Extrovert? Introvert? What Do We Mean?

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The other day, I was at an incredibly engaging poetry workshop led by a teacher from Belgium. I admit, I was completely taken by his enthusiasm for his craft. The way he incorporates poetry into the classroom and encouraged us, as future educators, to do the same, was so inspiring.

I was participating ardently. I went to the front of the room to partake in a scent test, I listened to his song samples and wrote descriptive words to accompany them, and was totally invested.

But then he said something that drew me out of the experience entirely. He wasn’t talking about me specifically, because he had just met me. Rather, it was in response to a comment from the audience. It’s something that I’ve heard before, but something I haven’t considered as often as I have been in the last few months. So hearing it again just made me stop and think.

 “Introverted people don’t talk often, but have a lot to say. Extroverted people talk a lot, but don’t have much to say.”

Now, by all means and practice, people would call me an extrovert. Without question, I’m sure. I know I’m loud, and I’m friendly and enthusiastic, and I have a lot of friends from many walks of life. I am energized by immersion in events. I love to socialize, small talk isn’t uncomfortable for me, and I find myself generally fascinated by people.

Through a quick analysis of the Myers-Briggs definition, my personality nails extroversion. If this were webMD and I was trying to figure out if I had some strange illness I saw once on Grey’s Anatomy, then this would be the point at which I’d pick up the phone and make an appointment with my family doc. But then I read that extroverts forget to stop and think before merging ahead. That they may go with their gut without analyzing the consequences. And that doesn’t sound like me at all.

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Still, I get it. In the second week of my PDP program, the class mulled around the room and wrote a descriptor about each classmate on pieces of cardstock. When I got mine back, there were four words: “Outgoing, Creative, Funny, Spontaneous.” I was super excited about these words, because the first three are traits I pride myself on, and the fourth is one I’ve been working hard on, because I know I can be a bit uptight/inflexible.

But before the activity had begun, we’d been asked to write a word we would describe ourselves as. And the word I’d used to describe myself was not one of the four written on the card.

The most extroverted qualities in a person are always those that are noticed first. It’s so much easier to notice somebody’s humour than their thoughtfulness, or their friendliness before their honesty. So while I pride myself, above all, on being inclusive, I wasn’t surprised that this wasn’t one of my words listed. But it did make me question why.

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As you likely know, this summer I went to Europe, and spent a large chunk of my trip traveling entirely alone. For days at a time I wandered colourful streets, sat with myself in silence at restaurants, and took everything in without sharing it with anyone. It was completely mine, and I loved internalizing it into a unique experience for me.

If you happened to pull up the Myers Briggs page, keep reading. Move into the introverted category.  It says an introvert spends time dealing with memories and internal ideas. One with these tendencies is comfortable alone, takes time to make a decision and is reflective by nature. And when I read that, I think yes, that’s me too.

At no point does it say anywhere that we must be one or the other. In fact, it says that everyone spends time in both categories. Introversion and extroversion therefore, is not a personality type, but rather an attitude towards energy direction. To “vert” comes from the Latin verb “vertere” which means to “turn or overturn”. So the essential idea of the ‘introvert’ and the ‘extrovert’ does not match. These terms do not mean “shy” and “outgoing” respectively. They do not place a person into a box they cannot escape. They are each just a way of approaching a situation.  And I think that society has taken these words, these definitions, and completely blown them into superficial stereotypes because we are always so desperately to compartmentalize. We say that introverted personalities feel drained after too much social interaction, while extroverted personalities feel drained after too much time alone.

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So why does it bother me? Why is it that when I get called an extrovert by people, I feel almost as though they are insulting me? And yet, when I try and say that I’m actually quite introverted, that doesn’t feel right either?  I believe the answer is exactly in that quote, which the French man regrettably said in front of me 48 hours ago and has had my mind spinning ever since. Are there really only two types of people in the world?

Well no. Because then you read those awful, just-as-stereotypical Thought Catalogue/Elite Daily articles about being an “Extroverted-Introvert” or an ambivert, and so many people identify with that title even more, because suddenly they realize that they’re not the only ones in the world that don’t feel exclusively one way or another. They don’t act one way or another.

I love people. I love making friends, I love socializing, and I love, more than anything, the feeling of “we never went through a small talk phase.”  Some people you’ll spend your whole life being polite with. Some people will feel like kindred spirits by the end of the day.  It’s amazing.  But I don’t think that extroverted people are only capable of surface level relationships. I also don’t think that each and every friendship an introverted person makes is deep and meaningful.

Sometimes, I meet somebody who I could spend 72 hours with nonstop and not once feel exhausted by their company. Others, I need a break after an hour. Isn’t that just being human?

A hot topic for as long as I can remember, rightfully so, is the idea of gender fluidity and not being pinpointed to one projected life layout just because your gender says so. I view extroversion and introversion as a similar (albeit far less important) idea. Because I believe everyone has both qualities within them. My quietest, likely introvert-identifying friends can still chat up a storm and have a great time at parties. My likely extroverted-identifying friends still sometimes require an extra shove out the door on the way to a party. I’m often of the mind that “I really would rather stay home and watch Netflix, but I know I’ll have fun when I get there.”  It’s not a binary, one way or the other; it’s a sliding scale.

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So why? Why even worry about it? Why am I writing all these thoughts down and even giving a second thought to this?  I know who I am. In fact, I pride myself on having a fairly firm understanding of who I am, albeit an ever-changing one. I know when I’ve reached my social limits. I recognize when I’m getting cranky and should probably just go home and take a nap. I also recognize when I’ve been alone for too long, and need to get out in the world and out of my head. I know that just because I’m loud, doesn’t mean I’m superficial. And, as a further side note, these simplistic “attitude types” do not define a personality as much as the Myers Briggs personality test, which if you want somebody to tell you what you are (tongue in cheek), you should go check out.

So why does it bother me?

Because it means that I’m maybe not doing a good enough job of showing my whole self. It means that maybe people see so much of my “funny” and my “outgoing” and my “creative” that they don’t recognize  my “inclusivity” or my “honesty” or my “thoughtfulness”. Do I even possess these qualities? I want to. But maybe I need to do a better job of balancing. Maybe I need to be careful that I’m not falling into the “vert trap” that society has laid out so clearly.

It also means that maybe I’m doing the same thing towards others. Maybe I’m not seeing my quiet friend’s incredibly quick wit, or their enthusiasm for karaoke. Maybe I’m not paying attention to my funniest friend’s heart as much as I should. Maybe I’m using the very boxes I’ve always hated.

And I wonder, now, if we did the activity again, how the words might change. Have I done a better job of showing a different side of my personality, or have I trapped myself into the box of extroversion irrevocably?

Something to consider, that’s for sure.

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2 Responses to Extrovert? Introvert? What Do We Mean?

  1. I enjoyed reading your self analysis very much, because I am aware of these two sides to my own personality. When I had to live alone for the first time in my life at 42, I got myself two cats so I could hear my own voice on week-ends! LOL I liked living alone but was afraid of becoming too introverted…I felt that wasn’t the real me! :o) You are going to be a thoughtful teacher Kylie. You explained those opposites more clearly for me. Thank you.

    • kylielynne says:

      Thanks so much for reading Lillian! While you were afraid to be alone because you were worried you’d become too introverted, traveling alone worried me because I thought I may be too extroverted! It’s a lovely feeling once you realize that you don’t have to be one way all the time 🙂

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