telling them that how you are is radically different from how *you* normally are. Forest. Trees. Book or diploma in front of nose in front of forest of trees.

  13. JM says

    I’ve experienced this.
    At public school, and at summer camp, I was described as “extroverted” for my enthusiasm to participate in games, to tell jokes, to be part of a group dynamic, to answer questions in the classroom and to share ideas. However, when I went to a boarding school for junior and senior year of high school, I was suddenly described as “introverted” and “shy”.
    At public school, the only thing that mattered was the ability to think critically and absorb and remix information. At boarding school, all classes were seminar-style.Those who could state their opinion the most forcefully, interrupt others and speak the loudest succeeded in sharing more thoughts and ending more discussions…as a result they were seen as more capable and more intelligent than their quieter counterparts and were treated as such by the teachers. Similarly, when a student needed something, like a room switch or schedule change, the teachers didn’t take them seriously unless they threw a tantrum, cried or tried to run away, regardless of what the student told them verbally. People tend to internalize the expectations imparted on them by others. Some of those kids really suffered, psychologically.

  14. Redfang says

    I was talking to someone online the other day, who bragged that he was very loud and outgoing, clearly trying to support his attempts to turn me on. I told him that I preferred the quiet type, to which he reacted, “…But you must go for the popular ones if you had the choice, wouldn’t you?” In other words, nobody will ever find a partner if they’re not outgoing. They’ll always be the second choice, because nobody likes that type. I was just out of touch; I must have lowered my standards because I don’t have great luck with guys, but I actually preferred the loud ones.

    There really are people who believe that true introverts don’t exist: Everyone’s really social at heart and anyone who seems to be introverted is just quiet because they’ve been excluded from society, and they’ve learned to cope that way. But really they’d open up if more people talked to them. And I say, bullshit.

    Even my mom, who always claimed she would support me through anything, never really understood what it was to be an introvert. “Some time alone is good,” she would say, “but you have to have friends. You need to get involved in social activities. It’s not healthy to stay up in your room all the time.” But did she really consider the possibility that maybe I don’t run the same way she does?

    Keeping to myself isn’t “natural?” It isn’t “healthy?” Who are you to tell me what I like? If I’d rather stay in and read a book on Friday night than go to a party or something, does that mean there’s something wrong with me? YES, I’m okay, I’m not crawling up in my little hole to die. I’m just staying where I’m happier.

    Sorry for my little rant. I’m just tired of people trying to tell me what to do and who I am, you know? I’m tired of extroverts running our society. Tired of people who don’t realize that not everyone is built the same way.

  15. emma says

    Thank you for this! Growing up, I was always told to change my personality: make more friends, be more “out there”, come out of your shell! Blah blah… The fact that extroverts are automatically considered more friendly irks me – many of them are more interested in hearing themselves talk than listening to others. Many say rude, insulting things to people and speak before thinking. Many prefer to make enough friends to throw huge parties rather than actually develop deeper relationships.

  16. Surma says

    To any (clueless) extroverts skimming this and flying into a rage, allow me to give you some background on why most of the introverts posting this are so pissed off.

    1) An entire childhood of being treated like a freak/problem child by society and in worser cases even family just because you don’t have eight billion little friends to hang out with.

    2) Being constantly judged negatively by authority figures such as managers in the adult world, even though you do your work thoroughly, quickly, and efficiently without monkeying around………because you don’t monkey around enough. What?

    3) Hearing the “You’re SO quiet!” line, or its much more accusatory sibling “You’re too quiet” virtually 10 times per month for our entire lives. Every time I hear one of these two it ups my stress level to the max. But that’s nothing compared to the worst one of all, the one that makes me positively STABBY every time I hear it, usually as a totally bogus criticism at work “You don’t smile enough.” Well, excuse me, I’m sorry I can’t randomly generate happiness for you, because that’s when I smile, because I’m happy. YOUR smile, however, I will never trust again as it obviously exists for manipulative reasons if you can do it so flippantly and with total disregard for what it’s supposed to mean.

    There are about a million other things, but I think the one that they all coalesce into is that, to our great horror, the adult corporate world is no kinder to us than the childhood world of school was. And this time there’s money on the line.

    Sorry if this post was kind of snarky. I don’t mind nice extroverts provided there’s a limit to their chatter, it’s the manipulative/mean ones that put me in rage mode.


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