Earlier this summer, one of the most extroverted people I’ve ever met in my life told me earnestly, “I’m an introvert.” When I asked her to explain her reasoning, she replied, “Well, after a few days of constantly being around people I need to spend some time alone to recoup.”
I had a good chuckle to myself over her confession. While introverts certainly can masquerade as gregarious extroverted types, there are certain times when an individual’s personality orientation is undeniable. This particular friend was a lively socialite. She fought shamelessly for every spotlight. She visibly gained energy the longer she interacted with others and she was regularly the last person left out at night, being reluctantly dragged home by a group of exhausted friends.
And yet, somewhere along the line, someone had informed this friend that the only qualification for being an introvert was occasionally requiring alone time to recharge.
Except here’s the thing – needing alone time doesn’t make you an introvert. It makes you a human.
We seem to have a warped idea of what introversion means these days. It is trendy to be an introvert right now – Susan Cain wrote ‘Quiet’ and suddenly everyone was clamouring to prove that they were actually one of the deep, misunderstood introverts of the world. We created a cultural dichotomy that implied introverts are deep and complex and extroverts are shallow and thoughtless. We told everyone that the only qualification for being an introvert is being intelligent and requiring alone time – two traits that every human being on earth is quick to identify with.
But the idea that introversion is extended to anyone who needs alone time to recharge is laughable.
I’m as extroverted as they come and yet I absolutely require and relish in alone time. I’m a writer by profession, which means I spend the majority of my time alone. And yet I don’t question my social orientation – I feel the most alive around others. I’m energized by groups. There is an eternal thrum in the back of my mind that urges me to go, do, see, interact, alter and connect with the world that surrounds me. I feel the most alive around others, when I’m out interacting with the world.
And yet I am most creative when alone. I am the truest and most authentic version of myself when I am in my own company. Of course I am. We all are.
Because here’s the thing – at the end of the day, nobody’s ever going to understand us as well as we understand ourselves. Nobody’s ever going to be fully capable of delving into our internal world of complex thoughts and emotions and accessing them with the clarity and intensity with which we do ourselves. But simply having that rich inner world doesn’t make you an introvert. Needing to spend time alone to access it also doesn’t make you an introvert. Both of those things only make you human.
What makes you an extrovert or an introvert is simply which sphere you remain most energized by over time – an introvert can thrive in social situations and an extrovert can enjoy time alone, but each will feel more naturally stimulated by extensive engagement with one of the two realms.
Your social orientation is simply a matter of which realm recharges you more naturally and which realm you can bear for longer periods of time.
We need to squelch the inaccurate perception that extroverts and introverts are so immeasurably different from one another, or that either trait manifests in a black and white way. Extroverts need alone time. Introverts need social time. Exhibiting eight out of ten extroverted traits but two out of ten introverted traits doesn’t make you an introvert, or vice versa – in either case, you’re just a regular human being with a mixed need for social and alone time. We are all inherently ambiverted. It’s just a matter of which side of that ambiverted scale you lean towards.