When it comes to popular psychology terms that have made their way into our daily lives, the terms ‘extroversion’ and ‘introversion’ are up there with the most commonly used and understood. Or is that misunderstood?
Like many psychological terms that have entered the public lexicon; many of us make assumptions when it comes to the introversion/extroversion dichotomy that aren’t really based on theory or research. If you think that being introverted means being ‘shy’ or that being extroverted means loving skydiving, then actually you’re oversimplifying the matter severely and you may not fully understand your own disposition as a result. Here we will look at what introversion and extroversion really mean, and what it says about you.
Are You an Introvert or Extrovert?
Introversion and extroversion are two measures used in personality tests and particularly the Myers-Briggs ‘Type Indicator’ (though the concept was first put forward by Jung). This type indicator is designed to look at the way that most people handle information and decision making and at what their ‘preferred’ modes of thought are.
An introvert then is someone who recharges and thinks best when they’re on their own, while an extrovert is someone who prefers to recharge by spending time in groups and who works through their issues that way. To say that someone introverted is someone shy then is a huge oversimplification, as someone who is introverted may still come across as being very outgoing and talkative. Likewise an introvert is not someone who is socially awkward or who can’t speak in public – being an introvert has nothing to do with aptitude.
Rather then, being an introvert simply means you prefer to spend your free time on your own or in smaller groups, whereas someone who is an extravert will prefer to spend their ‘down time’ socialising with others more. An extrovert is also said to prefer a great breadth of relationships – having a wide circle of friends and spending lots of time in groups, whereas an introvert is someone who prefers depth in their relationships and may prefer to spend time with friends on a one-to-one basis. Extraverts also tend to be quicker to action, whereas introverts may prefer to spend more time thinking about an issue or question before responding. Another common misconception is that extraverts enjoy cliff diving and other thrill-seeking behaviour. Actually this is generally considered to be unrelated.
Working With What You’ve Got
So which is it better to be? An introvert or an extravert? Well surprise, surprise the answer is ‘neither’ (but you knew I was going to say that). As I already mentioned, this isn’t about ‘aptitude’ but rather how you prefer to mentally recharge – so just because you prefer reading books doesn’t mean you can’t be highly outgoing and just because you spend all your time with people doesn’t mean you’re shallow or un-smart.
The real key to all this is working with your type and making sure that you really take advantage of your own psychological makeup. If you’re an introvert for instance then you need to ensure that you spend time alone when making decisions and that you get enough ‘you time’ to recharge. Likewise if you’re an extravert you need to ensure that you spend lots of time in groups so that you can do your best work and so that you don’t go stir crazy.
At the same time it’s also important to make sure that you also do the opposite and make sure that you spend time in groups as an introvert and vice versa. Getting outside our comfort zones at times is important to ensure we remain adaptable and don’t become too set in our ways.