Friday, March 13, 2015

In or Out

For the last few days, I've been having a discussion with a friend about personality types. This friend claims, "I used to be an introvert," as if it was something negative, and then goes on to say that life-changing [positive] events turned him into an extrovert. His definition of introverts bothered me, because he described himself (as a "former introvert") as anti-social, painfully shy, people-hating, and other equally unbecoming adjectives. 

Upon further probing, I discovered that he had been repressed as a child and was not allowed to express his friendliness and caring by his overbearing and punitive father. He therefore became withdrawn and didn't seek out interactions with others. When he was finally away from his birth family, he had a spiritual experience that tore away the fetters and allowed what I believe was his true personality to shine forth.

I have been trying to tell this friend that introversion is not what he describes at all. Not every introvert is socially awkward or phobic. Not every introvert is antisocial or hates people. Not every introvert is shy. (He still uses those adjectives interchangeably with introverted.)

In fact, these qualities are probably quite well shared among both major personality types, just expressed in a different way. For example, a lot of extroverts are quite insecure on the inside - but instead of withdrawing, they tend to put on a smiling, brave face and often overcompensate by being extra-driven, extra-talkative, and/or extra-friendly.

Photo "Teenage Girls Gossiping" by
Ambro at

Most statistics will tell you that the introvert and extrovert population is just about evenly split. I tend to believe that the introvert population is under-reported (in other words, that there are many more introverts around than there are extroverts) because most introverts KNOW that they are introverts whereas most extroverts have no idea that they are extroverts, and they are therefore more likely to take a "personality types" questionnaire to find out what their type is. I can't count the number of times someone has said to me right before those ever-popular Myers-Briggs or Jungian exercises, "What major personality type do YOU think I am? I just can't figure it out..." Invariably that person is an extrovert (and not just borderline either. Extremely so!!)

Here is the ONLY basic difference between introverts and extroverts: where does the person get his or her energy

That's it. That's the whole difference. 

Extroverts are energized by being around other people; they need others like every animal needs oxygen to survive. Their orientation is "Out." Without social interaction, they become irritable, moody, sometimes depressed. Introverts are energized by being alone OR in the company of one (or at the most two) close and trusted friends. Their orientation is "In." Without their daily dose of quiet time, they become just as irritable, and can become depressed or morose. 

No one type is better than the other. That is not what is commonly believed, however. By both "sides."

That is the illusion - that is the misconception passed along by the media and by those with power over others. In fact, many times those with power over others are extroverts. Their extroverted nature naturally predisposes them to rise in popularity and they often find favor in the eyes of those who are looking to promote from within.  And many extroverts, unfortunately, see introverted people as a threat.  Introverted people see the impulsive nature of the extrovert as a dangerous thing, and want to put on the brakes when they see things starting to spiral out of control. In typical reactionary style, they see the extrovert as the threat.

There are many reasons for this. 

An introverted person's tendency to think, to ponder detail, to look at all sides, and to be cautious can be seen by extroverts as being "a wet blanket." His need for quiet time can be seen as being a "party pooper." His reticence to speak up at meetings (a common thing among introverts) can be mistaken for a lack of interest or involvement. 

An extroverted person's tendency to speak out with new ideas - to "think out loud" so to speak, can be seen by an introverted person as brash and controlling. The introvert can view the extrovert's constant socializing as scatterbrained or even lazy in a "grasshopper versus ant" way. 

Each group considers itself to be "In" and the other group "Out" - we versus they, dividing walls getting thicker and thicker. Bullying is common between the two groups. So is manipulation. 

It's so sad. So unnecessary. So junior high school.

In actual fact, the conversation that the extrovert has with himself out loud when facing a decision is the same conversation that the introvert has within himself. It's just that the introvert prefers to be right the first time he dares open his mouth, not wanting to appear "dumb." The extrovert sees that hesitancy as 'not being a team player' and often jumps to another topic - or gets obvious and repeatedly asks for a response - when there's no feedback (extroverts LOVE feedback. Instant and continuous feedback.) Introverts usually don't give feedback until they've processed the entire ball of wax, and many times their reaction is better "felt" than "telt." In other words, a statement or an idea can impact an introvert deeply without a word being spoken in response. It doesn't mean that the introvert is any less affected by it. He's just pondering the implications.

The extrovert, on the other hand, likes to 'bounce ideas' off others and in so doing, help to clarify his thinking; it never crosses his mind that the first thing out of his mouth is going to be the final result. Introverts see that as insincere and shallow. But it isn't. It's just the way extroverts process the world around them. It's just different. Not worse, not superior. Not inferior. Different. An extrovert's mentality is that if he likes something, then everyone likes it. So when he says, "Come on, it'll be fun," he really means it will be fun for him, and since everyone is just like him, everyone will think it's fun. He can't understand why it wouldn't be. So to an introvert, his encouragements to engage in whatever activity it is, appear to be just so much bullying (- and, don't get me wrong, when it turns into insistence in spite of protests, it IS bullying -) when usually what is the case is that it's a way for him to share his excitement and enthusiasm. 

I lived with an extreme extrovert for nearly 21 years. She was the only extrovert in our household, and I can say from experience that she felt insecure, out of place, unaccepted, and "strange" or "defective" in our house just as much as an introvert raised by extroverts would feel. But there was nothing strange or defective about her. She was just different. We came to appreciate her energy, her zest for life, her zany antics when things just got "too quiet." And she in turn came to appreciate our steadiness, our depth of feeling, and our analytical abilities when she faced a decision she really didn't know how to work through on her own. 

And there is one more thing that I must mention. Just because a person is an extrovert or an introvert doesn't mean that he or she doesn't have some of the qualities of the opposite at the exact same time. People are incredibly complex beings, and no two personalities are exactly alike. People are who they are ... and that's a good thing. It means endless variety, endless challenge, endless adventure to life. To dismiss one or the other or say that it is wrong or somehow defective or sick, is to deny one of the most important things we humans value about our humanity: individuality. If everyone were the same, it would be an unbelievably boring existence, wouldn't it?

How about putting aside excluding or judging others on the basis of our differences and leaving it "Out" of the picture, where it belongs??  How about adopting the idea that we're ALL, every one of us, in the "In" group - - all of us, no exclusions?? How about that?? 

Because after all, we're all "In" this together....

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