1. The indispensable introvert We all have either an extrovert and introvert or two introverts. When a person does not have an extrovert, the Phlegmatic takes on the role of the extrovert. Everyone has an introvert but not everyone has an extrovert. That says something about the necessity of the introvert.
2. Vital introvert It is easy to develop a negative attitude towards your introvert. Unless someone understood and connected with your introvert in childhood, it quickly becomes synonymous with pain and difficulty. A mindset develops on the journey into adulthood that says, ‘extrovert good, introvert bad.’ This means that an important part of who you are is side-lined. Imagine you have a new job. You discover that you have one colleague in your department and what you have heard about him is not complimentary. You must get on with the job and you try to get on with your colleague. Initially it feels difficult, not least because you have started with a negative attitude towards him and yes, he does have some ways that you do not readily understand. However, over time you begin to appreciate where he is coming from and the wisdom and practical suggestions that he comes out with. Over time, you not only develop a good working relationship, but you look for, and highly value, his contribution to the projects to the point that you know that the success of your department is primarily due to his contribution. Your introvert is a vital part of you, and we do well to value him accordingly.
What are the benefits of living in the introvert?
Living in the introvert gives: i. reality Our introvert gives us a feel for life. It is more in touch with reality than our extrovert. Our extrovert may work hard at processing the information that the introvert tries to feed through to it, but it is the introvert that picks up that information. The sensitivity of the Melancholic and the tenderness of the Phlegmatic enable each of those temperaments to readily sense reality. ii. depth Being in touch with reality gives depth to life. It takes us beyond the merely functional to the place of connection with all that makes life worthwhile. Our relationships become meaningful because, by using the introvert, we can get what the other person is feeling and thinking. Initial attraction is often at the extrovert level but the ability to connect introvert to introvert creates a foundation that sustains the relationship and takes you through the storms of life together. iii. wisdom With its capacity to feel, and reflective abilities, the introvert is well placed to sense what makes for good and wise choices. It will be the introvert that picks up the larger proportion of reality thereby supplying maximum useful data. iv. full occupancy We are designed to comfortably occupy both temperaments with the introvert being our settled place of residence. Living like that ensures that the extrovert does not have to act as a defence or substitute for the introvert and the introvert can be at ease because it is entirely comfortable and confident in its value and role. The introvert becomes the foundation from which the extrovert can safely move outwards. In that way, both temperaments can be properly cultivated and expressed. For the Christian, it means that all the qualities within each temperament can be available to the Spirit of God. v. maximum energy Being comfortable in our introvert removes the conflict between the two temperaments. The absence of an internal conflict means:
energy is not being dissipated on fighting an internal civil war
the synergy between the introvert and extrovert when working in harmony is far greater than the sum of the individual temperaments.
vi. maximum growth Understandably, many people develop ways of coping and making life work by putting the emphasis on the extrovert and minimising the exposure of the introvert to the realities of life. However, as we have noted, the introvert tends to pick up reality more readily and therefore has a larger proportion of reality to process. Even if you choose to live in the extrovert, you still experience life in the introvert, but it is either buried or suspended and therefore unprocessed. Imagine two rooms joined by a middle wall. The room on the right is your extrovert and the one on the left is your introvert. You can feel everything that goes on in the introvert room, you can see and hear it all – but you cannot get to it because there is no door. It was blocked up years ago. You experience but do not process anything in that room. It quickly becomes a negative place, to be avoided at all costs. No growth takes place there. You are left with the challenge of trying to change – without being able to change the underlying driving forces. No wonder it feels like hard work. vii. good relationships Most people have a negative view of their introvert. The way we feel about our introvert has a direct bearing on how we feel about those closest to us – and how we treat them. We do to those we love what we are already doing to ourselves. That can cause us distress because that is not what we want but however much energy we put into change, unless we deal with these underlying pressures within ourselves, substantial changes do not happen. In that situation, the natural negativity that we can feel against ourselves is increased because the extrovert wants to reach out and love and it seems to be the introvert that prevents the wishes of the extrovert from happening. In truth, it is the attitude of the extrovert towards our own introvert that is causing the problem. Conflict between the two temperaments can produce irritation, frustration, and anger. The reality is that we are frustrated with ourselves, but that internal conflict goes to earth via our nearest lightning conductor and can threaten to undermine the quality of our relationships. How do we make the move? 1. Recognise the need for change As in any relationship, the key is our attitude towards the other person. We have already seen how the introvert will be side-lined if we have a negative attitude towards it. Our view of our introvert has been shaped by how we feel about ourselves, influenced by a combination of nature and nurture, and the way in which we have used who we are. Not only do we question our intrinsic value, but it is common to doubt the functional value of the introvert as the following illustration describes. Remember that there are two people living in one house, that house being you and the two people being your individual temperaments. Think of your two temperaments as brothers or sisters. Imagine them on their first day at school. It may be that the extrovert was excited about going to school, but there is a good chance that the introvert was fearful. When facing challenging situations, the extrovert steps forward and the introvert steps back. Instead of the introvert having to face life and learn ways of making it work, the extrovert would always step in and take over. The extrovert becomes good at handling life, but the introvert remains undeveloped, feels useless and isolates himself. Our view of ourselves and the way we handle ourselves, needs to change.
2. We have the wrong view Here we are with this negative view of our introvert. Not only do we need to change our attitude towards the introvert, but we also need to accept that we have carried a totally incorrect view throughout our life. This opens the door to the possibility of a new and more accurate view.
3. See it as a journey of discovery Once we have accepted that our view is wrong, how do we set about correcting it? The answer is, in the same way that you would go about getting to know someone you wanted to think about positively when all you know are the negatives.
4. Start with the other person It is all too easy for us to see other people as a variation on the theme of who we are. A vital factor in building a relationship is to recognise that the other person is who they are and not a version of us. This means that our focus will be on genuinely hearing who the other person is. The extrovert must do that to his introvert. He will see things differently, feel things differently and think differently. Let him be who he is. We recognise that life only works when we put the other person first. There must be a willingness on the part of the extrovert to put the interests of the introvert first.
5. Learn to listen For many people, the voice of the introvert has been silenced so many times that it has grown weak and barely audible. When an emotion has tried to come through, or a thought has presented itself, it would have been easy to have dismissed it as a weakness or ‘something wrong’. If it did not suit the extrovert, it was dismissed. Now we must learn to listen. Do not dismiss the emotion, even when there are tears. Do not assume you are wrong when you get a glimpse of something clearly. Break the pattern of turning it back on yourself and instead recognise that your introvert may be telling you something about reality that you need to hear. a. Read up a description of your introvert temperament. You can do this on the website or in your notes if you have attended one of our ‘Understanding Yourself’ courses. Use that description to determine how much of your introvert you are actually living in. b. Be around people with the same introvert temperament as you, especially if they are in touch with that temperament. Listen to what they say and how they say it. See if you recognise your own introvert in them and take encouragement from those who are already comfortable in their introvert.
6. Allow the feeling The key is to validate the emotion. We must make the distinction between a feeling that arises in a given situation, and our interpretation of it. For example, somebody might say something hurtful. We need to acknowledge that. However, if we interpret that as ‘I am no good’ then we are clearly in difficulty. It is what we do with it that matters rather than condemning ourselves for the original emotion.
7. Create a space Think of the extrovert as like the compere or host at a show such as the Royal Variety Performance. It is his or her task to make the connection with the audience but then to step back and allow the star of the show to be centre stage. Our extrovert has a vital role to play but he must not be centre stage all the time. Part of his responsibilities to create a safe space in which the introvert is free to express and live in all his qualities. Again, it is like a parent providing a safe place in which the child can express the depths of what they feel without feeling judged or condemned. That must be our attitude to our introvert. It is important to let the introvert process his own emotions. Stop the extrovert from stepping in. The introvert and extrovert experience different processes on their path of growth. The extrovert needs to be decisive and clear in what it chooses to believe and not believe. The introvert, on the other hand, cannot be bullied into change. It is like the child, learning and growing, surrounded by truth. There are still choices to be made but they are deep within the heart of the introvert. Make space for the introvert to cultivate the qualities within his introvert. If your creativity is being stifled, choose to develop it. If you enjoy walking in wide, open spaces, then give yourself opportunity to do so. Give yourself permission to live in the whole of who you are.
Finally For a Christian, knowing that God understands us, sees accurately who we are and completely accepts us is powerful and life-changing. However, the enjoyment of that can be hindered if we hold on to a negative view of our introvert. Let us be open to this process of change so that we know God’s love for us, not just as a concept, but as a transforming reality in the depths of our souls.