Drop Your Labels: An Interview with Sophia Dembling on being Introverted

Today I had the pleasure of peeking into the illumined mind of Sophia Dembling, an introverted writer, editor, author, and speaker. With a specialized interest in introversion and the introverted archetype, Sophia pens The Introvert’s Corner on Psychology Today, and has authored a book entitled Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After (in bookstores now). She graciously agreed to discuss her article Be Introverted, Not an Introvert, which discusses how limiting labels can be, as well as the liberation one can experience when detaching from prescribed labels. Delve into her motivating perspectives below.

I love the title of your article “Be Introverted, Not an Introvert,” and I understand its underpinnings. However, tell our readers what sparked the title.

“On occasion, I would hear people decline to do certain things or suggest that they were incapable of doing certain things because they were “an introvert.” And eventually this started sounding a little bit like a cop-out—as if their introversion were an inflexible prison. I’m a fan of Carol Dweck’s work on mindset and the limiting effects of a fixed mindset (I am bad at math) versus a growth mindset (if I work hard I can get better at math), and that caused me to start thinking about the ways introverted people sometimes let the label of “introvert” limit their growth. To my mind, “I am an introvert” is static and suggests something unchangeable, while “I am introverted” is active. The difference is perhaps splitting hairs, but I mean it to be used as a sort of visualization technique.”

I like that you asserted how labels can limit people.As such, many people tend to confuse introversion with “shyness.” What is the difference between introversion and shyness, in your opinion?

“My favorite explanation of the difference came from researcher Louis A. Schmidt, who studies the biological underpinnings of personality. I wrote about it here. He says the difference is that shyness is a behavior—it is fear and anxiety around social interactions—whereas introversion is motivation. Introverts are less motivated than extroverts to engage in social interaction. It is possible to be introverted and not shy (like me); introverted and shy; extroverted and not shy (of course); and extroverted and shy, which can be painful because extroverted people who are shy both crave and fear social interaction.”

Do you think many introverted individuals consider themselves shy before they actually discover the tenets of introversion and extroversion?

“I think they do, and certainly they are told they are. Introverts are frequently encouraged to resist their nature, to get out there and be extroverted. Until they learn about introversion, they may decide that their aversion to this is shyness.

I also suspect that many introverts eventually become anxious around social situations because they are told so often that they don’t do them right. For example, introverts might go to a party and enjoy themselves sitting on the sidelines and watching, and having a couple of in-depth conversations with other guests, but be chided for not working the room and meeting more people. If you’re told over and over that your way of fun is wrong and that you should be doing something that does not feel natural and in fact feels unpleasant, eventually you will start avoiding and even fearing that situation.”

In this society, one could easily assume that extroversion is more revered. However, what are the most admirable qualities about being introverted?

“Oh—so many. We are great listeners; we process what other people say deeply and ask good questions. We tend to be very loyal friends. After all, we don’t need or want a lot of friends, so when we find people we connect with, we protect those relationships. And in the workplace, research suggests that while extroverts are great at rocking the job interview and landing the job, introverts excel at getting the work done.”

I love the gist of your article, which posits that even though introverted individuals have some similarities, they are not all the same, and they do not have to act in ways that the label (or society) prescribes. As an introvert, was there a time in your life where you felt pressured to be more extroverted? If so, how did you come to accept yourself as more introverted?

“I’ve long had issues surrounding the telephone, which I and many other introverts loathe. I don’t enjoy random check-in phone calls; a ringing phone makes me want to hide in the closet. I love email, I love text, I love face-to-face the best, but the telephone makes me twitchy. This is often presented as some sort of moral failing or a rejection of the person on the other end of the phone, when it really has nothing to do with the person, it’s all about the tool—the intrusiveness (drop everything and answer me NOW!), and the lack of visual cues to help guide the conversation.”

It is apparent that introversion and extroversion operate on a spectrum, and no one is all one or the other. Do you think that more introverted individuals can have successful relationships with more extroverted individuals? Why?

“One of the most interesting things I learned writing my book Introverts in Love is that it’s about 50-50 when it comes to introverts in relationships with extroverts versus with other introverts. Some introverts want someone in their lives who will up the energy, do the work as social director, help them get out of the house and engage more fully with other people. Other introverts are happiest when they are with someone who will hunker down at home with them. So both kinds of relationships can work, it’s just a matter of knowing what you want and need and communicating, communicating, communicating.”

Speaking of relationships, tell me more about your book entitled “Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After” and what prompted you to write it.

“I get lots and lots and lots of questions about relationships from both introverts and extroverts in relationships with introverts, who often feel neglected, fearful, or resentful of the introverts’ need for solitude and quiet time or reluctance to engage in as much social interaction as the extrovert craves. Introversion and extroversion are powerful drivers of our behavior and so it seemed important to look at how they play out in relationships–and finding relationships.”

I’m certain many people feel pressure to either live up to or defy their labels. What prompted you to create The Introvert’s Corner?

“In 2009, I wrote an essay titled “Confessions of an Introverted Traveler” for the website World Hum, and it was so enthusiastically received—it was the top viewed story for that year, and a follow-up, “Six Tips for Introverted Travelers” was the second most viewed—that it was clear to me introverts were hungry for validation. Back then, my goal was understanding introversion, and reassuring other introverted people that our way of being is simply different and neither better nor worse than being extroverted.”

Are there any additional points you’d like to discuss regarding the article?

“Introversion has been a hot topic for a few years now and my goal from here is to move past simply “introvert power” into a deeper understanding of how introverts can consciously and more effectively integrate ourselves into the workings of the world. I don’t believe introverted people want nothing more than to be left alone. I think what we really want is to have our quiet ways and deep processing to be appreciated and respected and, most important, to be able to contribute our strengths without having to fight to be heard or defend our nature.”

As a self-proclaimed introverted extrovert, I feel a keen sense of validation about my introverted nature after conversing with Sophia. For that I am grateful, and I’m certain other introverted individuals will likely feel the same.

If you’d like to read more of Sophia’s work, visit The Introvert’s Corner on Psychology Today.

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  1. I think this article can give many introverts something to think about. I liked the point about some people using labels like introvert as a reason to not do something. Humans want to label and categorize everything and it can be helpful but also restricting. I also like that the article pointed out the good qualities of introversion. It was a nice touch to show the spectrum in a picture. Introversion and extroversion are still foreign concepts to many people and this is a good article to learn about the introversion side.

  2. Labels are beginning to fall away in society, due to authors much like Sophia Dembling, and stigmas are dying. I think many introverts finally “came out of their shells” (not that they weren’t social) when it was suddenly deemed that being an introvert was okay, that it didn’t make them any less valuable than an extrovert. Sophia Dembling is striving to remove all the stigmas of being an introvert, and therefore offering some hope to people who thought they were just too weird for society. It’s a wonderful thing what we can do for each other when we validate each other as she does to introverts.

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