After my talks, people often come up to me and say, “I used to be an introvert – but I got over it,” or, “I’m not sure; sometimes I think I’m one thing and sometimes the other. Can you be both?”
Actually, you can be both, changing from one situation to another, or changing over time from one to the other, then sliding back. That’s why I call the introversion-extroversion dimension a sliding scale.
Social psychologists have known for decades that surrounding circumstances can heavily influence personality. Personality tests may claim (or would have you assume) that once you have taken the test and been given a label, you are defined for life. It doesn’t work that way. A personality test cannot necessarily project what you will be in all other situations, past and future.
Although there are some known neurological differences between int
and extroverts, the best-known (and possibly the defining) feature has to do with how much stimulation we can tolerate at a given time. Conversation, loud music, clutter, hustle and bustle – introverts tend to find too much stimulation at one time exhausting and even threatening, while extroverts thrive on it and will even seek out more.
What’s just been happening in your life?
But what is “too much”? The analogy to eating is a useful one. We all have appetites, some larger than others. We have differing capacities, too, so one person’s “full up” is another person’s “just getting started.”
Just as with eating, “too much” will depend on not only your capacity but on what you have consumed in the immediate past. If you have been overloaded with stimulation recently, you may crave isolation.
Too much isolation can drive you to seek bright lights and activity – generally.
Too little stimulation can be damaging to human beings.
We are social beings – we need connection to others to thrive. Research on everybody from infants to the elderly supports the recognition that we need social connections to be healthy, physically and psychologically. Some need more than others; many a healthy, successful introvert thrives on a few, deeply-held relationships rather than being part of a large social group.
Total withdrawal from social life generally results in poorer health and depression. So why do people do it, insisting that it is a necessary part of their introversion?
How’s your health?
Here’s one reason to withdraw: Being run down, or even ill, can lead you to resist exposing yourself to too much stimulation, as can depression or grieving. Recovering from these situations can mean that you and your energy rebound.
Unfortunately, withdrawing from society for a long period of time, as introverts sometimes do, means a lack of the social experience that helps us shape up and improve our connections, and makes the thought of interacting exhausting and terrifying. So we end up avoiding social interaction more and more, often saying, “I can’t do that because I’m an introvert.”
It’s easier when you have skills
Go to the beach in the summer and watch an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer beating the water with both arms, sending up great plumes of spray, while his legs thrash furiously. Then watch a highly-trained swimmer glide sleekly through the water as if it was her natural environment, leaving barely a ripple.
Introverts often complain about social activities as being energy drainers, but confident introverts (those with good social skills) find that they have plenty of energy for necessary and even enjoyable social encounters. Why? Because any activity for which you have skill takes less energy.
Even house-cleaning is easier when you know how to do it and have the right skills and tools. The same is true of social situations.
Not being socially skilled is an energy-drainer, but it is an unnecessary one. Anyone can learn to connect and communicate well with others; being an introvert simply means you choose the times when you do this.
Confident introverts don’t avoid social situations. They just make wise choices.
Watch for my upcoming course, Social Success Skills for Quiet People, giving you the tools you need to operate effectively – and happily – in professional and personal areas, without becoming someone you don’t like!
Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.