Introverts and extroverts have long been two sides of the “personality type” coins.
One prefers alone time, the other relishes and recharges hanging out in groups. Extroverts make snap decisions and introverts think carefully before speaking and acting. One group is fond of independent work while the opposite thrives in team-settings.
If they two were punctuation marks, one would be a period and the other an exclamation mark.
I could go on and on because there are thousands of articles written about the two and even more written about the ways to approach an introvert for friendship, how to date an introvert, and even how to care for an introvert when they are (inevitably) feeling down. But there’s not much out there for what to do when a perceived, or self-identified extrovert person isn’t feeling, well…extrovert-y.
“The worst distance between people is misunderstanding.”
As a mostly extroverted individual I am left flapping in the wind when it comes to self-care. As for the people who don’t think extroverts have the same range of emotions, off-days, need for time alone, and low points depending on what’s going on, I’m here to tell you — that’s just not true. I even wrote a piece exploring whether extroversion was encoded in each of us. Extraversiongets romanticized in movies as “the funny friend”, who’s always there to cheer you up, the strong shoulder on-call for you to cry on, or the one always leading the group into their next adventure.
That shit gets tiring. We’re people too. As a previously self-proclaimed extrovert I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve silently eye-rolled when someone casually says, ‘Oh, but that never happens to you,’ and abruptly moves on with whatever they were lamenting.
Over time the core concept behind introverts and extroverts has been distorted, reductive, and harmful to genuine connections. Currently, they speak to specific personality stereotypes that cannot be broadly painted over every unique individual. Trying to pigeonhole someone without looking at their full personality is not useful. Many of us may not even fit into the “standard” binary which I will discuss later.
These traits were not meant to separate us into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ nor were they ever meant to be a singular identity identifier, as they describe tendencies one may (or may not) exhibit. I view them more as a distinction to where one might focus their energy. Here are some of the most common misconceptions I frequently have encountered in my real life about extroverts.
“Extroverts love being the center of attention.”
Some extroverts love being the center of attention. Some don’t. Even if we do, which more times than not, I don’t mind…it can be exhausting. I can’t recall the last time I wasn’t invited somewhere only to find upon arriving, the group seems to have been waiting for me to flip the ‘fun’ switch. While flattering, it’s a lot of pressure to assume I must be “on” at all times when I am with people. I’m looked to as the captain of conversation topics. I’m expected to fill dead silences with funny anecdotes from my past. They look to me to lead the reminisce train through the catalog (I’m keeping?) of our friend group’s antics — complete with voice intimations.
No one ever considers for a moment that maybe an extrovert just wants to chill like everyone else. Maybe they don’t feel particularly talkative or in the mood to mentally recall all the funny times you last hung out. Extroverts need a break to recharge too. If an extrovert seems like they want to be low key, don’t guilt them in acting the opposite. Just because I’m not entertaining you doesn’t mean you get to boo me off the metaphorical stage.
“Extroverts are emotionally stronger than introverts.”
When the pandemic first started I had “friends” (i.e. people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in months and months) coming out of the woodwork texting, calling, trying to video call me all with the same general desire; cheer them up. Obviously the pandemic wasn’t affecting me the same way — because, duh, extrovert people don’t get sad. People reached out for words of comfort, a funny outlook on the global sadness befalling us all, or even just to have me personally tell them how awesome they were and how everything would be ‘Okay’.
I’m sad to say this was not reciprocated. Oh sure, I’d get the obligatory ‘But, how are you?’ only to be cut off half-way through my honest feelings with chuckles that I would be fine, I was an extrovert, I’d be able to laugh this all off and lift myself up. As an extrovert I am expected to do find the bright side of things, all the time. I quickly realized people I knew didn’t even consider that I could be just as, if not, sometimes more, sad than they were
“Extroverts are not self-aware deep thinkers.”
The number of times I’ve seen someone look shocked when I start talking about philosophical, heady, topics is countless. Introverts are usually the ones who receive the gold stars for being thoughtful, self-aware, knowledge thinkers who process information before sharing their opinions. Nope. Sorry. Extroverts are just as capable of these things.
Personally, what has kept me from tipping over into the conceited, self-centered type of extrovert is my profound interest in self-awareness and conscious actions. My love for Carl Jung, Eckhart Tolle, Jay Shetty, the ever-expanding exploration of what the Universe means and our part in it keeps me grounded. I know that my circle is tiny and the world is much bigger than myself. I’ll admit I do have a weakness for flashy, shocking, trendy things but whoever decided that up-to-date and sociable equated to shallowness needs a reality check.
“Extroverts do not need alone time.”
Being emotionally drained by social interaction is not solely owned by introverts. Prior to the pandemic I spoke to large groups of people (100+) around the country all year long. I traveled 10–15 times a year to other states for my speaking engagements. As much as I enjoyed sharing my thoughts and knowledge on certain things with others, I needed alone time. I would run and hide up in my hotel room many times after just to rest my mind and avoid being bombarded with endless questions or small talk.
There’s a flip side to that, some extroverts thrive in the company of others, as do I. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that we still need space to ourselves for a mental and emotional break. If it’s too much alone time, well that can cause us to feel antsy and get the blues. It’s about a healthy balance of social interactions and personal self-care time, with the scales tipping more into the social than our introverted counterparts, but we still have the need at times to just be on our own.
“Extroverts are naturally impulsive.”
This one really hits me hard. I am a die-hard Type-A person. This notion paints all extroverts as reckless beings who act first and think second and the consequences be damned. We’re supposedly known for learning by doing — trial and much error I’m assuming. Personally, when I enter a situation with no plan, watch me sit down and formulate one.
This misconception plays off the introvert’s assumed ability of again being a deep thinker and therefore thinking carefully before doing anything. Wanna guess how many of my “introvert” friends come to me for help in sorting out a mess they’ve found themselves in after presumably planning? It’s human nature to plan, not plan, succeed, fail, and everything in between. The outdated idea that extroverts are thrill-seeking, mess makers, just doesn’t make sense. We’re also supposed to be talkers who like brainstorming ideas aloud, so which is it —are we impulsive or brainstormers?
While I appreciate the time and studies that have gone into distinguishing the two personality traits of extroverts and introverts, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking during the past few years that perhaps I am not as extroverted as I once was. I’ve happily made my way more of a middle ground — I’m an ambivert.
But wait…there’s a third option — Ambiverts
I’ve been encouraged since childhood to identify as extrovert. I was a child actor. I was ‘born to perform and entertain’ as my parents once put it. I was pushed to be a leader and sometimes a loud one to get my point across. I’ve had to adjust those extrovert traits accordingly for my career, when working in groups, if I’m sharing leader duties with someone, in friend circles where I don’t want to come across as domineering, when meeting new people when I want to make space for their personality to shine, etc. The older I get the more I notice that I have more introvert tendencies than I realize and it really depends on the situation. If we measure introverts and extroverts on a spectrum what’s hanging out in the middle? Ambiverts!
Ambiverts are the ‘gray area’ on the spectrum, the ones who have noticeable advantages over those who fall heavily into extroverts or introverts on the scale. Their personalities aren’t leaning one way or the other, rather they adjust their approach to others based on the situation. In turn, they’re able to connect effortlessly and in deeper ways with a wider array of people.
It was important to me (and maybe will be to you) on where I fell on the extroversion/introversion scale. All I had to do was increase my self-awareness, work on my emotional intelligence and then play to my strengths.
I found some of the key thinking for ambiverts were true for me:
- Do I enjoy social settings but know when I’ve reached my social interaction bandwidth?
- Am I able to lose myself in conversation just as easily as I am my own thoughts?
- Is being the center of attention fun for me but not necessary for me to have a good time?
- If I am asked to choose working in a group or alone, do I have no real preference?
- Can I do small talk as non-anxious necessity but admit it can get boring?
- Will I get bored with too much down down, after selectively staying busy?
- Is it true I can equally appreciate alone time while understanding I can still be drained by others if around them for too long?
Are any of the above resonating with you? You might be an ambivert. I’ve been matching my approach to situations for years now— speaking engagements, planning events, hosting dinner parties, joining book clubs, creating mindful focused workshops, and more, all dependent on what the situation calls for. It’s allowed me to be more effective in most things I do. It’s not an all or nothing mentality. When I’ve been social at an event I am aware enough to know I need to start saying my ‘Goodbyes’. When I’ve been cooped up for too much I know to start looking for virtual dance parties.
If you’re open to gaining a better sense of self and where you fall on the personality scale, you can allow clearer insight into your preferences and natural abilities. Want to improve your overall performance in life? Take this quiz to see where you land on the spectrum, but no matter what it reveals, always listen to your true inner voice, and not what anyone else has told you that you have to be. Be yourself, it’s the only one you you’ve got.