Sunday, November 11, 2012

Introversion - Extraversion

I became quite happy when I've recently discovered Susan Cain's talk on the power of introversion and later found about her book and her mission to change the way we see introverts. I have still a long road to go in order to finish reading the book but am already overwhelmed or inspired by her emotional charisma in her public appearance and her wish to make a difference. She could be my muse.

Because of that incentive, I started thinking about the differences and definitions of introversion and extraversion again. I remember years ago when I had taken the Myers-Briggs test and it always flags me as an INFP no matter if I try it again after months or years. It's not that I don't like the result, I am just checking whether something is changing in my personality as I evolve (Did I gradually became more extroverted? Or maybe more of a thinker than feeler?). It still shows me as an INFP (I would update with the information that some other tests I took today showed a bit of INTP finally, I will come back to my thoughts about this soon).

Yet I was a little confused with some definitions about introversion/extroversion and how people perceive them. The primary definition that confused me is this: Extroverts tend to gain energy from big social events while introverts energy is drained at the same situations. Introverts prefer solitude in order to recharge their lost energy. This is being discussed in many forums and I think I have heard Susan describe it like this too.

And that makes me wonder because while I recognize myself truly as an introvert (and I will explain below why), I don't really remember that part on myself of actually loosing energy during big social events. All I do in a party or bar is sitting there silently, lost in my world of thoughts and hardly ever trying to do small talk or something. If someone turns into my position and starts chatting with me then I can gladly response if it is a question I can easily respond to or something interesting to talk. But at worse I can end up being bored, lost in my world, filtering the blabber and shamely wonder why everyone looks so alive while I am so off.

Wait. So alive, so energized! I think that the term of "energy" in the older Jungian definition of introversion/extroversion doesn't refer to a physical energy (like getting tired) but what Jung calls a "psychic" energy (still a confusing term, people who are into paranormal could start the wishful thinking right now about things I can't even know if they do exist) meaning the fuel that motivates you, the spurr that keeps you alive, what makes you ecstatic. It still might not be clear the way I am describing it, but I've already written about it and my introvert preference here. It's all about what I find engaging in life that fits the introvert style and how I don't enjoy the casual socialization which is more of the extrovert style (as an exception I can enjoy being together with few close friends, with whom I discuss personal matters or special interests as I explain in the old article, and this is something possible with most introverts as I read).

I think the term energized or prefer to spend energy to either social outgoing activities or inner thoughts and creative solitude activities was used in the past as an indicator of what is your driving force, during which activities you are most alive or continue spending time without feeling tired. It doesn't necessary mean that an introvert would necessary get tired in the social activities, rather than he would spent endless hours with his solitude activities without feeling tired because he finds it engaging, while the social activity would just be boring and feel like a waste of time/energy.

Though, there are some accounts of people who for example actually feel energy drained after an hour of being around lot's of people talking to each other non stop. Some say it's a mental kind of stress but there are other accounts of also physical stress caused by the hypersensitivity to stimuli like light or sounds which are usually are more abundant in a bar or party full of chatter and music. Yes, there are such people who have to bear with another layer of struggle during socialization, yet I don't think the attribute of introversion should be attributed to only the persons who really suffer (not just get bored) during social situations. Or how would you call a person who really enjoys to spend a lot of time with excessive social activities, yet he suffers from sensory overloading making these activities a total energy drain? Would his love for socialization overcome the energy drain so that he would keep doing it regardless the wearyness or not?.

The way I understand it is not whether physical stimuli allow you or not to take part in social situations (even though this could play a role too) but which preference keeps your brain alive and running. Though, I would say even professionals tend to have different theories, for example in the wikipedia article, Eysenck's theory finds some brain chemistry correlations that differs between introverts and extroverts in the sense that the second are seeking for a way to highten their arousal level (with ongoing social stimulation) while the introverts tend to avoid social situations in an effort to keep such arousal at a minimum level. So, this definition still doesn't entirely describe me. I am neither aroused nor tired by social situations, yet my mind is aroused by inner thoughts or deep discussions with close friends. I sometimes find myself talking to myself about stuff that matters, interesting ideas, dreams about creative hobbies, so intensively that I would say I spend a lot of energy yet I keep going tirelessly. Social: minimal arousal or tiredenss, Mental: high arousal. In casual talking I tend to just listen or fuse away, till someone start a subject that is interesting, leading me to suddenly start talking endlessly with great passion, till I understand I look weird (from zero activity to uberactivity).

I would describe myself as a primarily introvert who is also shy (shy does not equal introversion necessarily I hear), if the definition of shyness is similar to social anxiety, like actually worrying about other people think if you are not participating or something. I mean, I have this preference for being engaged in ideas and meaningful discussions while I am just indifferent to casual talk while I have easily negative emotions about how I don't fit in social situations when everybody around me seems active while I am not. I think that's how I would describe. Personally my emotional sensitivity is my worst enemy in the whole introvert/extrovert affair because I always felt bad about other people being social and me not fitting in, I was always feeling bad about normality and making excuses, and still couldn't just accept that I am different and that's not bad. I think this is obvious in most of my writings in this blog.

And this is why I like Susan's mission. It is because her vision makes me think more positively about myself, it makes me accept who I am regardless if I fit in the one or the other box, the most important is not what the definition of introverted or extroverted is, but the fact that one person took strong action to educate us about a view that doesn't favor one group over another, and it's not only educating society but all introverts who blatantly hold the view that there must be something wrong with them, even if it didn't make sense. That's how hard it is for some of us, spending all that energy trying to pass as extroverts or alternatively find the best excuses for not being like the rest if there was something wrong in the first place. I look back to all my struggle, my angst ridden texts, my arguments with my family or other people about all these stuff and wonder one thing: "How different could things be for me if I've read this book or watched this inspiring talk (and few similar recent books and articles as I discover) 10 or 20 years ago. Years not wasted in self pity and loss of self-esteem..

I feel lucky about the new generations that have better access to these ideas and possibly won't struggle as much as I did. I am sharing a similar vision with Susan, really hoping that not only will our societies start understanding introverts but more people will learn to accept some of the differences of people no matter how weird or away from the norm. I think the idea of being "normal" or not fitting, our obsession with defining how one should or not should be is getting more and more ridiculous the more I think about it. Another thing that helps is the internet. I think the new generation is very lucky for having this tool. I just need to search for every weird habit or flaw on me I worried about in the past to discover that lot's of people have these or other weird habits, many of them hide it or have different opinions about them, so in a sense every single one of us has some of the most weird characteristics, yet we don't usually share them with others and pass on the day like everyone of is "normal" or something. You wouldn't even easily know that other people feel similarly to you without the internet. We tend to disclose more while online and less in most casual social situations.

I have said it before, the best revolution one can do in this aspect, abolishing this faulty idea of normality, is to patiently learn accepting him/herself and maybe hide one fact less over time. The world could be easily consisting of 99% of weirdos, each one of them hiding it from the other in order for all to seem "normal". We could get a little more weird by time, a little more our true selves and so change our own flawed perception and escape the prison we actually build for ourselves! It sounds insane but I do strongly believe it.

p.s. So long I had my first aha moment in Susan's book in that part where I read that the preference for extroversion is a cultural thing and it wasn't prevalent during older times. I always had this faulty idea that extroverts is the ideal even in ancient times and different cultures, since those are the dominating types. But it's not! As I read, once before the 20s in America, the self-help books praised character over personality. There are even countries and cultures which prefer the more reserved type. This reminds me of a documentary (century of the self) I had once watched describing how Freud and his daughter brought up the ideas in our culture that in my view evolved into this "being deviant, need to be fixed" model that haunts our minds.

No comments:

Locations of visitors to this page