We hear the term ‘introvert vs extrovert’ all the time but with it often comes a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding that leads to the terms’ frequent misuse. Life coach Michelle Elman looks at how these terms can determine what self care we need
Introvert vs extrovert: the stereotypes
We associate introversion with being quiet and shy – the loner in the corner of the room at a party or the hermit who never leaves the house at all. Meanwhile, we imagine extroverts as the loud, gregarious one who is either throwing the party or is the centre of attention at it, climbing on tables and singing at the top of their voice.
We are all different, but in general introverts prefer to socialise in small groups or one-to-one and will find large groups of people tiring or overwhelming. They may find busy places draining and enjoy time alone for quiet reflection. Often, introverts will not enjoy being the centre of attention and may come across as shy.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, extroverts are energised by other people and will enjoy socialising in larger groups. They need less time alone, possibly even finding this boring. Extroverts often enjoy sharing their thoughts, feelings and ideas with others and are not afraid to be in the spotlight.
Introvert vs extrovert: which one are you?
We often measure introversion versus extroversion from the outside, but actually it isn’t about how we display in a social setting.
Introversion and extroversion are terms in relation to how we restore and replenish energy resources when we are tired and exhausted. When you are running on empty, do you want to spend time with friends or go to a club and let off steam or would you rather be alone, read a book, run a bath and revel in the silence? Or are you somewhere in the middle?
The two distinct categories implies that you are either one or the other but this isn’t the case. Being extrovert versus being introvert is actually a spectrum and you can lie anywhere on the spectrum. You can also move up and down the spectrum.
For example, when I was at university I had five housemates and no alone time at all. Afterwards I started living with one housemate, and the adjustment period was tough.
Over time I adapted and became more introverted in my nature. I got used to more alone time and found that when I was exhausted I craved it in a way that I never did in university.
In university, if I was exhausted, I would drag as many friends as I could out, dance the night away and wake up feeling refreshed and less stressed. What didn’t change is whether I was a talkative, sociable or outgoing person. I have always been quite loud and that stayed – whether I replenished my energy in the company of others or alone.
This is where one of the greatest myths lies when you consider introversts versus extroverts. You can be shy and be extroverted. You can be a social butterfly and still be introverted.
Introvert vs extrovert: do we need these labels?
It’s also helpful if we stop seeing the term ‘introverts and extroverts’ as such a binary. Just because you replenish your energy alone doesn’t mean you always want to be alone and just because you restore your resources in the company of others doesn’t mean you can’t cope with a quiet night in.
These labels can be really helpful in terms of self-awareness and understanding how to meet your own needs. Where they become unhelpful though is when we start using them as labels to dismiss people or believe one is better than others.
We hear this all the time, with the assumption that introverts are boring or – on the flip side – that extroverts are in your face and have no real substance. Where I believe the power lies with these terms is recognising that people recuperate in different ways and that we can’t make assumptions about how a person rests.
Focusing on restoration is vital in a society that overglorifies being busy – so whether you want your downtime in the form of a dinner party with friends or a quiet walk by yourself, make time for it.
It’s also important to recognise that whereas you might be topped up on rest, your body and mind can crave play, just like you did as a child. Rest and play often fulfill different needs, so if you find yourself constantly running low and that no amount of rest seems to revive you, what you could be lacking is some fun and play in your life.