Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Are You An Inny Or An Outy?

I've been really into personality types lately, partly because when I'm bored but want to keep my mind active, taking the various tests is a fun way to do so, and partly because I just like exploring personality (I was a psych minor in college).

The Myers Briggs MBTI, of course, is the standard test, with it's 16 personality types based on the following: Introversion or Extroversion;  Sensing or Intuition; Thinking or Feeling; Judging or Perceiving.

For much of my life, I was considered an ESTJ - Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging. At approximately 11 percent of the population, it's one of the most common personality types. Now, I test as an INFJ, which makes up a less than one percent of the population, and is the least common of all personality types. What changed? A diagnosis. Medication. Social Anxiety. Reflection. Learning who I really am and being comfortable with it.

As I've grown to love this new, or newly discovered, part of myself, I've learned that there are a lot of common misconceptions about introverts, even those of us who seem to appear to much of the world as extroverts.

Myth: We're boring; we don't like to have fun.
Reality: First of all, who goes through life truly hoping NOT to enjoy it? We don't like to have fun? Seriously? Come on. Fun is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has a different idea of what's fun. We don't need to be in big groups having a rowdy time to have fun. Introverts prefer smaller groups in less crowded "venues" (even if that venue is your home, or mine).

Myth: We're disinterested/shy.
Reality: We don't like to be the center of attention, especially in groups. You know that dream where you show up at school naked and everyone's staring at you? Yep, that's pretty much how it feels for us to be at the center of attention. Just because we're not in the middle of things doesn't mean we don't care or aren't paying attention. In fact, we're excellent observers. You'd be amazed by what we know.

Myth: We're all quiet.
Reality: I'm Sicilian. I'm one of the loudest and most talkative people I know - just not in a big group of people I don't know well, per the reason above. Introverted doesn't always mean quiet. It means we need the right company/audience/topic. We're not small talkers, and we feel awkward pretending to be.

Myth: We don't have hobbies/interests.
Reality: You know us introverts. We just love staring at the wall and watching paint dry... We have plenty of hobbies and interests. They just may not be ones that we have to share with a lot of people, or ones that are the most popular by societal norms.  But they're interests none the less.

Myth: We don't like going to events/concerts/festivals/etc
Reality: I can't speak for everyone personally, but I do like doing these things.  What I don't like is having days of them in a row, especially if I'm expected to interact frequently with lots of people. Again, see the "we've not small talkers" point.

Myth: We're just not social people.
Reality: We are social. We just need social in doses, with people who specifically want to socialize with us. We need time to prepare to be with people. We can't have social occasions sprung on us, nor can we have the size of a social occasion sprung on us (i.e. I think it's two of us catching up over coffee and it ends up being me, you, and 5 of your friends I barely know at a crowded lunch). We want quality, meaningful time, with you because, after all, you're the one we planned on using our time and energy to see. And after each social occasion, we need time to recoup, because they are physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing for us, even if we're having fun.

I know the need for large quantities of alone time and the lack of enjoyment of big social groups brings can be confusing for extroverts. And please know, this doesn't mean the people in our life aren't important. In fact, they may be more-so by comparison. We only have a few that we consider close enough to let into our inner circle and our inner lives, and therefore, they are virtually priceless to us. We don't send out mass texts saying "everyone's invited" (and if we do that "everyone" is probably three or four people max, all of whom we know very well), so if we do pick you, you're special to us.

So how can introverts and extroverts co-exist socially? I think the answer is compromise. I've gone to many a 20-person-intensely-social get together because it was important to a close friend or loved one. I've sat there awkwardly trying to join in a conversation with people I don't really know, feeling even more awkward than I look, because I know they want everyone to have a good time and don't want to let on that I'm not. On the flip side, it would be nice if sometimes my extroverted counterparts suggested (so that I don't always have to seem like the "downer" by suggesting myself) something that's more my size and my speed, even if it's not necessarily their top choice. And please, value our time together. Not because I'm a warm body to do something with, to add to your group, but because you truly value me as a person, just as I value you. If we do that, I think we can all get along quite nicely.


  1. I think it is really a wonderful thing that you are aware of who you are and can be comfortable in that place. Self awareness is something many people lack.
    I agree on the compromise part. Most of our lives are about compromise. It's a coping skill that is necessary.

    1. Thank you! It's taken me a while, because for so long my actual personality didn't jive with what I *thought* my personality was if that makes sense. Reconciling that has been a big help. And I agree, so much of our life is about compromise!

  2. Fellow Italian introvert here! I think the main thing for me is I def need downtime and alone time to recharge. Extroverts tend to get their energy from being in a crowd and that just totally drains me!

  3. I think we have to be careful of thinking of the extravert/introvert categorization as a true binary. Some people love being in a group with others - perhaps even being the center of the action - but then, as JBean points out above, need downtime to recharge. But to the person who is critical of those who prefer their space and always has to be part of a group, the question I want to ask is, "Why is it that you are afraid to be alone with your self?"

    1. I agree that nobody fits perfectly into a mold - I think that's kind of a given with any of these types of tests, at least for me. And of course, there's always the bias of the person taking it -i.e. if I answer this way will I sound like ... xyz, even if I'm the only one seeing it. Sometimes, we don't even realize our own perspectives when answering, it's become so automatic. And for me particularly, it depends if I do the test in a hypomanic, depressive, and "normal" cycle, which is I believe why my "type" changed over the years - I am solely treated for hypomania and anxiety, not depression, so whereas before, I was probably often completing these types of tests when hypomanic (it's my more prevalent state), and therefore getting more extroverted answers (i.e I have to always be moving, I need to always be out doing something with others, etc), now that that part of my condition is treated with medication, I'm less likely to feel that way. It's funny you should say that about "why are you afraid be alone with yourself." I was just writing that the other day in my journal. Someone made a comment that indicated that if they didn't have plans on a day off (even if they were with other people) they'd be bored. I thought it so strange that 1.) they have to physically out and doing something to not be bored, whereas a good recliner or pool chair with a book sounds great to me and 2.) how do you see your friends/loved ones, that a good conversation over a cup of coffee doesn't count as "doing something", and furthermore, is boring!