So What Are Introversion and Extroversion Anyway?

I think discussions about personality types have been happening for centuries. I’ve even seen it argued that Gregory the Great in the 6th century made what might be the first personality sorter, though there were elements that we certainly wouldn’t use today. Introversion and extroversion are a significant pair that show up in discussion, though the way people talk about it, I’m not sure it’s clear people know what they’re really talking about.

On a blog, Ragamuffin Soul, recently, when the question was posed, “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” a significant number of the responses, including the original author, Carlos, said that they were both or that they were sometimes one or sometimes the other, depending on this or that.

The problem is, personality doesn’t work that way. Well, not unless you’re suffering from a serious psychological dissociative disorder. How many personalities do you have in that head of yours?

I think introversion and extroversion get confused for other things. Shy? Must be an introvert. Outgoing? Must be an extrovert. Life of the party? Extrovert. Get tongue tied much? Introvert. It’s just not that simple.

I had a roommate years ago that we all assumed was an extrovert. When we had parties or people over, he was there, having a good time, talking with everyone, sometimes showing off. He loved being in a crowd! And one day, I can’t remember why, he said to us, “Most people think I’m an extrovert, but I’m really an introvert.” And I thought, “No! He’s yanking my chain!” And then I thought about it. Yeah, he was at the parties. He loved being in the crowd. He knew how to schmooze. But then, he also holed up in his room a lot. In fact, he always did after people went home. That’s where he spent most of his time. And I suddenly realized he was right.

Extroversion isn’t the same thing as being socially adept. It isn’t the same thing as thinking fast with people or knowing how to schmooze. It’s not being the life of the party or knowing how to work a crowd. Likewise, introversion isn’t just being shy or reserved or quiet. It’s not being tongue-tied. It’s not fear of crowds (in fact, I know an extrovert who says she’s diagnosed with social anxiety disorder). These kinds of things can be tied to introversion and extroversion, but they’re not the same thing.

Introversion and extroversion is a measure of how your energy level is affected by social interaction. Extroverts tend to be energized by interacting with people. Introverts tend to be drained by interacting with people. And this kind of thing comes in degrees. Some introverts are fine with one person or maybe a small group but are exhausted by crowds. Others can barely handle one and need copious amounts of time alone. Some extroverts lose all their energy if they’re alone too long while others are actually okay with it for a good amount of time. There’s also a factor of safety involved. I’ve seen introverts in a group of friends suddenly being amazingly charged with energy because in that group, they felt safe. On the other hand, I’ve seen extroverts cool down in a group of safe people, and there’s degrees to this as well.

Introversion and extroversion are issues of energy in social circumstances. Not shyness or outgoing-ness.

Why do I care? Well, because sometimes what gets identified as introversion or extroversion isn’t. That’s not always bad, but it can be. Sometimes things get tagged as “just part of my personality,” but really it’s a way of avoiding God and what He’s up to.

More soon.


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