A recent study invited people to engage in both extroverted and introverted behavior, each for one week. Results showed an increase in well-being when participants were assigned to act extroverted and a decrease in well-being when assigned to act introverted. The findings imply that behavior in more extroverted ways may improve well-being. But does this mean introverts should make the effort to behave more like extroverts?
Stephanie Thoma, a networking strategy coach, notes we first need to be clear on how we define introversion. Some introverts she works with say they want to be more extroverted when they really want is to feel more confident. Thoma said, “If introverts are encouraged to socialize more, provided they select activities that are specific to their interests, it appears that they are becoming happier and more extroverted, when in reality they are happier and more confident.” The type of activity is important because “forcing an introvert to be extroverted may have short term benefits in relation to socialization, however, this type of interaction is difficult to maintain for an extended period,” added Kimberly Schaffer, MSW, LCSW, CCS.
Lia Huynh LMFT also agrees the definition is important because “being social is different from being extroverted.” Being social is beneficial to mental health regardless of personality type. Huynh points out that “being extroverted means you gain energy from being social. Introverts tend to gain energy from being alone. Being introverted does not mean that one does not like being social or making friends. Many introverts are social. However, they tend to get tired more easily in social situations."
Whether behaving in an extroverted way improves well-being seems to depend on the type of activities. Dr. Carla Marie Manly said “choosing to engage in more social activities is far different from feeling pressured to engage with others often. In addition, it’s important to note that introversion and extroversion are on a vast spectrum, and those who are more toward the far end of introversion may certainly benefit from increased connection to others—yet at a pace and level that feels appropriate.”
While it’s good for introverts to try new things and engage in social activities, they need to know their limits. Huynh believes “it can be harmful if introverts push themselves too hard to where they feel overly tired and drained. This can lead to burn out and can even lead to depression. Any time we stress our bodies and minds too much, we put ourselves in danger.”
Huynh does encourage her introverted clients to engage in some social activities. “Since they prefer to be alone, they oftentimes do not feel the need to go out and socialize. However, many of them come to me feeling lonely and depressed. They need to make friends. So it's not so much as faking it until you make it, but pushing yourself to do uncomfortable things in order to make friends and stay mentally healthy. This probably explains why the introverts did well when socializing in the study.”
Claudia Luiz, a psychoanalyst, believes some changes in behavior are beneficial to those who tend towards introversion. “Getting interested in a topic that you feel passionate about, which other people do too, helps introverts shine the light away from themselves to get more comfortable with others, avoiding some of the self-consciousness that prevents feeling comfortable and connecting.” And while introversion is not a negative trait, experts note we need to be careful about the implications of the “introvert” label. Manly stresses that “introversion is not 'bad' or something to cure --just as an extrovert is not 'bad' for being highly social, needing a cure by being brought into solitary or quiet settings. What is most important is that we not judge either style of being as right or wrong but look at what is ideal for each individual.”
Schaffer thinks there is a problem in how we view introversion and extroversion. “We see images on social media of people socializing. We generally do not see images of people sitting home alone reading a book,” she said. Social media only exacerbates pressure for introverts to become more extroverted. She encourages people to “be true to who they are and accept their own personality style. This is where they will find true happiness.”
Noel Hunter, a psychologist, regularly sees clients dealing with anxiety from trying to be someone they are not. Introverts who feel pressured to be extroverts may worsen their mental health. Hunter said, “Everyday I see the anxiety-producing effects of individuals trying to be, or feeling they should be, someone they are not. Such individuals end up feeling anxious that if they 'mess up', they will be rejected. They fear being 'found out'. They drink too much or do drugs to force outgoing behaviors. They become resentful and angry. Fairly ubiquitously, they internalize a fundamental sense of shame for who they are. There is nothing wrong with being shy. Introversion is not something to be ashamed of, nor to be gotten rid of.”