Even without ever taking a personality test before, I’d guess that most people have an answer at the ready when asked, “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” In fact, most people could probably make a guess at how their friends would answer the question as well. These terms were popularized in 1921 by Carl Jung, a psychoanalyst from Switzerland. Jung considered extroverted people those who engage with external stimuli frequently, and introverted people as those who prefer to focus their energy inward with more solitary or thoughtful activities.
Nowadays, the stereotype is that introverts are quiet loners who prefer smaller groups of people and time alone to rest and recharge, whereas extroverts are party animals who love being the center of attention and hate being alone. The contradiction between the two has invaded our methods of classifying personalities as well as popular culture. However, like most things in life, personality isn’t as black and white as these archetypes seem to be.
Jung also discussed a third category somewhere in the middle with regards to whether motivation comes from within oneself or the outside environment, the ambivert. These types of people are generally considered balanced in their personality, with both classically introverted and classically extroverted characteristics. In fact, Jung explained that, contrary to popular belief, pure introverts or extroverts are the minorities or extremes in the overall population, with most people falling into this middle of the road ambivert category.
Essentially, personality is a spectrum rather than being made up of distinct classes. As humans, we like the idea of a “this or that” approach to almost everything, finding comfort in clear definitions due to associative learning.
Essentially, personality is a spectrum rather than being made up of distinct classes. As humans, we like the idea of a “this or that” approach to almost everything, finding comfort in clear definitions due to associative learning. And the introvert/extrovert dichotomy isn’t the only example of this. As for human sexuality, we favor labels in general, particularly leaning towards “gay” or “straight” as if they are opposites, while putting much less emphasis on the things in between. Or think about American politics — you’re labeled liberal, conservative or maybe moderate, as if these three words can capture such a vast political landscape with many moving parts.
So while such strict categorization is very common for a large number of concepts, it also helps to create biases in society. Overwhelmingly, there is a preference for the extroverted end of the personality spectrum. When we think of someone with a “perfect” personality, we think of someone sociable and charismatic who enjoys the spotlight. And this might make sense, as humans are naturally social creatures heavily utilizing cooperation as a survival tactic in the past. In this sense, introverts get the short end of the stick. In the typical office workspace, we like outgoing people best as job candidates, worrying that quiet people will be unable to connect with clients or customers. In schools, mandating class participation and public speaking is common practice. Think about the many self-help articles published with titles like, “Introverted? Here’s how to be more outgoing.” But have you ever seen an article titled, “Extroverted? Here’s 10 ways to calm down”?
When it comes down to it, introversion can be seen as a personality flaw, and this isn’t a healthy mindset. Introversion is not the same thing as shyness, nor is it the same thing as being antisocial, (both of which can have some negative effects in one’s life). Differing preferences of different individuals is truly just a testament to the range of humanity. There are over seven billion people on the planet; we can’t expect everyone to thrive in the same environments or be equally gregarious. It doesn’t mean that an introvert can never be successful, just that they may not celebrate such success at a raging party with 500 of their closest friends.
The introvert/extrovert dichotomy isn’t the end all be all in life, but knowing your preferences could help you identify your strong suits and where you might need to put in some extra conscious effort. Terms like this can help you be more in tune with yourself, especially in a world that prefers one end of the spectrum over the other. If anything, this is the perfect example of “different strokes for different folks.”