The ins and outs of introversion and extroversion

December 6, 2012


Susan Cain’s widely shared TED talk challenges extroverts — and introverts themselves — about introverts’ role in modern society.

Just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean…

This blog post is an answer to a prompt from the post “Introverts unite” on the [Witty Title Here] blog.

Just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I lack energy. I’m glad you mentioned energy, though.

Extroversion and introversion are not about being sociable or shy, about being loud or quiet, or about being aggressive or passive. They are about where one draws his or her energy.

Why people have trouble with this, I’m not sure. It’s right in the words, which is Lesson 1.

Inside energy versus outside energy

The prefix “extro,” from the Latin extra, means extroverts primarily get their energy from the outside — conversations with others; music, lights or other stimuli; bustling crowds.

The Latin prefix intro means introverts primarily get their energy from the inside — thoughts to themselves, and enough peace, quiet and space to mentally hear those thoughts.

What’s that? “But I’m an extrovert and I need downtime, too!” Of course you do. Read on to Lesson 2.

The introversion-extroversion spectrum

Notice above that I wrote “primarily.” Introversion and extroversion are not binary traits. While too much will put them to sleep (what energizes introverts drains extroverts, and vice versa), even extreme extroverts need time to themselves. Likewise, while too much will wear them out, even extreme introverts need time with others.

Introversion and extroversion merely describe which side of the spectrum you favor. If you fall toward the middle and talk a lot, you and society may have labeled you an extrovert. If you fall toward the middle, and don’t talk a lot, you and society may have labeled you an introvert. Once such tweeners, if you will, learn what extroversion and introversion really are, it’s not uncommon for them to feel they’ve been mislabeled.

Wherever you fall, channel your inner indie musician and don’t obsess over the labels. Extroversion and introversion are not about what other people think, they’re about you, and where you get your energy, and how you manage that energy to live the best life, and to help others do the same, or, in short, to keep the music metaphor going, to sing (or shout, or strum, or hum) your song.

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