It’s so easy to be incorrect about whether you’re extroverted or introverted, given the amount of misinformation out there.
“Hasn’t the whole introversion/extroversion thing been debunked?”, I hear you ask. Prior to learning about personality types, I’d ask the same question.
But the categorization has stood the test of time. And knowing which side of the line we fall on offers valuable insight. In my case, it’s been key for better self-awareness, self-acceptance and even self-actualizing, crazy as it sounds.
If you get nothing else from this article, get this:
Take the time to accurately type yourself (here is my favorite free online assessment).
It matters more than you might think.
So what’s the real difference between extroverts and introverts?
Extroverts aren’t always confident, charming, bubbly, gregarious and sociable — just like introverts aren’t always shy and quiet.
Here’s the actual difference:
For introverts, the inner world is more the “real world” and for extroverts, the external world is the “real world”.
Extroverts look for external markers for self-definition: they unconsciously ask the world to answer the question “who should I be?”. They’ll then stack up life according to the answer.
Introverts however, go within for the answer to that question — whether it’s their ideas, thoughts or feelings they’re consulting.
Another difference is that extroverts are often a lot more aware of how they are being perceived. They’re into measuring themselves by their ability to execute on their to-do lists.
A problem all extroverts are likely to face
Susan Cain, author of Power of Quiet (the introvert bible), has highlighted how the world tends to reward extroverted qualities such as confidence, assertiveness, etc. This relative lack of acceptance for introverts can result in introverts hiding themselves away, or learning to mimic extroverts even where doing so exhausts them.
On the flip side, you could say that introverts are more incentivized to grow extroverted qualities and balance out. Extroverts on the other hand, not having the benefit of friction upon impact with the outer world, can wind up charging around oblivious of what’s real and true for them. Imagine blindfolded energizer bunnies let loose around your city or place of work. That’s how unhealthy extroverts can be!
Never encouraged and supported to develop their quieter sides, extroverts are at much higher risk of feeling hollow about their lives. It’s that outer locus of attention — it is just killer for self-knowledge.
To overcome this problem, all extroverts must deliberately seek to awaken their introverted side (and every extrovert has one).
In my experience, this is an uncomfortable, even unnatural feeling process. This probably explains why it is often resisted until relatively late in life.
What personality theory says
We all benefit from using personality theory to help us to understand exactly how we need to develop. It’s just too hard to see certain things about yourself otherwise.
It was psychiatrist Carl Jung who first made the extroversion/introversion distinction as he sought to define the ‘cognitive functions’ which have been beautifully mapped out in the Myers Briggs system. Discovering your Myers Briggs type if you haven’t already will confirm to you whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, and which type of extrovert and introvert you are.
There are better experts online than me on this, but I’ll outline the basic idea.
There are four extroverted qualities: feeling, thinking, intuition and sensing. Every single one of us uses two of these extroverted qualities (yes, introverts too). For extroverts, one of the extroverted processes is their primary way of meeting the world. That so-called “dominant function” usually signals a person’s personality strengths.
For example, I use “extroverted feeling” first. Anyone who has this first will have a good ability to read and respond to the mood of those around them. However, they may be clueless about their own feelings, perspectives and emotions, leaving them feeling disconnected.
Extroverts support their primary function with an introverted function. Developing that secondary process is a key stage in personality development. It is also how we sharpen our main personality strength.
Awakening my introverted side
My introverted awakening began when I was 31. It was around that time that I started experiencing major shifts towards living ‘from the inside out’ and away from doing what I needed to do to fit in.
I was doing a lot of values clarification and spending extended periods of time alone. My first book, My Own Guru, emerged as a result of that process. The book outlines a universal process for self discovery based around key contemplative practices.
As my outer life is slowly being brought into line with my inner needs and desires, I’m feeling more well balanced than ever. I am also probably contributing more to the lives of those around me. In theory speak: I’m a more effective extroverted feeler, having developed my intuitive capacities. The process is not complete, it is ongoing.
Extroverts, develop your introverted side.
Use Myers Briggs wisdom to figure out what introverted mental process you use — whether its feeling, thinking, intuition or sensing. (The answer is in the cognitive stack for your type.) Find out how that introverted process looks when it’s fully developed. As is often the case, the internet is your best friend.
If this is the first time you’ve explored personality theory, spend some weeks observing yourself to check that you’ve accurately typed yourself.
When you are ready, get cracking with the appropriate activities to awaken your introverted side.
For some extroverts (ENJs), the path is stillness and meditation, and learning to quieten the chatter of the mind. For others (EFPs), it’s about developing an idea of their core values. For others still, the medicine is becoming an expert in your chosen passtime (ESJs), or something like learning maths (ETPs).
Do this extroverts, and it’ll support you in going forth in life with greater (self) wisdom.
Rezzan Hussey is the creator of the Art of Wellbeing, a partner site of Ideapod. She’s also the author of My Own Guru.
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