Let’s Redefine the Word “Introvert”

What does the word “introvert” mean to you? You can find various stripes of definitions, many of which are anchored by the work of Carl Jung, in the introvert literature that has become increasingly popular over the past 10+ years. Despite that, you can also find dictionary definitions with entirely different meanings—some of which further the stigma around introversion.

Two bloggers recently contacted me in their campaign to leaders in the introvert community to change the following online definitions of introvert.

From Google:
“A shy, reticent person; a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.”

From Cambridge Dictionaries Online:
“Someone who is shy, quiet, and unable to make friends easily.”

Fascinated by their quest, I invited the bloggers to tell us more. Thea Orozco is an introvert blogger and owner of the website Introvertology. Jenn Granneman is the founder/editor of Introvert, Dear, a community for introverts and highly sensitive people. Their proposed definition is: “An introvert is someone who has a preference for minimally stimulating environments, due to a difference in the way sensory input is processed in the introvert’s brain.” Let’s see if we can get on the same page about what introvert means.

NA: How did you realize you were an introvert?

TO: I first realized I was an introvert in my mid-twenties, when I came across an online personality assessment. Before that, the two closest words I had to describe myself with were weird and shy, and those labels weren’t actually useful in helping me understand myself. When I learned about introversion I was able to see my behaviors and myself in a new and more positive light.

JG: I grew up feeling a little out of place in the world, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across Dr. Marti Olsen Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage, that I had this little epiphany about who I was: an introvert. Some people feel limited by labels like “introvert” or “extrovert,” but I felt freed. It meant my quiet, reflective tendencies and my love of solitude weren’t strange, and there was nothing wrong with me. The best part was, being an “introvert” meant there were other people out there like me.

NA: What inspired your effort the change the dictionary definition of introvert?

JG: Not only are these definitions hurtful, they’re also inaccurate. Being an introvert is not the same as being shy. In Quiet, Susan Cain explains the difference: “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.”

Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Introvert Power, writes, “An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual feels she has no choice.”

A definition from the Cambridge Dictionaries Online describes an introvert as someone who is “unable to make friends easily.” The ability to make friends has nothing to do with being an introvert. Many introverts have wonderful social skills and deep relationships.

Matt Parrish, who is my partner at Introvertdear.com, Thea, and I were inspired to create this petition because we want to take the first step toward eliminating these negative connotations associated with the word “introvert.”

NA: How have you been affected—personally or professionally—by the confusion between introversion and shyness?

JG: Both in my personal and professional life, I’ve been confused for a shy person. But the most damaging aspect was, before I learned about introversion, I considered myself shy! This put limits on who I thought I could be and what I thought I could accomplish.

NA: What is the ultimate goal of your campaign?

JG: Ultimately, we want to get those definitions changed, but what I’m hoping happens in the process is that we’ll bring more awareness to what it actually means to be an introvert. I’m hoping people out there will have the same epiphany that I had, and say, “hey, I’m an introvert—not shy, not anti-social, and certainly not broken” and that this knowledge will help them live more authentically.

TO: Introverts won’t be the only ones directly affected. Shy extroverts will also benefit from understanding that there’s a difference between shy and introverted.

NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JG: We’re asking all introverts (and the extroverts who love them!) to sign the “Introvert Redefined” petition. If you’re thinking that a dictionary definition is trivial, and it has no effect on your life, think again. The words we use matter. Our words shape our thoughts and attitudes, which ultimately shape our actions.

TO: Introverts unite!

NA: Yes. Thank you both for advancing the cause. Readers, what’s your take on the new definition? You’re welcome to chime in.

Copyright © 2015 Nancy Ancowitz



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