Do you know the difference between an extrovert and an introvert?
For a long time, I had a certain idea about what makes an extrovert or an introvert. My general perception was that extroversion related to how outgoing someone was, and introversion was the same as being shy. However, that’s not exactly true and understanding each personality type, and which one you are, can help you manage a vast range of experiences.
Where it all started
The terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ were popularised by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, their meanings got confused between then and now, and we started thinking that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. Carl’s point was that these are the very extremes of a scale, which means that most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
‘There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum’
Carl G. Jung
There are a few theories about the differences between introverts and extroverts, and some recent research has shown that our genetic make-up has a lot to do with which tendencies are strongest in each of us. Introversion and extroversion relate to where we get our energy from – in other words, how we recharge our brains.
Research has found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how they process rewards and how their genetic make-up differs. The difference comes from how introverts and extroverts process stimuli. For extroverts, the pathway is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch and visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. For introverts, stimuli run through a long, complicated pathway in areas of the brain associated with remembering, planning and solving problems.
Extroverts gain energy from other people and find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. This is because extroverts have different levels of arousal, meaning the extent to which their minds and bodies are alert and responsive to stimulation. Extroverts need to work harder to arouse their minds and bodies to the same ‘normal’ state that introverts might reach quite easily. This leads extroverts to seek novelty and adventure, and to crave the company of others. As an extrovert, you may seek eye contact, smile and chat to anyone at any given opportunity. For an extrovert, this interaction with other people creates a small ‘ping’ of energy, resulting in a feeling of positivity.
Introverts tend to recharge by spending time alone with their thoughts. This can be as restorative as sleeping and as nourishing as eating for them. They can lose energy from being around people for a too long a period. This is because any kind of stimulation can be overwhelming for them, since their rate of arousal is much higher. However, introverts are not necessarily shy and may not even avoid social situations. But they may prefer to spend time with close friends or family, rather than be part of a big crowd. They also like to think things through before they speak and may become upset by unexpected changes because they much prefer predictable situations.
Since introverts and extroverts are the extremes of the scale, the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle. Many of us lean one way or the other, but there are some who are quite balanced between the two tendencies. These people are called ambiverts. Ambiverts exhibit both extroverted and introverted tendencies. This means they generally enjoy being around people, but after a long time this will start to drain them. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts recharge their energy levels with a mixture of social interaction and alone time.
How to get the best out of everyone
It’s pretty much certain that we’re going to meet a variety of personalities throughout our lives, from extreme introverts to extreme extroverts, and everyone in between. Understanding the differences between these tendencies can help us get along with others and get the best out of everyone.
Tips on how to engage with an introvert:
- Respect their need for privacy
- Never embarrass them in public
- Let them observe first in a new situation
- Give them time to think and don’t demand instant answers
- Don’t interrupt them
- Give them a 15-minute warning to finish whatever they are doing
- Don’t push them to make lots of friends
- Respect their introversion and don’t try to make them into extroverts
Tips on how to engage with an extrovert:
- Respect their independence
- Compliment them in the company of others
- Accept and encourage their enthusiasm
- Allow them to explore and talk things through
- Thoughtfully surprise them
- Understand when they are busy
- Let them dive right in
- Make physical and verbal gestures of affection
Which are you?
I always thought myself to be an introvert because I used to be shy. However, I’ve always loved being around people and I very rarely spend time on my own. As I have grown older and wiser, I am no longer shy. Now, I consider myself to be an ambivert. I get my energy from people, whether that’s coffee with a friend or being in a big crowd, but I also love time alone – if it isn’t for too long!
Do you consider yourself an extrovert, ambivert or introvert?
This blog was inspired by Belle Beth Cooper