An “introvert” or simply “more introverted”

Carl Jung coined the terms introvert and extrovert almost a century ago and there is a well-known quote associated with him. “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert, such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”

Stepping into the “introvert” box

So, we are all somewhere on the introverted/extroverted spectrum. When we find out we have a more introverted nature it essentially means we are more introverted by nature than extroverted. Next thing we know we are referring to ourselves as an introvert. By doing so we voluntarily step into a box labelled “introvert” and start to identify with a number of characteristics such as quiet, introspective, reserved, often on our own, soft spoken, creative, and a whole bunch more. We sometimes even make the mistake of identifying with characteristics that are not necessarily related to introversion such as shy, anti-social, and anxious.

Right next to us is a similar box only that one has the label “extrovert” and it’s filled with many different characteristics such as gregarious, outspoken, social, lively, fun, and many others.

This box metaphor makes it very black and white and we easily end up looking at it in a way that is “us and them”. This might not even happen consciously but nonetheless; this easily happens when we adopt the introvert label. We can start to believe that we don’t have access to the characteristics/traits in the extrovert box and risk disliking ourselves for being the way we are and for believing we lack other traits. At times we might even look at the people in the other box with mixed feelings of envy and resentment. We wish we had those characteristics as well but at the same time we feel a sense of discomfort seeing what it’s like for those characteristics to be lived out. By looking at it in a “us and them” way we lose sight of what Jung said. There is no pure introvert or extrovert, we’re all part introverted, and part extroverted.

How much of what are you?

Most of us find out about our introverted/extroverted nature through a personality test, some of which give us a percentage to our introversion and extroversion. Interestingly enough, we often don’t really take the percentage into consideration. Instead, we simply look at which side of the line we are on. More to the left of the middle…I’m an introvert. More to the right of the middle…I’m an extrovert. And so, we jump into our boxes. But the percentages are maybe more important than the actual side of the middle we are on. If you’re 55% introverted, then you jump into the introvert box and identify yourself with being an introvert. But what about the other 45%? Shouldn’t that part of you be in the extrovert box? Is that maybe the part that looks at the extroverted box with envy because it knows that’s where it belongs? It sees that part of itself being lived out while it’s stuck in a box it cannot identify with. By willingly stepping into our boxes we might be doing ourselves a huge disservice. Sure, if you have someone who is 87% introverted that person might be a lot more at ease in the introvert box than someone who’s around 50-60% but still, even at 87% there is still 13% of you that feels out of place.

As Jung said, none of us are 100% introverted or extroverted so we all have a mix of both. How much of which varies for each of us but it’s important to really let this sink in. You are not an introvert; you are simply more introverted. For the majority you might feel more comfortable lounging in the introverted box and can relate more with the characteristics in that box but there is still a part of you (regardless of how big or small) that feels perfectly at ease with the extroverted box and the characteristics inside. Even if you want to call yourself an introvert that’s fine of course, it’s just important to remember that there is still a part of you that’s perfectly okay with the other side.

It all depends on the situation

Haven’t we all experienced moments where we acted very much out of character? Those moments when, as an introvert, you were the centre of attention and talking on and on about a topic close to your heart? Or when you were amongst people even more introverted than you it seemed like you were the lively and outgoing one amongst them even though you were just acting like yourself? How we act and behave depends on so much more than just our innate preference. The mood we are in, the people we are with, the topic we are discussing, or the place we are at can all have a strong influence on how introverted or extroverted we behave and seem at the moment.

Creating a brand-new box

So why not change our box metaphor a bit. Instead of having two separate boxes next to each other, let’s take out the middle wall and make it one long box. Let’s accept and embrace the parts of us that we’ve often seen as “in the other box” and stop looking at that part of us as “out of reach” or “just not me”. This way we’re able to move around in the box and walk as far to the other side as we’re comfortable with. Some might lounge far on the left and feel comfortable taking but a few steps past the middle line whereas others feel perfectly at ease in the centre and only steer clear of the outer edges on either side. In any case, we give ourselves the freedom to go as far as we are comfortable with and perhaps tiptoe a little bit beyond that every now and then to challenge and stretch ourselves. There is always the option of moving back to the comfortable side of the big box where we can feel at ease.

While we’re at it, why don’t we remove the two labels on the boxes and replace it with one that suits all of us. The label “human” seems like a sensible one to me.

Let’s remember that we’re all both introverted and extroverted and acknowledge that we simply have an innate preference towards either one, regardless of how big or small that preference might be. Let’s not limit ourselves with the characteristics from the box we think we belong in because by doing so we limit ourselves in ways we shouldn’t.

Do you see yourself as an introvert or as someone who is simply more introverted by nature? The former can be limiting if you let it. The later can be liberating.

Be conscious of how you refer to yourself.

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