And do opposites attract, or are we birds of a feather?
On the subject of introversion vs. extroversion the answer to that question is some of both.
Introvert/extrovert – We assume we know the meaning of these words. Extroverts are outgoing and talkative. Introverts are quiet and shy. Right?
Well, yes and no.
Extroversion–introversion is one of the continuum in the Big Five Trait theory. This is a well-researched theory regarding how our personalities tend to be organized. There are five major continuum of traits in this theory, with quite a few other traits within each of these categories.
In addition to Extroversion–introversion, these continuum are:
Agreeableness (how ruthless vs. softhearted you are)
Conscientiousness (how reliable you are)
Neuroticism (how emotionally stable you are)
Openness to New Experiences (how adventurous you are)
Now with regard to most of these trait continuum, the phrase, “birds of a feather flock together” applies. We tend to be attracted to people similar to ourselves. But there are two exceptions.
One is the neuroticism/emotional stability continuum. Those folks like me who are more intense (more high maintenance, some–like my husband–might say) are usually attracted to people who are easy-going. But this is another whole post. So let’s get back to extroversion-introversion, which is the other continuum where opposites attract.
On the surface, I present as an extreme extrovert. I’m very talkative. I start conversations with strangers on a regular basis. (I draw the line at inanimate objects, though I do talk to animals, and the occasional plant. 😉 )
Roughly two-thirds of my friends, including my husband, are introverts. The other third are very close to the cusp between the two versions of this trait (sometimes called ambiversion, as in ambidextrous when it comes to these traits).
Most of my friends are introverts because their personalities complement my own. Introverts make a good audience for the extrovert. As one of my friends put it: “I like it that you talk so much. That way I don’t have to think of much to say.”
Other than relieving one of the obligation to make conversation, I can only speculate about our appeal from the introverts’ point of view. My guess is they find us extroverts entertaining.
But why are so many of my friends near the cusp–neither strongly extroverted nor blatantly introverted? Ah, this brings us back to the true meaning of extroversion–introversion. It is a lot more complicated than we tend to think.
You see, I am actually very close to being an ambivert myself. Despite my obvious extroverted traits, I score on the introverted side on one very important but little understood aspect of this continuum–how one experiences social stimulation.
Extroverts draw energy from interacting with others; introverts are drained by such interactions and need to be away from people for awhile to recuperate. Regarding this crucial trait, I am an introvert. I crave large quantities of alone time. My mother was the same way. She referred to herself as an introvert who operated as an extrovert.
Now this doesn’t mean introverts dislike being around other people. They have social and emotional needs just like extroverts. But after awhile, they need to be alone.
And while we’re on the subject, let me point out another misconception about introverts. They aren’t all shy, nor do they necessarily have difficulty making friends. They are somewhat quieter, less quick to speak up, but they may very well be quite talkative amongst friends (my husband certainly is!)
And I know several introverts who are better at making friends than I am, even though I may appear more “friendly” on the surface. I’m quick to start a conversation with just about anyone, but I’m actually slow to make a friend.
Fortunately my cofounder of misterio press, Shannon Esposito, is one of those introverts who makes friends easily. We met at a writers’ conference. I initiated the conversation but she was the one who opened the door to friendship and invited me in with a flourish.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Big Five Trait continuum are somewhat independent of each other. Shannon is quite adventurous. As bold as I am at trying new things, she is always right there with me. Indeed she’s often leading the way. This is not a trait we usually associate with reserved introverts. And it shouldn’t be, because it’s on a completely different continuum–Openness to New Experiences. An introvert can be adventurous; an extrovert can love predictable routine (I know a couple of them).
I guess the moral of all this is to not be too quick to label someone as introverted or extroverted, and don’t be too surprised if most of your friends are from the other side of the continuum. Unless you’re a true ambivert, in which case you will probably “flock together” with other ambiverts.
How about you? Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert? Are you drained or energized by being around others?
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