Yesterday I had a conversation with my mother and sister about being introverted or extraverted. I’ve actually thought about my own personality with regards to this trait a lot while studying psychology, because I feel like it changes depending on the day. I have taken simple online tests a few times and generally my score ends up somewhere near the middle – today I scored 59 on a scale of 100 (click here for test I used today). This would mean that today I’m slightly more extraverted than introverted, but if I had filled out the questions about which I wasn’t completely sure differently I may well have ended on the other side of the scale. Does this mean I am a so-called ambivert? Or does the way we explain this trait just not cover all possibilities, even though we see it as a continuum?
Before I continue, a little explanation for people who don’t know how introversion and extraversion are defined. Introverted people are generally seen as being reserved, analytical and solitary. They are not necessarily shy, but they enjoy spending time by themselves as opposed to with other people. Extraversion, on the other hand, indicates being talkative, assertive and outgoing. Extraverts enjoy being around groups of people, but of course they need time for themselves too from time to time. Introversion and extraversion are generally seen to be part of the same scale, which means you can score low (introverted), high (extraverted) or somewhere in the middle (ambiverted). You can’t, however, be introverted and extraverted at the same time. That’s the part I struggle with. Is it really that impossible to be a very talkative person who really enjoys spending time alone?
A lot of people think about introversion and extraversion in terms of energy. Introverts don’t necessary dislike being in social situations, but they need time alone to recharge afterwards. Extraverts actually get depleted by being alone and need people around them to thrive. Putting myself in either one of these categories is very hard. I guess the easiest way to explain my energy level in social situations is by comparing it to a sugar rush. Being social makes gives me a ton of energy – I can even get a bit over-excited if I’m really enjoying myself – but as soon as I’m alone again I feel depleted. If I don’t get a bit of time on my own I could even get grumpy (as my ex-flatmates and people who I’ve travelled with for a longer time may know). Social situations definitely give me a lot of energy, but most of that generated energy is used up immediately.
For me, I think there is a great distinction between the way I feel and the way I act. I enjoy being on my own and tend to be curious and analytical before I actually decide to do something, but as soon as I’m talking I burst into a bubbly person who loves to share stories and laugh a lot. In new situations and especially in bigger groups I can feel a bit awkward at first, but at the same time I want my opinion to be heard and will not back away from trying something I’ve never done before. I guess being nervous to engage in social interaction actually makes me excited to do so. Does this mean I am just an introverted person with a high amount of adrenaline, which makes me seem more extraverted to others? Or does my behaviour actually show that I am an extraverted person who doesn’t have a problem with being alone most of the time?
Maybe viewing this trait as a continuum with the two ends opposing each other is not completely correct, because – at least to me – the ends aren’t as contradicting as they may seem. I don’t like describing myself as the one or the other because I feel like both can be used as labels in a negative way (‘doesn’t take initiative’ for introverts or ‘doesn’t take things serious’ for extraverts). But then again, choosing ambivert instead is not really an option either – it makes you seem indecisive. All I can hope for is that any future job interviewers won’t ask me about it. Maybe I’ll just bring a copy of this post in case they do.