Posted at | July 19, 2012 | 22 Comments
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.)
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?”
Think of extraversion and introversion being on two ends of one line:
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?
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.
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.’