Introvert? Extravert? 3 reasons why you need to know

 

This above all: to thine own self be true. ~ Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

 

I get depressed when I stay home by myself too much.

 

For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t making the connection between being at home and depression. After all, who doesn’t want to work from home and have all of that time to yourself?

Then I took a course to become a certified practitioner for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) and I finally got it.

Aha! That’s why I get depressed sometimes when I’m working at home.

 

I’m an extravert.

 

I get my energy from being around other people and activities. Although I enjoy working from home most of the time, if I don’t have enough interaction with people, I get drained of energy and ambition and my mood swings toward the low end of the scale.

 

Why is it important to know if you’re an introvert or an extravert?

Here’s why you need to know whether you’re an introvert or an extravert:

 

1. So you can bring your most effective skills to the adversity that arises in your life.

2. So you can be at your best in relationships at home, work, and socially.

3. So you won’t be mystified by your moods or behaviors like I was.

 

Known as a preference on the MBTI, introversion/extraversion helps you answer these questions:

 

  • Where do I get energy? (And the opposite: What drains my energy?)
  • Where do I focus my attention? (And the opposite: What doesn’t hold my attention?)

 

Let’s look at each end of this preference dichotomy.

 

You might be an introvert if you. . .

  • get recharged energetically by being alone, able to withdraw into your own ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
  • feel drained after being around a lot of people or having to be social or “on” for too long.
  • focus your attention on your own internal experiences – your thoughts and feelings.
  • feel overwhelmed or lose focus when asked to direct your energy outward and interact with others too much.
  • prefer to communicate in writing.
  • need to time to reflect on ideas and problems before actively addressing them.
  • are more private and contained than outgoing and expressive.

 

You might be an extravert if you . . .

  • get recharged energetically by being with other people.
  • feel drained if you are alone too much or not able to interact with others.
  • focus your attention outward toward people and activities.
  • lose focus if asked to reflect on your inner experience too much.
  • prefer to communicate by talking.
  • work out ideas and problems by talking them through.
  • are more outgoing and expressive than private and contained.

 

Okay, but how does this help me in my life?

Specifically related to bouncing back in life, knowing if you’re introverted or extraverted helps with:

  • Solving problems.
  • Taking care of yourself energetically.
  • Knowing what kind of social support you need (and can tolerate.)

 

Solving problems

When life throws you a curveball, you need to engage your problem-solving skills. If you’re an introvert and a bunch of your friends want to get together and help you talk your problem through, you’re going to want to run for the hills to be alone.

Similarly, extravert hell is chewing on a problem by yourself, stuck with your own internal thoughts.

When you know whether you prefer extraversion or introversion, you are able to select the appropriate method for you to solve your problem.

If you’re an introvert, you are probably going to need some time alone to reflect on it before you take any action.

If you’re an extravert, you are probably going to want to talk out the problem with your friend(s) and start taking action quickly.

 

Taking care of yourself energetically

It’s pretty obvious that the less energy you have, the harder it’s going to be to face and manage a problem.

You can take better care of your energy by knowing what feeds you and what drains you.

An introvert – even a social one – is going to need some “down time” in order to recharge. If you’re an introvert, make sure that you guard your private time, even if it can only come in short spurts such as taking a break at work.

An extravert is probably going to need some people time in order to regain her energy. When I’m not in my therapy office, I work from home as a writer. When I start to feel that familiar pull of my mood going south, I hightail it down to my favorite restaurant where everyone knows my name.

After a bit of socializing and good food, I’m ready to tackle the world again!

 

Knowing what kind of social support you need (and can tolerate)

I have written before about the importance of social support in bouncing back from tough times. Whether you’re an introvert or an extravert, everyone needs someone to help them in a crisis.

The difference is, though, how many people and how often?

If you’re an extravert, you may need and want a lot of people around you.

If you’re an introvert, you still need social support, but it may come in the form of just one close friend or family member. You also may need to learn to say no to well-meaning people who want to help, but may just end up overwhelming you.

 

Being okay with who you are

One of the great things about knowing whether you’re introverted or extraverted is that it adds to your understanding of your feelings and behaviors and helps you more easily accept who you are.

Using my example again, I always thought I was introverted since I was very shy up until my late twenties and still don’t always do well in social situations where I don’t know anyone.

Since introverts like time alone, I had no clue that my depressed mood often stemmed from the mere fact that I was by myself a little too much. It was such a relief when I realized I was really an extravert! All of the pieces of the puzzle came together for me.

It can be the same for you as you sort out your preference between introversion and extraversion.

 

A little bit of both

“But wait,” I can hear you say, “I think I’m an extravert, but I really do like my time alone, too. Does that mean I’m actually an introvert?”

Not necessarily.

Think of extraversion and introversion being on two ends of one line:

Extraversion ——————————-|———————————–Introversion

You might be at the extreme ends or you might be somewhere closer to the middle.

I’m an extravert who appreciates some time to myself.

My partner, Andrea, is an “expressive introvert” who gains energy from being alone, yet likes to talk through problems.

There can be many areas of overlap, so don’t feel like you have to be pigeonholed into one particular type.

 

One more thing about introversion

Our society rewards extraversion.

We like the outgoing, charismatic, action-oriented person. If we see someone sitting alone at a party or retreating to read a book, we think something is wrong with them.

If you went by movies, the news, business, and the direction children are guided in schools, you would think that most people in the United States are extraverts, right?

Wrong.

It’s about half and half. Actually, there are just a few more (51%) introverts than there are extraverts (49%) in the U.S.

And yet, the introverts are the ones who are the most misunderstood in our society. Perhaps because they don’t make as much noise as the extraverts!

I wanted to add this section at the end to assure you introverts out there that there are a lot of you and you’re finally getting a bit more attention (not that you want it) and understanding about your need for retreating to your internal experience.

Author Susan Cain is getting quite a bit of attention for her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  I haven’t read the book yet, but I did watch Cain’s TED talk. And I encourage you to do so as well.

Introverts will nod their heads knowingly, while extraverts will learn a bit more about our quieter friends.

 

Summary 

This has been a lot of information about introversion and extraversion. The one thing I want  you to take away is this: knowing your preference for introversion or extraversion can only help you in your ability to bounce back in life by helping you with problem-solving, taking care of your own energy level, and knowing what kind of social support you need.

 

Are you introverted or extraverted or somewhere in between? Have you read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, yet? What did you think?

 

Reference: Myers, Isabel Briggs (1998) Introduction to Type: Sixth Edition. CPP, Inc: Mt. View, California

Note: The spelling of ‘extraversion’ is unique to MBTI language. Many people spell it ‘extroversion.’

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22 Responses to Introvert? Extravert? 3 reasons why you need to know

  1. dougtoft July 20, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Bobbi: Thanks for the “expressive introvert”preference. I’d never heard of that before. That’s me!

    • Bobbi Emel July 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      I know, it’s cool, isn’t it, Doug? You can actually take a version of the MBTI now that gives more detail into some of the dynamics of each type. It’s really interesting.

      • Kaylee July 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

        I had never heard of the “expressive introvert” either..I think maybe that’s me. =) I haven’t taken the MBTI in a while, maybe I’ll take the new one and see what pops up.

  2. Betsygirl July 21, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    These are such great thoughts- really explains myself to me! I work out of my home as well, with one afternoon a week on site with team members. I love my alone time but often get depressed and find any excuse to get out of the house on days when we are not meeting. Now I can attribute it to something other than being a schyzophrenic Gemini!

    • Bobbi Emel July 23, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      Exactly, Betsygirl! Sounds like you have the same experience I do. Getting out occasionally is a great way to beat those extravert blues!

  3. Lori Lynn Smith July 23, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    this is always an interesting discussion. I have always thought of myself as an introvert and most people see me as a extravert. I probably fall mostly in the mid and swing back an forth depending on the particular needs/tasks that are around me at the present time.

    • Bobbi Emel July 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

      Lori, you’re probably one of those people that others see as an extravert because you tend to be outgoing and friendly. What they don’t know, though, is that it’s pretty draining for you and you need your alone time to recharge. I think most people think that extraversion vs. introversion = outgoing vs. shy. And that’s not true at all. It has much more to do with energy and attention.

  4. Joel Zaslofsky July 24, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Bobbi,

    Like you, I’ve seen a ton of information and articles about introversion and extroversion lately. I get why it’s important to know which one you are (and in what contexts) and I like the angle you’re coming at it from. What you give us here is objective and practical but I intentionally tune out most of the introvert vs. extrovert conversation.

    Honestly, I think the “battle” that some people perceive between introverts and extroverts is overplayed and harmful. It’s just one of many facets of a person and, I believe, a relatively low importance one. I know I’ve just given opinions without articles or facts to back it up but I’m cutting myself off before I spend more time on this. I don’t know why this topic gets me so worked up. If I don’t have something constructive to offer I better pull the plug on myself. :)

    • Bobbi Emel July 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

      Joel, you’re so funny – you just had an argument with yourself!

      I disagree with you – I think it’s really important for people to know which preference they lean toward as well as people to know others’ preferences, too. It turns out we can relate to each other a lot better if we know where the other is coming from in the first place.

  5. Amit Amin July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Quiet is an absolutely amazing book.

    Coming from a business background, being an extreme introvert has always been a problem. Well, coming from a living in America background, being an extreme introvert has always been a problem. I get energized like extroverts from talking to one or two people at a time, but put in me the usual group of four to six and I get wiped out. I wish I was an extrovert – they’re a lot happier than introverts, but such is life.

    • Bobbi Emel July 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Some good insights there, Amit. I’m not sure extraverts are happier, but they appear so! Introverts are just happy in a different way ;-)

  6. carda July 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    lori lynn smith’s comments are exactly how i feel too. as you know i can be very outgoing and then there are times when i am desperate to be alone. people (including myself) have a tendency to pigeon hole others – you are so right, it is a matter of the scale.

    • Bobbi Emel August 1, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      You’re right, Carda. And everyone has a little bit of the other end of the pole, so we extraverts need some down time and introverts sometimes need people time.

  7. CiaraConlon July 30, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Finding out that I was an extrovert and understanding what the meant was probably one of the most important steps for me in my personal development. I never understood why I didn’t follow through on projects why I always jumped from one to the other, I got bored too easily. I thought this was a character flaw but then when I understood it emanates from being an extrovert I wasn’t so critical of myself and worked with my natural abilities and preferences to make things work. Great Article Bobbi I think everyone needs to understand who they are

    • Bobbi Emel August 1, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      It is freeing, isn’t it Ciara? I wondered about some of my behaviors, too, until I realized I was extraverted. And I agree with you – knowing about extraversion and introversion can help our own personal development by not only understanding ourselves better, but others, too.

  8. saraholeary August 6, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    This is such a wonderful and succinct summation of this extrovert/introvert discussion. I agree with you that it is so helpful to understand who you are – and also to understand it about your friends, coworkers and acquaintances.
    For long time I could never figure out which side of the scale I fall on – I’m shy in large crowds, and love to write, read and have some quiet time. At the same time I love to talk when I feel safe, love socializing and connecting with people. When someone told me the very thing you write here – about how I get my energy – I realized I’m definitely an extrovert. I might be tired and lethargic working at home, but get me into a meeting with a small group tossing around ideas, and suddenly I’m all energized. At the same time, if it’s too long a time spent with people or too many people, I get drained. That tells me I fall a bit in the middle of the spectrum.

    Understanding the difference between how introverts and extroverts get their energy and thrive has helped me feel more compassionate and understanding toward my introvert friends. I agree that it is harder for them in our society which idolizes charismatic extroverts. Now I know when to give my introvert buddies some space, and I no longer exhort them to join me at social events. Really good article Bobbi!

    • Bobbi Emel August 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      Thanks, Sarah!

      When I was taking the MBTI practitioner course, the facilitator had us do an exercise where the Introverts were on one side of the room and we Extraverts were on the other side. He had each group imagine how they would behave at a party.

      To make the story short, during the whole-group sharing afterwards, one woman in our group said, “I always thought I was doing people a favor when I saw them sitting alone in a corner at a party by bringing them in to introduce them to people. Now I realize they were Introverts and just really wanted to be left alone.”

      To which the people on the other side of the room shouted in unison, “That’s right!”

      ;-)

  9. Incredible Zen August 11, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    Thanks for this – as an introvert it’s good to read what it’s like for ‘the other side’!

    And as you rightly point out, our Western society views extroversion as the way to be, instead of accepting that it’s also fine to be introverted.

    I think many people hover in the middle of the continuum – not strongly extroverted or introverted: and their behaviour varies depending on the surrounding environment and the people they are with.

    I would put myself well along the scale to introversion, but I am comfortable in company for shortish periods, and am confident enough to start conversations and do business presentations in front of large groups. My husband is completely the opposite – an extrovert who can be shy around new people and not comfortable standing up in front of a large group.

    I think the main thing to take from this article is that we all need to learn that people are different, and learn to accept them for what they are, not what we think they should be. And that includes ourselves.

    • Bobbi Emel August 12, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      Yes, good points, Incredible Zen. I find it very liberating to understand what preference the other person has because, especially as an extravert, I can be somewhat intrusive to introverts who are just doing their own thing.

      We need to accept people for who they are as well as understand that everyone is motivated, but our motivations may vary widely.

  10. Chris Edgar August 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    I would definitely say that I fall on the introverted side of the spectrum. But I often wonder whether it’s possible for me to just become more accustomed to the feelings I get around people, and thus I’ve been trying to put myself among other people more than I’m comfortable with doing. That is, is “introversion” just a category I’m trapped in for life? I suppose that also raises the question of why I would want to escape from that category, doesn’t it? :)
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    • Bobbi August 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

      Hi Chris,

      You ask some good questions. Carl Jung’s ideas about personality preferences included that the preferences are innate from birth so, according to MBTI theory, yes, you are “trapped” with your preference.

      Now, about the word “trapped” . . . ;-)

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with learning a new skill that might be outside of your preference. So, your practice of trying to become more comfortable with the feelings you have around people is certainly not a bad thing. Just as long as you realize that your basic preference is introversion and you allow yourself time alone to recharge.

      Similarly, extraverts may benefit by learning to modify their problem-solving techniques when in groups which include introverts. Extraverts will think out loud and bat ideas back and forth and not understand why their introverted colleagues are being so quiet. Introverts use a more internalized, sit-back-and-process-this-for-awhile style and often feel pressured by their extraverted colleagues to participate when they’re not ready. It would help if we extraverts would allow for an introverted style more often so we get the ideas from the full group.

      So, there’s room for all of us to move toward the opposite preference!

      Thanks so much for your comment, Chris!

  11. farouk October 28, 2012 at 1:34 am #

    thanks for the advice
    am an extrovert and i do feel horrible when i stay home alone at night
    nice post

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