It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to extroverts
It’s a (sometimes uncomfortable) fact that our Western world seems to be set up for extroverts. As introverts, we repeatedly bump up against assumptions that the extroverted way of doing any given thing is the normal one.
In fact, historically, we introverts were defined in terms of the extroverted traits we lacked. So, for example, people who were friendly, exuberant and outgoing were labeled “extroverts”. Those of us who… well, weren’t… were called introverts. In effect, being labeled an introvert was seen as a stamp of having failed at being extroverted.
And, of course, under that definition, introversion was seen as a weakness. So it’s not surprising that some introverts want to retaliate by pointing out the “weaknesses” of the extrovert ideal.
The truth, though, is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being extroverted either. Back in July, the brilliant Andy Mort wrote about the dangers of making ourselves feel better about our introversion by attacking extroverts.
But even when we know it’s dangerous, comparison can be an easy trap to fall into.
Here’s why comparing ourselves can be so dangerous
Andy talks about how comparison can put up barriers between introverts and extroverts, creating a seriously unhealthy us-and-them mentality. He reminds us that we’re not on opposites sides of a conflict where one side has to be wrong for the other to be right. Instead, we live in a world of awesome individual differences where introverts and extroverts each have something to contribute.
He’s absolutely right, of course. But there’s another reason comparison can be dangerous too. And it’s a purely internal one.
As introverts, our defining characteristic is that we need to “spend” energy on interacting with other people. And since most of us aren’t the antisocial misanthropes that the clichéd introvert stereotype paints us as, we generally want to be able to interact with the people we care about without ending up feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck.
Your day-to-day life is probably made up of interaction after interaction. If you bring a tendency to constantly compare yourself to others into the mix – regardless of who you end up making wrong – the energy drain intensifies. Get too caught up in it, and you’ll create a vicious cycle that will keep depleting you.
There’s a reason I include the habit of comparing yourself to extroverts as one of the Top 3 Energy Drains for Introverted Business Owners.
So how do you escape the comparison trap in practice?
It’s one thing to know that comparison isn’t healthy. It’s another to figure out what to do about it when you start noticing it cropping up in your thought patterns.
Here are three strategies I recommend to my introverted clients when they mention struggling with comparison demons:
1. Realize that you’re not alone as an introvert, and that there’s no one right way.
2. Read as widely (but also as critically) as possible.
3. Connect with other introverts in positive, introvert-friendly spaces.
Realize that you’re not alone, and that there’s no one right way.
Often, it can help to simply recognize that you’re not the only introvert on the face of the planet.
It’s hard to say for sure how common introversion is. In “The Introvert Advantage”, Marti Olsen Laney says 25% of the population are introverted. In “Introvert Power”, Laurie Helgoe more than doubles that estimate, claiming that 57% of us come up as introverted in the latest (at that time) Myers Briggs-based study.
Whatever the actual numbers, we know that some part of the population is more introverted and some part is more extroverted. It’s just what is, like some people have brown eyes and some have blue; or some are left-handed and some are right-handed.
One of my core truths is that there’s no one right way to do anything. Different things work for different people in all areas of life. Why should it be any different between introverts and extroverts – or even between individual introverts?
Reminding yourself of this is all it takes to sometimes quiet the voices of comparison when they start to make you – or anyone else – wrong.
Read as widely (but also as critically) as possible
When a gentle internal reminder isn’t enough, it can help to read what other people have written about introversion. One of the stereotypes that seems to be at least partially based on truth is that we introverts like our reading. And there’ve been some fantastic books written over the past couple of decades on the subject.
Some of my personal favorites include:
• Introvert Power, by Laurie Helgoe
• The Introvert Advantage, by Marti Olsen Laney
• Self-Promotion for Introverts, by Nancy Ancowitz
• Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert, by Beth Buelow
I recommend reading as widely as possible. The more perspectives you take in, the more you’ll truly get on a gut level that there’s no one right way. Keep in mind though that just because something’s published doesn’t make it true. There are a few books on introversion out there that are little more than anti-extrovert rants. Keep asking yourself whether what you’re reading is helping you to understand yourself and your reactions better… or just attacking the extrovert ideal.
You’ll very quickly pick up a feel for what’s useful and what isn’t.
Connect with other introverts in positive spaces
One of the (many) wonderful results of the “quiet revolution” is the wealth of introvert-friendly communities now available. Talking with other introverts in a no-pressure, low-interaction setting can go a long way towards helping you to connect with your own strengths and preferences.
Many of the communities I’m part of make a point of starting conversations and asking members about their personal experiences as introverts. Even if you don’t feel ready take part in these discussions, reading what other people say can give you some real insights into your own experience.
Again, as with reading, I’d recommend being critical: not all online spaces are equally positive. But again, asking that question – “Is being here helping me understand myself better?” – will quickly give you a sense of whether to stay or not.
Over to you!
In this post, I’ve talked about why comparison can be so dangerous – not just in terms of introvert-extrovert relationships, but also for our personal energy levels. I’ve also listed three practical ways to escape the comparison trap.
Now I’d love to hear from you. When do you find yourself most vulnerable to comparing yourself with extroverts? What techniques help most to get you connecting to your own strengths instead of focussing on who’s wrong and who’s right?
Please let me know in the comments!