Personality typing and tests are super popular at the moment, particularly in regards to the introvert/extrovert question. How do we need to treat introverts and extroverts differently, how can introverts and extroverts get along even though they’re completely different, and what do you need to do to care for your introvert/extrovert self? I’m all for opening up discussions of the different ways that people function and thrive, but I’m certainly not the first person to point out that the introvert/extrovert dichotomy misses a lot of nuance in how people interact socially.
For the last five years or so, I’ve firmly identified as an introvert. I have a lot of social anxiety and so spending time in large groups is draining for me. I need alone time and personal space, I love to read and write (alone), and I recharge by taking long naps and watching Netflix. But in my current relationship, I’m finding that I want to spend more time together than my partner does, as he needs more recharging time than I do. I’m finding that when I’m out of work, I want to be with people nearly every day. So am I an introvert or an extrovert?
In my last therapy appointment, my therapist mentioned that one of my needs as a human being is intellectual stimulation. I get bored easily, and when I don’t have something to keep my mind occupied I start to lose it a little bit. Interestingly, I find that intellectual stimulation is an incredibly difficult need to fulfill without the help of other people, particularly in the form of conversation.
When I’m having engaging, deep conversations with other people, I feel my batteries recharge. When I have to make small talk, be around a large group of people, talk to someone I don’t know very well, or interact with other people for simply practical needs (setting up an appointment for example), I feel drained. Where does this put me on the introvert/extrovert scale if there are some social activities that I find rejuvenating and some that I find horrible?
Well it probably just makes me human, since I’m fairly certain that this is true of everyone. But it might make more sense to talk about introversion and extroversion in relation to specific activities or types of interactions instead of overall personality traits. I’m extroverted when it comes to intellect, puzzles, very close friends and family, and public speaking (yeah, I’m a weirdo). I’m incredibly introverted when it comes to big groups, loud atmospheres, strangers, casual acquaintances, or overstimulating situations.
It’s pretty easy to see some patterns here. There are some things which will make me feel rejuvenated whether or not they happen with other people: learning, validation, deep connection, feeling competent, or getting attention. There are other things that will wear me out whether or not they involve others: overwhelming environments, too many things to pay attention to at once, or repetition of basic information.
While introversion and extroversion are helpful concepts in some ways, it might be helpful to also start to think of how we recharge our emotional batteries with or without people. Almost everyone has some things that feel good and restful both with and without other people. These things might point towards what it is that we crave as individuals, what our emotional needs are. If we see what we want from our lives, it might be easier to set up social interactions to successfully cater to those needs.
Example: when I think of myself as an introvert, I try to schedule more downtime for myself. I inevitably end up bored and frustrated after a few hours of entertaining myself. If instead, I think about fulfilling my need for stimulation without an overwhelming number of things to pay attention to, I set up quiet coffee dates, game nights, movie nights, and other similar quiet activities that let me talk to other people and stay engaged.
Maybe I’m an intellovert: I get my rest and relaxation from exercising my brain. It’s quite possible that there are lots of other ways that people find rejuvenation. Perhaps someone is oriented towards physical exertion, human touch, sensory cues, or something else altogether. I don’t think it’s useful to get rid of the words introvert and extrovert altogether, but it might be time to rethink the ways we use them, or introduce some new concepts to think about when we’re explaining what fulfills our personalities.