Of all the personality traits or types, “introvert” and “extrovert” are probably the most well-known and commonly used.
But what do these designations mean? And why do they matter?
A few years ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance at work about my plans for the weekend.
“Well,” I said resignedly, “I’m going out to a meet-up happy hour. I’m dreading it, of course, but I’m making myself go.”
“Why are you dreading it?” she asked, puzzled. “That sounds like so much fun!”
“Going somewhere where I don’t know anyone? And having to spend the night making small talk with complete strangers? It’s exhausting!” I explained.
“No way!” she replied enthusiastically. “I love meeting new people!”
If I didn’t know anything about introversion or extroversion, I’d just have thought she was crazy. (And maybe she did think I was!) But I was able to put her remarks in context: for her, an evening in a crowd of new people sounded energizing. She was an extrovert: someone who gets their energy from being around people.
I tend to be an introvert: it’s not that I don’t like people, but an evening surrounded by completely new faces would really drain my energy levels. A night by myself, however, or with one or two close friends, would be refreshing.
When I was younger, I was pretty sure that I was an extrovert, because my picture of an introvert involved social awkwardness, extreme quiet, and a lack of friends. Turns out, I was wrong. (Introverts can be full of charisma and enjoy close friendships.)
But the real problem was that I wanted to fit a particular label: and people never do. That’s why I prefer to talk about tendencies on a continuum.
Extreme introversion lies at one end, and extreme extroversion on the other. We generally tend toward one end or the other, but most of us aren’t at either end point. What’s more, certain circumstances or habits can move us along that continuum.
I know someone, for instance, who is extremely good at “mingling” or “networking” in a room of total strangers. He looks completely at ease and enjoys the conversations. No one would know that he comes home exhausted from those events.
It’s not a façade on his part – he is genuinely happy to meet new people and has long years of practice in it. It’s just that he tends to be an introvert, and so it takes more energy for him than for someone who tends more towards extroversion.
So why should our tendencies matter in this regard?
First, it’s always good to know ourselves. We can discern better when we understand ourselves better. It also helps us appreciate others more. And, if we want to grow in virtue, we have to know where we are starting from.
If someone who tends towards extroversion wants to develop a habit of prayerful meditation or silent contemplation, she will probably have to work harder at it than someone with natural introversion tendencies. It’s not that the extrovert is naturally less holy: she’s just starting from a different place.
If someone who tends towards introversion wants to develop a habit of hospitality and outreach to new members of the community, she will probably have to work harder at it than someone with natural extroversion tendencies. It’s not that the introvert is naturally less charitable: she’s just starting from a different place.
For someone tending toward extroversion, the discernment process might include talking to more people about the situation than it would for someone tending toward introversion. The introverted person might be inclined to pass judgement on someone sharing so much: but for the extroverted person, it’s a refreshing process. On the other hand, the extroverted person might be able to learn from the discretion of the other’s introversion – it’s all about recognizing that everyone has a personal path which may or may not match our own.
What about you? Do you tend toward introversion or extroversion? How do you see it affecting your life?