Sunday, June 04, 2006

On being an introvert – and faking the extrovert (Part One)

Marigold in my garden - photo credit WebWeaver Productions"Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge. Extroverts are like solar panels that need the sun to recharge. Extroverts need to be out and about to refuel." Marti Olsen Laney

I think I was pretty self-confident little kid - in fact my mother, to this day, tells me I was "wilful" because I always wanted to walk and not ride in my pushchair.

I was happy going to playgroup and then infant school with all my friends. I was pretty bright - I learned to read and write before I started school - so I guess I felt pretty sure of myself. Junior school was the same - always top of the class, always in control. When I was eleven I took the entrance exam to the city's most academically-selective all-girls school - and just scraped in. All of a sudden I wasn't top of the class any more - and I didn't know a soul.

My second day at school was a nightmare - I realised I'd brought the wrong outfit for my gym class - and I got so freaked out and upset about it that I burst into tears in my first history lesson and had to be taken to the matron to calm down. Not an auspicious start - seven years later my history teacher retold the story in her farewell speech - and it took me a long time to get over it.

Trees in Lanzarote - photo credit WebWeaver ProductionsIt doesn't sound like much now, but it affected me quite deeply at the time. I became much shyer - I would blush if anyone spoke to me - and as for the boys at the school next door! Well, I don’t think I ever even looked at one until I was in the 6th form!

After we took our "O" Levels at the end of the Upper Fifth, we moved into the Sixth Form for our final two years at school - and the three classes in our year merged together. And something wonderful happened. I found new friends who drew me out of my shell, and showed me what it was like to be confident, talkative, opinionated and happy. It was an amazing discovery.

For the next few years I played the role of the extrovert. I had decided it was much more fun to be outgoing, and I practiced hard. My sister took on the role of "the quiet one" in the family, and I became the loud one. I felt superior in my extroversion, and wondered why I'd ever been shy - it was so boring! The words most often used to describe me were "bubbly" and "enthusiastic" and I revelled in my new-found personality.

Standing Stone in Cornwall - photo credit WebWeaver ProductionsAfter university I went travelling to SE Asia and Australia for 18 months with my boyfriend and on my return I trained to be a teacher. However, I found the work incredibly difficult - I was so exhausted by the end of each day that I could hardly speak by the time I got home, and by the time I left the teaching profession three years later I felt I had lost my sense of self almost completely.

Looking back on it now, 15+ years later, I realise I was suffering because my natural tendency is to be an introvert, and although I had figured out how to fake it to a certain extent at school and University, you really can't fake your way through the endless demands, interruptions and questions of thirty 5-7 year-olds, five days a week.

Sigmund Freud and, later, Carl Jung first developed the idea of the extrovert and introvert as two possible personality types. They saw the two types as tendencies, rather than a 100% either/or situation, and this view is similar to the continuum psychologists describe today.

Winnie and Bailey - photo credit WebWeaver ProductionsI've spent about half my life as an extravert, and half as an introvert. No, I don't have multiple personalities - although I do display aspects of both personality types - but then I think many people do. What I find interesting is that I'm probably more of an "inny" than an "outy", but I've figured out how to fake it when I need to.

The main difference between the two is that introverts are drained of energy by interaction with people. They need to take time-out in order to recharge their batteries. Extroverts, on the other hand, build up their energy levels by being with people. They can feel quite depressed and flat if they are alone for too long.

If you’re an inny, you might answer "yes" to some or all of the following questions:

  • Are you detail oriented?
  • Are you creative and imaginative?
  • Do you prefer a small dinner party with intimate friends, rather than large parties where you don't know many people?
  • Do you avoid crowds?
  • Would you rather be reading a good book in bed than spending a night on the town?
  • Do you think deeply about things?
  • Can you think outside the square?
  • Do you get tired when you are around people, and energized when alone?
  • Do you prefer in-depth conversation to social chit-chat?
  • Do you feel you need to limit the time you spend with other people?
  • Do you dislike being interrupted in the middle of a project?
  • Are you able to focus intensely on your work for long periods of time?

Whale near Kaikoura, New Zealand - photo credit WebWeaver ProductionsI would answer "yes" to all of these questions - yet when I tell people I'm quite shy, they’re often surprised because I come across as open, and friendly, and self-confident.

I've found that the secret of survival as an inny in a predominantly outy world is pacing myself, and paying attention to my energy levels. I'll share a few of the tricks I've figured out in Part Two...

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newlie said...

I loved that opening quote...and I'd answer yes to most of the questions. ;)

On MBTI, the I/E dichotomy is my most balanced, and I seem to assess to each type fairly equally.
(As opposed to P/J - I am an off-the-chart J, and that never changes!)

Looking forward to Part 2!

ladyjocelyn said...

I've taken the MBTI online a few times...and I never seem to come up with the same "type" for me. *g* But I do believe I'm a lot like you...I really am an "inny" but everyone who knows me thinks I'm a "outie." (That sounds kinda disgusting, doesn't it?)

Your blog is wonderful, and I look forward to lots of reading there in a few weeks!

Idle-wandering said...

Interesting blog. Like you, I've been both at one time or another in my life. I test as a strong introvert though. Unlike you, I probably do have multiple personalities - LOL!!

webweaver said...

Oooh yes - the MBTI test! I've been trying to find a good online one to link to - I've sent a PM to HD to ask her about the one we took at the CH, because that was really good from what I remember. I'm an ISFJ - strong I and J, weaker F and almost borderline S with N. It hasn't changed much over time. either...

Anonymous said...

Hi! I am Joyce from Burlington, WI. I saw your post about "The Time Traveler's Wife" at the CH. I came over to get some information about that and read your notes about being an introvert. Gee, I can answer yes to all those questions, too. I always felt I am more introverted but the results of a Meyers-Briggs test at work sair that I was more of an extrovert. I enjoy people but don't need to be around them and can tolerate be alone for long periods. I'll post more on your book club blog on the TTW.

Roc Zhou said...

I think I'm an introvert, my answers nearly all be "yes" to the questions.