introvert or extrovert

April 24, 2013

On Saturday we had some friends over to celebrate Rasmus’ birthday. We got all our spare chairs out of the attic, wheeled my office chair in from the study and called friends when we realised we didn’t actually have enough plates for everyone. It was crowded, even around our big heavy table. It was messy and fun and I enjoyed every second. We ate Mexican food with our hands and needed extra napkins and then divided up the cheesecake and my friends’ six year old daughter loudly declared it the “best meal ever”.

I go to bed on nights like these on such a high. I LOVE hanging out with people – meeting for coffees and lunches and meetings and dinners – talking late into the night about the big stuff or the fun stuff, preferably over a glass of red wine. I come away energised, buzzing with the effect of spending time together.

I crave social contact. I love when there are new people sitting behind me in church that I can turn round and say hi to. If I spend too many days without meetings or meet-ups I am practically climbing on Rasmus by the time he comes home from work in the evening. I’m talking and telling him about everything in my day and wanting to know everything about his, and he’s still trying to just take his shoes off!

I’ve been a little social bug as long as I can remember. But not quite the social butterfly, because walking into a room full of strangers always feels terrifying. In an old job, I used to have to attend champagne cocktail events at the European Parliament and I’d pray for days in advance that there would be someone I knew, because walking up to a random stranger and trying to get them to like me felt like a mountain I was not ready to climb.

There’s always a lot of talk about the differences between extroverts and introverts. There have been at least two books out recently on introverts in particular and how churches can ensure they’re not excluded (neither of which I’ve read yet). And sometimes it feels like if you want to be a writer, if you want to have deep thoughts about important things, there’s an assumption you need to also be an introvert. Because surely extroverts can’t sit still long enough to form a thought worth writing?!

I’m exaggerating of course. But it starts to frustrate me that we have these two boxes and we’ve decided that everyone needs to get into one or the other and then we’ll define them by that, and that alone.

I primarily find my energy from being around other people, which puts me into the extrovert box. But I don’t particularly enjoy large parties, prefer small dinner parties and coffee dates. I am highly relational, but that means I value meaningful interactions with other people over random or “light” interactions. I’m very comfortable with public speaking and being in front of people, but I don’t like being the centre of attention at parties (you’ll not get me dancing in the middle of one of those woman-dance-circles that tend to always form at weddings!).

And although I am happy with a long day of interactions with friends and colleagues, the moments when I just need to have some space to read and write it all out are very regular too. I love bouncing ideas off other people, and I need to hear a lot of other opinions before I can figure out my own. I write out a lot of my thoughts and ideas because it helps me figure out what I actually believe about them. Some of those writings end up here on the blog, a lot of them don’t because they feel too personal (I know! You didn’t think it was possible…!)

Labels can be so useful sometimes for helping to understand each other and how we tick. But at the end of the day, we’re all individuals. And so I try to steer clear of those labels until you know me a lot better, until you can hear “extrovert” and not assume I’m the life and soul of the party, with never a moment of introspection. I’m just me, at the end of the day, neither one thing or another. Just me.


So I am curious to know – do you think you easily fall into one or the other category? And do you find them helpful or unhelpful labels to use?

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  • Megs

    Interesting post. I am absolutely an introvert but I think that we are all capable of elements of both, given the right conditions, at different parts of the day/week/month/season. I spend a lot of time on my own during the day too as I work late arvo/evening shifts, but when my husband gets home from work I need to fill that (albeit small) extrovert need I have to communicate with a living being (talking to the radio doesn’t quite do it) and to interact. Unfortunately this clashes with his timetable – he is an extrovert and has a busy job working in a primary school. When he gets home his extrovert needs have been 99% met and he is ready to wind down and have some introvert time, which for him means listening to football on the radio, reading or a similar solitary/quiet activity. Having his wife gabble away nineteen to the dozen at him or want to go out to a pub or meet up with friends to stop her going insane from isolation doesn’t appeal. Now we recognise this we can plan for it or at least know how to handle it better. I have just read ‘The Introvert Advantage’ by Marti Olsen Laney. (Which I think I came across indirectly via your blog actually, clicking through to another and browsing. Or have you read it? Anyway.) It says intro/extroversion is a spectrum and not all introverts are painfully shy or socially awkward, while not all extroverts are life-and-soul-of-the-party 24/7, nor are they incapable of reflection. We are physically wired differently and our brains actually work in different ways – thoughts take different pathways through different parts of the brain. Knowing more about ‘introverts’ has made me happy to embrace this label for myself because it reassures me I am not a failure or a social outcast because I find bigger group social activities draining. The book estimates that 75% of the population are extrovert and 25% introvert. I don’t know how anyone can know this, but I sure do feel like I’m in the minority sometimes. Knowing more about ‘extroverts’ has helped me understand more how they tick and be less scared of them because it turns out they’re not superhuman. But labelling someone after 10 minutes of talking to them and assuming you know them because you’ve got them pegged intro or extro would be naive. So, I think, a good thing to educate yourself about and good to learn strategies to help yourself, but not something to pre-judge other people by.
    By the length of this post I think you can see some of my extrovert need to communicate with other people peeking through… inspired by your previous post I think I will go for a run and put some of this otherwise-unfulfilled energy to good use!

    • fionalynne

      Ha ha, I guess I found a topic that interests you?! I can identify with the incompatibility issue! Rasmus and I had to adjust to each other’s tendencies – he’s something of a sociable introvert (as you might have guessed) but he’s kindly adjusted to allow me to stick around when he’s need “alone” time πŸ˜‰ But I’m away this weekend and I think he sort of looks forward to it every now and then, to have a completely empty house!
      I’ve never read the book, it sounds interesting.

      • Haha Mark is the same, I think he looks forward to the quiet times when I go out for coffee with friends. One of the biggest adjustments when we first started living together was our rythms, like you, when he comes home from work, I tend to overwhelm him with stories and talk… and he, needs some time to just chill quietly. (I know t his know so I keep my stories for later, but it was one of the things we had to learn from each other).

  • That sounds like the best dinner party ever. Also: we should meet. We can easily drive down to you, or, you could come for the weekend and stay over with us !
    I think I am kind of like you, mostly an extroverted, I have to say I do enjoy the attention, I like to talk, I am not afraid of crowds and I am the happiest when surrounded by people. But there are situations where I am shy, have trouble finding the words.
    I guess we are all a little bit of both.

    • fionalynne

      Even thought the “experts” seem to say you are always one or the other, it does feel like more of a continuum to me. I guess because we also all have vastly different personalities so how “introvert” looks like in one person might be very different to how it looks in another?
      You’re welcome any time!! We should find a weekend…

  • Margaret

    you and me both. Guess it is in the DNA?

    • fionalynne

      So why didn’t I get dad’s introvert genes? Is extrovert the dominant gene?! I guess that makes sense… πŸ˜‰

  • I’m a pretty clear introvert. Too much social interaction definitely drains me, and by the time I get home from work I’m ready for some quiet time, and only have limited amounts of face-to-face social energy beyond that.

    Put me in a situation where I need to get some extroverted behaviour on and I will, I just don’t enjoy it for very long. I can handle large groups of socializing for about an hour and after that it gets to be work. Small social groups? Like 2-8 people? Those I’m happy as a clam in.

    • fionalynne

      “happy as a clam” πŸ™‚ me too! they’re my favourite kind…

  • I’ve noticed what you mention here: that we tend to assume only introverts make good artists. Every time I run into an extrovert who’s also an amazing writer I am first surprised and then kind of annoyed/envious. (“What the heck? That’s not fair! The payoff for being an unsociable nerd is that you likely have other qualities that make you a good artist. You can’t have BOTH social skills AND an artistic soul! That’s just not fair!!”) (Yes, I am being somewhat facetious.)

    Like many commenters above, I fall pretty straightforwardly on the introvert end of the spectrum. But I also agree that we all have elements of both. I genuinely love to socialize, too — but for short periods of time, with people I already know . . . and I generally come home drained. Nevertheless, your dinner party sounds AMAZING. Possibly a little stressful, but delightful.

    • fionalynne

      Ha! This made me laugh out loud! So sorry to be stealing even more of the benefits of introvertedness (introversism? introvertivity?) πŸ˜‰ I’d love to know if anyone’s done any studies on that (probably, right?) to see whether artists are more introverted.
      You’d be more than welcome at any of our dinner parties. And I’ll have the spare room set up for you to sneak off to whenever it gets too stressful…!

  • Juliana

    If I had to answer straight away, I’d say introvert, but the more I think about it I can sometimes also check the extrovert box. I too hope to see someone I know when I go to a meeting, but at the same time I teach. I love having large parties with lots of good food and fun people, but savour “me” time when I can read a book or putter around the garden. I like to talk to people, but I’m a quiet person and will often think a while before speaking which means I’m often stamped “introvert”. I agree, we are all a bit of both, and I find the words introvert and extrovert can be insulting. I think quiet, thoughtful, lively, outgoing, etc nicer words to describe a person, because they aren’t soley “introvert” or “extrovert”, but rather descriptive of someone’s personality.

    • fionalynne

      It’s interesting the other labels that get attached to introvert and extrovert. I think it’s possible, for example, to be a shy extrovert! But if we met a shy person we’d probably immediately assume they were an introvert. And some of the most warm and friendly people I know are also introverts. Reminds me not to make quick judgements…

  • Jen

    I reckon I’m pretty straight down the middle. Need alone time, need people time. Shy sometimes, outgoing others. I guess I swing a wee bit more to the extrovert but once the party is set up and going I am rarely in the centre.

  • Fancy

    I’ve seen this topic around a lot lately, too!

    I haven’t quite figured myself out yet… I ask friends and they are all very opinionated: “Oh yes, absolutely an introvert” …”Oh, definitely an extrovert, hand’s down.”

    Maybe I’m a very reserved extrovert or a hammy introvert? Actually, probably a terribly ambivalent inxtro-mess of a thing. hehe!

    What do you think?

  • I’m pretty much an “X” which is in between the two, but I lean more extroverted. Your description of yourself actually sounds pretty similar to how I feel/interact with the world. S also sounds similar to Rasmus- “a sociable intervert…” S definitely doesn’t crave going out to interact with people, but once he is there (or when we have people over) he enjoys himself and is quite social. πŸ™‚