Do we really have natural set-points of introversion and extraversion?
More importantly, is it a useful way of looking at ourselves and other people? Or are Carl Jung’s categories irrelevant, crusty and outdated?
Here is a brief expo on the latest thinking with the introversion extraversion debate.
we are not one or the other
We do not fit into an introvert/extravert binary and never did.
Most of us cluster in the middle of the introvert-extravert scale. Some of us are more extreme.
You can be an extravert who likes to reflect deeply. There are introverts who adore talking to people. You can be an assertive, loud introvert. I know at least one sensitive, socially awkward extravert.You can be a reflective extravert, or a confident and assertive introvert Click To Tweet
Also, you might have started out being more one way, but your environment and nurture led you to go more towards the other direction.
The extraversion/introversion categorizing is used in the Myers Briggs personality assessment system.
Whether you’ll benefit from using such self-awareness systems depends on you. I have found it useful (and I wrote about my favorite systems here and here). Many people I know completely avoid using them, and they get by just fine.
Self-identification, like everything in life, is open to misuse. It traps us in stereotypes and makes us feel like we need to behave in a certain way.
At worst, if you self-identify with one personality type, you might ignore all conflicting evidence, including your own needs! Hopefully most of us would not do anything so extreme though.
Critics have pointed out that the categories are not scientific. Nobody has actually measured how we get our energy – the distinctions ‘extravert’ and ‘introvert’ were based on Carl Jung’s observations.
Arguably a much larger issue is that we know it’s possible to develop mastery over our focus, and from where we draw our energy. In other words, we can teach ourselves to override our primary tendencies. For me this puts a limit on the usefulness of identifying with either.
are you misidentifying yourself?
Although I tend not to identify with either, if you asked me I would say I am slightly more introvert.
I know I value time alone to regroup after massively social periods. Also, I tend to favor a night in with a book to a night out at a party. Plus, my job is very introverted. (I think I had also romanticized introversion a lot!)
But I recently realized that my natural tendencies are in fact a lot more towards extraversion. When I look back to how I was as a kid, I was always very outgoing, bubbly and social. The same through school and University.
Because of how I have been spending the time in recent years, now I am probably right in the middle.
As I mentioned above, the problem with misidentifying yourself is you might unconsciously wind up limiting yourself. You might forget how you enjoy spending the time! It sounds ridiculous I know.
Let’s see if you have been doing the same thing.
introversion and extraversion 101
Shyness and being outgoing don’t have anything to do with it. It’s more about where we get our energy from. The differences are pretty simple:
Introverts get exhausted by social interaction and need solitude to recharge.
Extraverts get anxious when left alone and get energy from social interaction.
extraverts are into variety, action and achievement – and prefer breadth to depth
- The energy of extraverts is outward, towards people and things.
- They need a lot of stimulation and often express emotions.
- Extraverts often want to change the world, rather than think about it.
- Their attitude is often relaxed and confident.
- Extraverts tend to act first and think later.
- At work, they seeks variety and action and like working with other people.
introverts are easily overwhelmed by external stimuli, and need more time in their inner worlds to feel balanced
- The energy of introverts is inward toward concepts and ideas.
- They need little external stimulation – and in fact they can easily be over-stimulated.
- Rather than trying to change the world, they just want to understand it.
- Introverts think deeply about things.
- Their attitude is reserved and questioning and they can seem subtle and impenetrable.
- They tend to think before they act.
- At work they like to work alone and often seek quiet for concentration. They tend to prefer work that has depth rather than breadth.
is life easier and better for extraverts?
In her rather excellent book Quiet, author Susan Cain explains that although introverts make up a third to a half of the population, Western society is extraversion-centric in schools and work places. She calls for a new system that gives introverts the solitude they need to thrive.
We can all probably acknowledge that the demands of life and living require extraversion. That is why if extraversion is your main domain, you have an upper hand in certain respects. Getting along with other people smooths our path in everything.Owning your tendencies helps you to look after yourself and understand other people better Click To Tweet
However, our own personal development undeniably relies on both qualities. For example, we need to have the capacity for introspection and arriving at insights by consulting our inner worlds.
This for me is the key benefit of the classification. It helps you to own whatever you are, and to use what you learn to nurture more of the other qualities.
summary – it’s as useful as you are smart!
The introversion extraversion distinction has its uses, even if it is not an exact science. It can offer some comfort and also raises interesting hypotheses that aid self-reflection.
However, we are free to misuse the information too. For example, when we rely on what we think we are to create limiting ideas around what we can and cannot do.
I think that the best plan is to notice what you do naturally, and then use that constructively. Do not treat it as fixed either, because it’s not. You can cultivate in yourself more introverted or extraverted traits.
Owning our extraversion and introversion helps us to develop ourselves – and also develop more compassion for ourselves – and others.
That can only be a good thing.