Monday, July 22, 2013

On Introverts and Extroverts

Around the time Zachary and I started dating, I began learning about introverts and extroverts. He is a major introvert, and I’m an extrovert, so there were some basic communication problems. I was stunned to realize that there are two basic types of people, who have a starting point that is so far apart, it’s hard to relate to the other. That was my first real introduction to the concepts of introversion and extroversion.

As the Jung-Myers-Briggs test becomes more popular, the public consciousness of these differences in basic personalities is becoming more widespread.  This is a good thing. It’s helpful to know whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, because that helps you understand the way you relate to other people.

The biggest revelation for me was that introversion and extroversion had nothing to do with how shy you are. An extrovert can be painfully timid; an introvert can be ridiculously outgoing. The nature of your base personality is the way you relate to people. 

It’s simple to remember, the Internet tells me: introverts spend their energy when they’re around other people, whereas extroverts gain their energy from other people. We get images of introverts ducking into the corner of a party to carry on a one-on-one conversation, and extroverts yucking it up in the center of the room with seven people. 

Again, this kind of analysis is helpful, but it’s important to remember that people don’t fit into neat little categories. For instance, I’m an extrovert. This is clear by the fact that I mostly experience life as it happens to me instead of as it happens within me; I can sympathize with and instantly befriend practically anyone; and I prefer conversations with three or more people to one-on-one interaction. However, that doesn’t make me a social butterfly with boundless energy who knows no strangers.

I am painfully shy. I usually forget this fact because I generally inhabit my comfort zones (people I know, social situations that don’t require me to say anything, etc.), but it’s a fact. (Growing up as a homeschooler, I felt forced to be outgoing because everyone was just waiting for every homeschooler to prove the “undersocialized freak” stereotype.) I would rather take a vow of silence than call someone on the phone. If attending a party of people I don’t know well, I have to spend at least an hour getting myself mentally psyched. I often get nervous about talking too much and would rather have another person carry the bulk of the conversation. When I’m in a social situation that falls outside my comfort zone, I just want to hide in a corner by the punch bowl. One-on-one interaction is incredibly draining, even with people I love. And I greatly enjoy reading, journalling, and working through my thoughts in my writing.

Knowing whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is very helpful. But when you’re figuring it out, remember that there are many shades of gray. Stereotypes are useful, but it’s important to remember that they’re still just stereotypes.


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