Friday, January 23, 2015

My Thoughts on Introversion and Extroversion

Carl Jung was the psychologist who first introduced the concepts of introversion and extroversion.  He held to the theory that people had inborn tendencies that caused them to process the world in different, but predictable ways.   He defined extroversion as the tendency to focus energy outwards to the world of people, places, and things.   Introversion he described as the tendency to focus our energy  inwards to the world of thoughts and ideas.

Modern psychologists now know that  introversion and extroversion aren't so much as definitive labels, but that most people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, often leaning one way or the other, but not fitting either definition exactly.  Additionally, psychologists have further delineated that a lot of what makes an introvert an introvert and an extrovert an extrovert, is not about social skills as much as it is where people gain and use their energy.   Introverts tend to rejuvenate by turning inward, extroverts by being with people.   It doesn't mean that introverts don't like social settings or being with people, or that extroverts never like being alone.  It's just that to an introvert social interactions can drain them and in order to regain their energy they need some time to be alone.  And that too much alone time for an extrovert can feel suffocating.   Most laypeople do not understand these concepts however, and there are many pervading societal misperceptions regarding the terms.

Extroverts often view introverts as anti-social or shy, while introverts see extroverts as demanding and loud.   While there are certainly individuals who fit those stereotypes, the truth is is that the vast majority of people, including most of the members of the family I grew up in,  exhibit traits of both to one extent or another.

Interestingly though, neither of my parents are anywhere near the middle.   They both lie on the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum and it's created some very interesting dynamics in my family over the years.   My dad is an extreme extrovert who absolutely hates being alone, loves making connections with every single person who happens to cross his path, and would love to host and attend dinner parties on a weekly basis.   If he had it his way, he would never even so much as fill up his gas tank without a companion to talk to on the way there.   My mom, on the other hand, is a very private person who, as long as she had a telephone to text and call her family,  I believe would be perfectly happy to live alone on a deserted island, with a library of books and newspapers as her only companions.    To her, people are best kept a distance and hosting them at your home is about as draining as life gets.

I personally believe  that with my mom's extreme need for privacy and alone time that having eight kids may have been a difficult challenge for her (correct me if I'm wrong, Mom).    She was attentive to our needs, but often would lose herself in books  and adamantly avoided discussing uncomfortable subjects.     On the other hand, I think that having all eight kids leave home eventually was a big challenge for my dad who really misses having kids to run to the post office with or to watch a show with him.    He liked having a multitude of companions to keep him company.

So with parents on both ends of the spectrum, we have quite a mix amongst us kids.   I think all of us tend towards the introverted side (needing that alone time to rejuvenate our energies), but we do have a pretty wide variation within those introverted tendencies.

On a scale of 1-10 with 1-being the most introverted and 10 being the most extroverted, I would place myself solidly at 4.5.   I definitely have a need to be with people and enjoy making social connections, but also definitely need my alone time (often writing here on the blog) to rejuvenate my spirits.  On the other hand, big parties / large conferences are a huge source of anxiety to me and I often will avoid going unless I have someone with whom I know I can partner up with.  

Glen is probably more like a 2-3 on the scale, a fact which has been something that we've had to work on in the 21-years we've been married.    His social needs are extremely low and I feel like with me leaning introverted myself, we often get in a rut of being pretty anti-social as a couple.  It doesn't bother him at all, while sometimes I feel discouraged at not having anyone to push me to reach out to others around us.  Sometimes even having the kids' friends over seems like a stretch for me.  After 21-years though, I think we're mostly in a peace about it now, and it helps to have a better understanding of the needs of an introvert (for myself and for him).

And I think that that's what makes the study of psychology so interesting and helpful.  I am fascinated with trying to learn about what makes people tick and I think that this kind of discussion is extremely beneficial in learning to work together in relationships.   When you know what their needs are and respect that, you can help build on each other's strengths.    For instance, Glen knows that I need my blogging alone time or I get grumpy.  He respects that and doesn't judge or question why I'm not doing something more productive.  Additionally, he knows that sometimes he cannot meet my needs for social conversations.   I love to talk and discuss issues, and he frankly often finds that kind of conversation circular and draining, so I've learned not to push him to participate when he is reticent about it.   Also, he has learned to be patient with my daily phone calls to siblings and/or parents and I am grateful that he understands that that sacrifice is something that helps fill a need for me and makes life less frustrating for him.  It's a win-win situation!

I found this graphic enlightening in my quest to understand my kids (and my siblings):
Graphic source:

 I think that it is a common notion that being an extrovert is somehow superior to being an introvert, however I firmly believe that this belief does a disservice to all involved.   There is no better or worse.   It's simply about learning to recognize what makes you and the people around you tick and then embracing the uniqueness of each individual.    It's the uniqueness that makes this world a beautiful place-- a world that would be very boring (and dysfunctional) if not for the different types of people who make the world go round!

Image source:

1.  "Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally."

2.  "There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum."   Carl Jung

3.  "The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases."  Carl Jung


1 comment:

Katie said...

This is something I think about a lot (I'm about a 2 on that scale :) I really enjoyed reading this.

google analytics