Let’s do that old word-association exercise wherein you respond with the first word/thought that pops into your mind upon hearing (or reading in this case) another word. Here we go: INTROVERT
What comes to mind? I actually did a brief survey of a dozen people and here were some of the responses: backwards; shy; loner; unsociable; recluse; timid; weak.
Not a wealth of positive adjectives there in describing up to one half of all people. Why such negativity?
I’d go so far as to say that introverts are the most consistent victims of discrimination in the U.S. today. We live in a culture which, in a very real sense, worships extroversion. This bias has infiltrated virtually every facet of our culture; business, elementary through higher education, entertainment, etc. This cultural ideal constantly bombards us with the message that how we are communicating is far more important than the content of our message. The pressure to sells ourselves, be entertaining, exude confidence, and be competitive continues to increase exponentially in the world we live in now.
The ramifications of this cultural bias are profound for tens of millions of Americans. Ideally, we would derive our self-image, self-esteem and very identity from within. However, the reality is that our sense of selves is derived greatly from both the explicit and implicit messages we receive from those around us and the world we live in. A real challenge is created for introverts when their half of the most important aspect of personality- the introvert/extrovert spectrum- has been “pathologized” while their counterparts are idealized.
The good news is introverts do not have to meekly accept their second-class citizen status. Introversion is simply a type of personality, with just as many strengths as extroversion. Personality is the sum of temperament and character. Temperament is the natural disposition we have when we interact with ourselves, others, and our environment. While we obviously respond to our environment and upbringing, the choices we make and how we act have much to do with the temperament we are born with.
As far back as 300 B.C. Greek philosophers and physicians observed that human behavior fell into certain categories. These categories are sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. We’ve all heard catch phrases such as “she’s a control-freak.” Have you ever wondered about the basis for this statement? “Control freaks” do indeed have a need to control. They want things done their way and they thrive when life is orderly and predictable. This type of temperament is choleric. Choleric, Melancholic, Phlegmatic, and Sanguine are the four temperament types that have been studied by philosophers such as Hippocrates and have withstood millennia of observation, reflection, and criticism.
Understanding our own temperament also sheds light on our reaction speed, strength, and duration to our surroundings. For example, a Choleric has a quick, intense reaction speed that lasts for a long time. To coin another catch phrase, “he just lets things roll off his back” means a person has a Phlegmatic temperament: slow and not intense to react with a short duration.
The advantage of identifying our personality traits and temperament helps us grow in self-awareness, and the knowledge of others. This greater self-knowledge can be especially empowering for introverts, who have been short changed by a culture that doesn’t understand them. Our lives can be enhanced when we better understand how we “tick”. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”