Aspen Untucked: The Plight of the Extrovert
We’ve all heard it before — the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind when they’re getting to know someone or just trying to make casual conversation: Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert?
I started thinking about this question and the topic of introversion versus extroversion after reading Jeff Bear’s personal essay piece, which came out last week in The Aspen Times. Bear is a copy editor for the paper and wrote about his own introversion and how introverts, in general, are misunderstood.
“Many people wrongly interpret (introverts’) silence as shyness, unfriendliness or, worse, as arrogance. Shyness is the fear of social interaction, which is not the same thing as introversion,” Bear said.
I found Bear’s piece to be very interesting, not because I can relate, but because I typically find myself on the opposite side of the scale. I consider myself — on most days — to be an extrovert.
In cases of introversion and extroversion, there are many common misconceptions. A lot of assumptions are loaded into both terms. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy, unfriendly or even arrogant, as Bear said. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s often assumed that extroverts are always happy, that we are bad listeners and that we are self-centered and shallow. These stereotypes also are false.
The main difference between an introvert and extrovert doesn’t have to do with shy versus shallow or unfriendly versus self-centered. Simply put, it’s how we recharge that makes us one or the other. Introverts gain energy from being alone. Extroverts energize from being around other people. This isn’t to say that an introvert can’t enjoy the company of others or an extrovert can’t handle time alone, it just shows us how each type of person rejuvenates. Evidence of the differences between extroverts and introverts can even be seen in brain scans, since we process stimulation in different ways, according to research shown in the book The Introvert Advantage.
The differences between introverts and extroverts is always a hot topic discussion because it affects each and every one of us. Type in anything about it in the Google search bar and you will find thousands of articles about the two personality types. It’s also a subject often brought up in my home. My boyfriend tends to lean more toward the introverted side, and I most definitely do not. That often makes for disagreements on what we should do, when we should do it, and who we should do it with. However, at the end of the day, I think we balance each other out because of our different personalities. It allows us to appreciate both time alone and time in groups. And, as an adamant introvert, my boyfriend just loves that I’m sharing this with you all right now.
There’s a lot of literature that has come out in recent years for and about introverts, from “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts” to “The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.” While I think these are wonderful for introverts who want to understand themselves more, I do think the plight of the extrovert often gets overlooked. I don’t always like that I have to be with other people in order to feel worthy, in order to feel alive. Although I can handle some time alone, too much of it makes me feel intense loneliness and relentless FOMO (fear of missing out). I can get to the point where I worry that something is wrong with me or that no one likes me if I stay in too many nights in a row. Spending time in the company of others often becomes a drug, and I need my fix more than I care to admit. And, like any good drug, time with other people can be overdone. I often commit to too much, trying to see everyone and do it all, which can lead to me making myself physically sick in an attempt to try and acquiesce to all of my loved ones wants and needs. As I get older, I’ve learned to balance my extroversion in more productive ways, but it still remains a daily challenge.
I think a big reason both introverts and extroverts are often misunderstood is because most of us aren’t solidly one or the other. Psychologist Carl Jung, who made both terms popular in the 1900s, was trying to show that these labels are the extremes on the scale. Most of us fall somewhere between the two. Jung himself said, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
This middle ground between an introvert and an extrovert is called an ambivert. An ambivert can display both introvert and extrovert tendencies. They like being around other people but will start to get drained of energy after a long period of time. They enjoy being alone, but not for too long. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the ambivert category. I think I’ve become more of an ambivert now that I’m in my late 20s, as I start to appreciate the beauty of time alone.
No matter if you’re an introvert, extrovert or an ambivert, I find the most important reason to use these terms is so we can all better understand each other. Just because someone is quiet doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Just because a person is talkative doesn’t mean they’re ignorant. We all process things differently and have different perspectives on the world around us, and that’s what keeps it interesting.
On an entirely unrelated note, Barbara Platts thinks you should go to the ZZ Ward with Blake Brown & The American Dust Choir show on Friday at Belly Up. Her friend, Blake Brown, is an incredibly talented musician, who also happens to be an introvert. Reach Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.