Introverts and Extroverts
The way introverts and extroverts are talked about, you might think they are different species. As with all relationships, there are a lot of misconceptions on both sides.
Introverts aren’t all antisocial recluses and extroverts don’t love everyone they meet- that is oversimplified nonsense.
This newsletter is a bridge between relationships, which we’ve talked about in February, to self-talk, which is what we are going to talk about in March. It’s important to know yourself, but it is useful to try to be accurate in how you know yourself.
Introversion and extroversion are personality traits and are different ends of a spectrum. I know lots about personality traits: I studied them in grad school and I saw them in action, giving psychological evaluations for 8 years. Most personality traits are on a spectrum, intelligence is on a spectrum, and a lot of behavior is on a spectrum. What being on a spectrum means in practical terms is that you can only be at one place on it at one time. While your position on the spectrum might change over time, or be affected by your circumstances, for the most part personality traits are fairly fixed and don’t fluctuate much over the lifespan.
That’s the big picture for personality traits. Introversion and extroversion specifically fit into a model of personality called the five factor model. A lot of research has been done on the five factor model over a span of decades and it is pretty consistent. The results also hold internationally, so it is not just applicable to Americans, which makes it similar to intelligence.
For all of these, most people fall somewhere in the middle, leaning a little more to one side or the other.
The easiest way to remember the five factors is by the acronym, OCEAN:
- Openness. This is how open you are to new experiences. Some people always want to do the same thing, all the time, and never go anywhere, try new foods, or learn about different things. Some people are the complete opposite and want everything to be new all the time. For this one, most people people tend to be somewhere in the middle.
- Conscientiousness. This is easiest understood as attention to detail. Are you on time to things, do you meet deadlines, and are you organized? Then you’re more conscientious. Do you disregard those details as unimportant? Do you act more on a whim, preferring to do things when you think they should be done? When you hear people talking about how OCD they are, this is what they really mean. People who actually have OCD don’t brag about it when they meet a deadline because it is a fairly debilitating and unpleasant psychological problem to have.
- Extroversion. This is introversion and extroversion. They aren’t even the first one of the traits, they are in the middle. We’ll talk more about this in a minute.
- Agreeableness. This, like the others, is what it sounds like. How agreeable are you to other people? Are you more of a curmudgeon, preferring to do things your way all the time, or are you more flexible? At the extreme, people who are very agreeable can be like a doormat or refuse to budge an inch, in any situation. Like openness and conscientiousness, most people are in the middle on this one.
- Neuroticism. This is not looking at psychopathology, like depression or anxiety, but is looking at your personality baseline. Are you constantly irritable? Things like snapping at other people, being aggressive (not violent, but aggressive), irritated, or constantly upset are all signs you are more neurotic. If you are less neurotic, you are more laid back, you let things go, and are not as easily upset. This one is more flexible than the others- I used to be pretty high strung and somewhat neurotic, but after years of therapy and meditation, I am much more laid back.
Ok, now that you know the context for introversion and extroversion, let’s talk a little bit more about them.
Here is the one question to answer to know if you are introverted or extroverted: When you are stressed and need to relax and recharge, do you want to be alone or with other people? If you prefer to be by yourself or with one or two other people, you are introverted. If you prefer being around other people, then you are extroverted. Neither one is right or wrong.
Now think about all the things you’ve heard about introverts and extroverts. Most of it is wrong, misunderstood, or misinterpreted.
Here are some things confused with introversion or extroversion:
- Social anxiety. Social anxiety, like all other psychological problems, can go from being fairly minor to debilitating. People with severe social anxiety will usually spend as little time with other people as possible, because they are dying inside when they have to be with other people. Obviously, this is not going to be the same for everyone and everyone has a different tolerance for how many people they can be around. But social anxiety is not introversion. Social anxiety is a very real, very disruptive psychological problem that can be successfully treated and managed with therapy and other interventions.
- Social skills. Social skills have almost nothing to do with whether or not you are introverted or extroverted and have everything to do with how you interact with other people in a variety of settings. Now, an introvert with poor social skills might suffer less than an extrovert with poor social skills, but these are things that can be learned and improved on.
- Liking people. Some people don’t like anyone they meet and some people like everyone they meet. Again, it doesn’t make you introverted or extroverted. People can find themselves in toxic environments, surrounded by people who they have nothing in common with, or be in great environments with a lot of cool people. When it comes to other people, the environment matters a lot.
So here are some truths about introverts and extroverts, so we can all understand each other better.
- You can be an introverted extrovert or extroverted introvert. Confusing? Not so much. These are the people who fall in the middle. I’m one of them- I love working with people and am very social, but am also pretty reclusive and on a day-to-day basis spend most of the time with my husband and dogs. He’s the same way- he’s a musician and a music teacher who is a fantastic performer, but is happiest hanging out at home.
- Host dinner parties or game nights. Get togethers like these are a perfect compromise for introverts and extroverts, because they are social events involving more than a few people, but are also at someone’s house. You can make them as fancy or casual as you want and they adapt well to all the seasons and holidays. Try to keep them to a group of people that knows each other fairly well, with only a few new people. When they turn into actual parties, they get exhausting for introverts because then there are a ton of new people to try to keep track of.
- People watch with your friends. People watching is fun. I used to live in Chicago and it was great- there are so many people from everywhere there. Get one or two of your friends, introverted or extroverted (the opposite of whatever you are) and go somewhere with a lot of foot traffic. Then make some kind of game out of people watching. Try to guess people’s backstories, where they’re from, if they look like they have good dance moves, or whatever else. People have great imaginations. This is a nice way to bond in a small group and get introverts out of the house.
Anyways, hopefully this helps clear up some things about introverts and extroverts and helps you get to know yourself and your friends a little bit better.
For this week, figure out if you are introverted or extroverted, and how you are happiest relating to other people.
Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything you want explained in more detail.
Thanks for reading- I appreciate you.
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