I think the idea of people being “introverts” and “extroverts” needs to be reconsidered.
The typical definition is something like “extroverts are energized by people and introverts are drained by people and instead energize themselves with alone time”.
In theory, extroversion lies at one end of the spectrum and introversion at the other. But in practice it’s not treated like a spectrum at all. It’s treated like you’re either this thing or you’re that thing. You might be a big extrovert or a little extrovert or a big introvert or a little introvert – but you are one animal the another. Period.
The problem with this is that the evidence does not bear this out. They’ve done studies asking people who call themselves “introverts” to say hello to strangers and the results show that they actually enjoy it and feel energized by it more than they thought they would. And, as someone who is more extroverted, I know that I need to have a lot of alone time. And I mean hours and hours. And it’s great and energizing.
What if, instead of introvert/extrovert, the choice was only “how much of an extrovert”? What if the spectrum is not introversion on one side and extroversion on the other, but it’s “hugely extroverted” on one side and “very mildly extroverted” on the other? A model like that holds up to the evidence – we all like human interaction to some degree.
This is not just semantics. Framing the concept as a spectrum of the same word instead of humans being split into two different “species” helps us see and appreciate that we are all just degrees of one another. The question, “Are you an extrovert or introvert?” only makes it harder to relate to each other.
Extrosleeper and Introsleepers
As analogy, take sleep. Some people sleep way less and some sleep way more. We don’t dichotomize people into “extrosleepers” and “introsleepers”. People just sleep different amounts and we all understand that. We’re all sleepers. If someone slept very, very little we might suggest they should see a professional.
Which brings me to my first concern about introversion. An identity of “people de-energize me” or “I don’t like people” doesn’t help us see when there might be a real problem. If Evan has been a shut-in and we have the “introvert/extrovert: choose one” world view, we assume he’s an introvert and that’s just the way he is.
But if we have the “all people live on an extroverted spectrum” world view, there’s a couple of things that will come to our mind. First, maybe Evan’s doing well. Second, maybe he’s not. If we can consider the latter and Evan is a friend of ours, maybe we’ll check in with him.
Seeing all people as being on an extroverted spectrum removes the hazardous pigeonholing that identity permits and it lets us consider individuals as a full human beings.
Do You Want to Party?
Say you go to a party or gathering and feel very de-energized by people there. Not only that but everyone else seems to really enjoy the gathering. You just want to go home and be by yourself.
I’ve had this experience many times. In the past, I might have concluded that the bad experience was due to how I relate to people. But I’ve now been to enough gatherings to know that when I feel this way there’s a different conclusion I could (and usually should) draw: This is not my tribe. I’m de-energized at this party because these are the kind of people that de-energize me – It’s not all people.
But if you have identified as an introvert and you are not having fun at a party, you’re going to explain your feelings with identity. You’re not going to even consider that you’re just in the wrong place. You might even not go to the next party you are invited to – which might have been exactly the right people to energize you.