I went college-touring with my family during the summer of 2015. The four of us — my parents, my sister, and I — traveled for a week along the east coast, visiting different schools for my sister. I would be silent during the car rides, listening to my own music and staring out the window. Keeping to myself was my natural instinct, and it was easy for me to get tired and feel drained, even around my own family.
But when it came to interacting with the students and administration of the various universities we visited, I would step up, hold my hand out for a handshake and introduce myself clearly. Each time this happened, I would see proud smiles on my parents’ faces and later be fed with accolades regarding how impressed they were by my social skills as if it were surprising to them that I could even speak.
This has happened my whole life. Family events, gatherings, parties – it would always shock people when I raised my voice or introduced myself or had a conversation with people. At first, I thought it was normal to receive praise because I am a naturally quiet person, but then I realized that each time I felt I was surprising someone by having a voice, it made me feel more like I shouldn’t have one at all. My “introversion” was placing limits on my character, not because I was making it do so but because I was being categorized by the people around me. This is an unconscious behavior that we direct towards the people around us.
We’ve been encouraged to embrace our innate senses of introversion and extroversion; this is a good thing. We should be able to understand who we are and what makes us interact, behave, think, and feel the way we do. However, in categorizing ourselves, we also place limitations on ourselves and our connections with others.
Being an introvert has been an important factor in explaining my character. But it doesn’t make me who I am. We are looking at these two concepts as embodiments of ourselves, but it’s simply not that black and white. Whether we are introverts or extroverts may offer explanations for our cognitive, social, and behavioral processes, but there is more to who we are than what we do in large groups of people, or how we fuel ourselves. Generalizations can’t be made when every part of our lives is circumstantial.
The New York Times defines an introvert as a person who tends to shrink from social contacts and becomes preoccupied with private thoughts. An extrovert is defined as an outgoing, socially confident person. It’s time we adjust this perception and put it in perspective for ourselves. Introversion and extroversion help us to gain a sense of identity, to have a small and concrete piece of who we are. Instead of categorizing with the aforementioned black and white, it’s important to now appreciate the gray areas for the opportunities they hold, and in this case, that means exploring our personalities without grouping ourselves into absolutes. Once we can blur the lines of introversion and extroversion, and once we realize that our full potential can be reached based on other parts of our characters, the idea of these personality types will not be as concrete and restrictive as they are now. It’s more important to focus on individualism. Here are a few things that we need to come to terms with:
- There is an interchangeable relationship between biology and behavior. Social behavior cannot be generalized; it’s too constrictive. There is evidence, however, according to BBC Future and the Imagination Institute, that introverts and extroverts respond differently to the release of the hormone dopamine in their bodies, thus creating a different reaction and behavior system. The differences in blood chemistry of introverts and extroverts is a concrete way that we can make a distinction between the two personality types, and this can’t be disputed. What isn’t concrete is the non-biological factors that are constantly stereotyped.
- Generalizations can make us question ourselves. According to Heidi Priebe, author of How You’ll Do Everything Based on Your Personality Type, the chart below is what both introversion and extroversion look like. Does this really seem accurate to you? Is it justified to say that all of us can be placed into these two restricted categories? Harvard Business Review reports that studies they conducted resulted in the conclusion that introverts make better bosses; however, 65% of senior corporate executives in the world believe that introversion is a barrier to leadership. We have it all wrong – the statistics do nothing but confuse us, because personality cannot be truly measured.
- There is no point in comparing introverts and extroverts, especially when we should be trying to value individualism more. One isn’t better than the other, an ideal which Susan Cain chose to ignore when writing her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. While conveying the idea that introverts are the “hidden gems” of the world, she left the underlying message that they have much more to offer than extroverts do, and this idea needs to be discontinued. Introverts and extroverts both have so much to offer – not because of the label that is placed on them, but because of who they are.
It’s all about perception. Introversion and extroversion are the realms that we can place ourselves into based on what characteristics we best display – and in my opinion, these can fluctuate. While I may be innately an introvert, I definitely have extroverted tendencies. When it comes down to it, our actions and thought processes depend on the situations we are in, and how we perceive and react to them.
When exploring this topic I constantly doubted myself for conveying this in such a way that seems paradoxical; but, the reality is that we do live in the gray areas. We can’t be sure of what makes us introverts or extroverts, what drives us and what challenges us. We can never have a full understanding of our personalities because it just isn’t that simple. The only thing we can be sure of is that every day, we as humans are growing, changing, and going through experiences that shape us, and the fact that we have personality types as a foundation for who we are is a stable and comforting factor in our constant human search for individualism and identity.