As the pandemic nears its end, it feels safe to say that most of us have, in one way or another, gotten “over it.” That said, the sporadic and extended bouts of isolation had staggeringly different impacts on all of us, depending on our individual social tendencies.
Now that the world is back open, I feel it’s a good time to reevaluate our social interaction, especially since we now know how quickly it can be taken away.
To keep things simple, I’ll use two terms most of us are probably familiar with: introvert and extrovert. Some readers may know what these terms already mean and some may claim to accurately know which one they are. I thought I was the same, but with a bit of research, I’ve learned more about how I value social interaction and I’d like to share that knowledge today.
In common usage, introverts are often thought to be shy, or poor at certain things such as public speaking, speaking with strangers or making new friends. Rather, they would prefer to spend their time either alone or with familiar people in a familiar place.
Extroverts are the opposite. Charismatic and highly sociable, extroverts willfully and frequently engage in social interaction. They are restless when alone, become anxious and uncomfortable if deprived of human contact for too long.
In other words, introverts take the window seat with their hoods up and headphones in while extroverts take the aisle seat to talk with other people.
Based on this analogy, I’d imagine most of us know which seat we prefer most days. The problem with this definition is that it’s based on an individual’s social abilities, rather than their innate tendencies. It’s inaccurate and it’s incomplete. The psychology majors probably know where I’m going with this.
Carl Jung was perhaps the most influential mind in the field of psychoanalysis. One of Sigmund Freud’s closest colleagues, the two’s research would serve as the foundation for all of contemporary psychology. In 1921, Jung introduced the terms introversion and extroversion, but not as a way to describe one’s social abilities. Instead, the terms refer to how social interaction affects people emotionally.
To illustrate Jung’s point, imagine that you have a battery life that reflects your emotional stability. When this “social battery” is dead, you become bored, tired or just plain drained. What we feel exactly varies from person to person, but the point is it feels bad. When that happens, we need to recharge our social battery.
Introverts recharge their social battery by spending time alone, either contemplating their thoughts, reading a book, practicing a sport or engaging in a hobby. Their emotional stability comes from within and it drains the longer they engage in social interaction with others. By no means does this make them shy or socially awkward, it just means they have a time limit. An introvert might want to leave a party early rather than stay another five hours if given the choice.
Extroverts are the opposite. They recharge their social battery by engaging with others, having conversations, hanging out or simply just by being near other people. While an introvert might do all their work in their dorm room with the door locked, an extrovert does so in a busy cafe. Their emotional stability comes from outside interaction and it drains the longer they are deprived of these connections. Again, this does not mean that all extroverts are full of charisma. I’m sure many of us know people who are relentless in their efforts to hang out or make conversation, which merely comes off as clingy and annoying.
By the first definition, I am an extrovert. I love people and engage with them any chance I get, which must make me an extrovert, right? Well, by Jung’s paraphrased definition, I’m an introvert. This revelation has allowed me to reconsider what social opportunities I look for now, and I’m glad to say it’s for the better.
Don’t think that just because you have trouble talking to people means you should spend all your time alone, and don’t be fooled that just because you like to be alone that it makes you weird and antisocial. Instead, engage with the kinds of people you know and activities you like that really replenish that social battery and make you feel stable and in control. If you can’t think of any, maybe try searching somewhere new.
It’s never too late, and never a bad idea, to learn something new about yourself. Once you take that first step out of your comfort zone, you might be surprised to see how much you’ve been missing.
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