Understanding the people around us isn’t easy. We view the world through our own eyes and assume that our view is one shared by the other 7.8 billion people on the planet. It must be the same for everybody, right? Wrong. What are the differences between an introvert and an extrovert? I’ve often wondered if you can be someone that has traits of both. Should we really be labeling ourselves as one or the other? Isn’t it an orientation rather than a label of someone’s character? I think it’s especially hard to be an introvert in the workplace and in educational institutions. There seems to be a preference for people who are extroverted when considering candidates for job promotions for instance. I’ve witnessed and have had personal experience of this within the workplace myself. The society we live in praises the great communicator and the people person… and the quiet, reserved people tend to get forgotten or, even worse, misunderstood.
What about relationships with friends, family or partners? The friend that says, “You never speak up for yourself.” A family member that asks, “Why don’t you ever answer the phone?” or “Why won’t you talk to me on the phone more often?” And my personal favourite: the partner who demands, “Why are you so quiet sometimes?” or “What have I done wrong today?” I’ve fallen victim to an extrovert partner asking me these questions… and I’ve also been the perpetrator who repeatedly asks these questions to a partner more introverted than myself.
An introvert is commonly characterised as someone who is quiet or reserved, and an extrovert as enthusiastic and outgoing. Introverts may sometimes avoid social situations or engagements in larger, unknown crowds in the fear that they will be left feeling drained and mentally exhausted. An extrovert on the other hand may thrive in these same interactions and actively seek them out, feeling energised by being around other people. Introverts tend not to seek out attention from others and prefer the peace and quite of their own surroundings, sometimes in solitude. So, how can we better understand and support our introverts? Giving an introvert the freedom to take time to oneself, encouraging them to voice their need for me time can be a blessing. If you happen to see an introvert lost in thoughts, don’t ask “What’s the matter?” or “Are you okay?” They’re probably just taking some much-needed downtime. They enjoy being alone; it gives them a chance to gather their thoughts, which can sometimes be very overwhelming. This is something that I’ve struggled with myself many times. Introverts do have social skills and they’re not necessarily anti-social. They can enjoy being around other people, they just want to be around the right people. Introverts are highly introspective; they seek to find a deeper meaning to life and are usually very intelligent. They prefer deeper connections with fewer people as opposed to casual connections with many people. They also have a tendency to overanalyse situations, which can sometimes be detrimental to intimate relationships. Again, this is something that I’ve had issues with, but as the years have gone by I’ve learned how to deal with these sometimes intrusive thoughts by using Mindfulness as a tool to help (see my other article of 7 ways to add Mindfulness to your life).
Up until recent years, I would never have labeled myself as an introvert. I’m very sociable, but only around the right people. I’m sometimes shy and a bit awkward, until I really get to know someone… then the other Lucy, the Lucy with the crazy creative ideas and outgoing personality appears. I also like to spend time alone; this gives me time to reflect and also time to process my thoughts with clarity. However, I do enjoy interactions with others, and I do like a good ‘knees up’ and ‘dance off’ with the gal pals! Having said this, I prefer to build authentic relationships with people that I can get to know on a deeper level. Trust and intimacy are an important aspect of establishing a fulfilling relationship for an introvert, certainly in my case anyway. Having recently experienced a bad relationship, where it was all one sided, I’ve realised that asking the right questions at the beginning of getting to know someone is very important. It’s not all about the butterflies and the sexual lust! I think it’s easy to get carried away with this, something I’m definitely guilty of… is this an extrovert trait I wonder? In short, being an introvert doesn’t mean that you’re boring. I would say quite the opposite. We need more stimulation; else we may tire quickly. It simply means we need to be around the right people, and also people that will respect our essential need for privacy and downtime.