Over the past few days, I’ve noticed a surge in the number of shares of the Buzzfeed article, “21 Signs You Might Actually Be An Ambivert.” Essentially, it seeks to connect with those folks who maybe-kinda-sometimes identify with extroverted traits, yet maybe-kinda-sometimes identify with introverted ones too.
Or, you know, every person on the fucking planet.
The problem with terms like “introvert” and “extrovert” is that they are too exclusive. That is, although most people will identify more strongly with one than the other, very few consider themselves 100% committed in either direction.
Personality psychology has always been a bit of a sticky area. While psychology overall has shifted from a largely philosophical discipline to an increasingly empirically-studied one, it remains difficult to define, in concrete terms, exactly what is meant by “personality.” A cluster of traits? A behavioral expression of genes? A mix of your astrological sign, spirit animal, and a hint of patchouli?
While the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5), a clinical behavioral health professional’s guide to psychiatric disorders, was widely panned prior to release, it does do one thing really well: utilizes behavioral spectrums.
A spectrum approach to behavioral patterns identifies domains of behavior — like, say, “alcohol use” — and creates a continuum, wherein an individual’s expression of that domain can be defined. For instance, at one end of the “alcohol use” spectrum we might have an abstainer, or someone who might have a glass of champagne on special occasions; on the other end, we have Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.
Every human’s behavioral pattern will fall somewhere on this continuum. For most people, it will tend to hover around one area, but can bounce around from time to time depending on a variety of external and internal factors.
This illustrates the problem with the black-and-white “introvert,” “extrovert,” and the attempt at a shade-of-grey moniker “ambivert.” People tend to believe that if they label themselves as one, they must act accordingly. Further, those of us (read: all) who have bouts of extroversion mixed in with reclusive characteristics can fall into mild identity crises, wondering why we don’t fit in with one or the other.
Thus, the appeal of “ambivert.” It relieves us of the pressure of needing to fall in line with one set of traits.
The continuum of behavior that all three of these titles fall under might be called something like “social engagement.” Again — most of us will tend to stay right around one end or the other, but almost none of us sticks at 0 or 100. So, I am not an “introvert.” I am a social creature who expresses that trait to varying degrees at any given time.
Personality is not a consistent, unchangeable force. It is an expression of behavioral traits which, for many people, tend to be relatively stable over time, but with occasional fluctuation.
So go ahead. Feel free to have one foot on either side of the fence. Embrace your personal dichotomies. They do not make us outliers — they make us human.