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Introvert or extrovert?
How understanding how we process the world can help us both in the lockdown and the new, post-pandemic world
Posted on 05 May 2020
‘Don’t tell anyone, but there are some things I quite like about lockdown,’ If I had a pound for every client who has said this to me recently, I would have lots of money but not much to spend it on at the moment. But joking aside, comments like this reveal something very important about how different personality types cope differently when social life is constrained.
I am seeing many clients using online technology and one thing stands out, some people are finding the lockdown more tolerable than others. Of course, there are material factors to consider here. It is going to be easier if you live in a big house with a garden compared with a flat in a high rise. How worried or not you are about your job and your future life generally will of course impact as well.
But even if we take these things into consideration some people are finding it much easier than others. But why?
If you are reading the news you may have come across articles discussing this. Introverts rule now, seems to be the message, with many claiming it will be easier to get through this period if you are an introvert. I would agree that it may seem that this is a time for introverts and it is interesting to see how many people, who are basically introverts, feel that at last the world fits them.
So what do the terms introvert and extrovert actually mean?
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “An introvert is a person whose interest is generally directed inward toward his own feelings and thoughts, in contrast to an extrovert, whose attention is directed toward other people and the outside world. The typical introvert is shy, contemplative, and reserved and tends to have difficulty adjusting to social situations. . . .The extrovert, by contrast, is characterized by outgoingness, responsiveness to other persons . . .”
I often explain it quickly to clients as introverts get energy by being alone or in very small quiet groups and extroverts need lots of social connecting to feel energised. Extroverts can start to feel very tired and down if they are alone too much (or at all) and introverts can feel tired and overwhelmed if they have too much social interaction or even general interaction with others. Interestingly research seems to indicate that introverts make up between 25% and 30% of the population.
How extroverts took over the world
A little dip into history can help us see what is going on. Back in Victorian times the world was more geared towards introverts. There was just less to do in the social sphere: fewer restaurants and pubs, not as many shops and theatres. People tended to stay near the home and the family more. Rest time was more valued (for example, a religious Sunday where quiet contemplation was all you could do). Then as the big cities grew, more and more people moved from home-based work to the new factories and offices. By the 20th century these new cities were full of people, workplaces, and all types of new entertainment and ways of interacting with others. The crowd was the mark of civilisation.
As we entered the 21st century this move towards an extrovert world continued speeded up. Open-plan offices sprung up, to the delight of people who want to interact all the time. Smaller homes meant people, especially younger people, began spending more and more time out of the home. Eating out most of the time became standard in big cities, food courts and restaurants with social benches rather than private tables became common. Leisure pursuits changed; more people spent time in social spaces such as gyms rather than at home in the garden.
The social whirl stops
Then suddenly, in March 2020, it all stopped. For extroverts this could be a real problem. A friend of mine, who describes herself as an uber-extrovert, constantly tells me how bored she is. She feels as if her whole life has been ripped away and she seems to be teetering on the edge of depression. The world, in which she sailed through very happily going from a busy job to fitness classes to coffee mornings and pub meet-ups has gone. She spends a lot of time on Zoom and Facebook, but says it is not the same. Her preferred patterns of life seem to no longer fit the world.
On the other hand, people with tendencies towards introversion can feel as if the world fits them better for the first time ever. They have the time alone, can concentrate on quiet pursuits. If they are working, they can do it at home and escape the horrors of the open-plan office and the noisy pub for after work drinks.
I want to get behind the bits and pieces and popular psychology in the newspapers and find out what is really going on. If we can understand what is happening, I think it is possible to help both the introverts and the extroverts in our world. And not just for now, but for always. When the lockdown is over, perhaps we will all have learned to value different ways of being in the world more.
Introverts, extroverts and the Coronavirus lockdown
So, it is easy if you are an introvert, yes? Well up to a point, but there are some things introverts need to watch out for. You can become very isolated, very quickly and that is often damaging to your wellbeing. So, enjoy the fact you are not being forced into a lot of noisy or demanding social contact, but do not forget to keep up with friends and family whose company you value. If you are an extrovert you will be finding it more difficult. Use social media to the max. Set up virtual meetings. Reach out to new groups, perhaps based on your interests and hobbies. These are some fairly easy ways you can make yourself feel more comfortable and energised.
Develop a curious mindset in the time of COVID-19
It can help to step back from yourself, your feelings and ways of behaviour, and contemplate yourself from a mental distance for a while. You may find you learn some interesting things.
None of us are ‘pure’ types, introvert or extrovert, we are a mixture. And exploring this for you can help you work out how you can best live at the moment and in the future.
What to do if you are an extrovert in the lockdown
If you are an extrovert it may be that this is a time to explore facets of your personality which usually stay quietly in the background.
A good way to do this is to adopt the curious mindset. Rather than telling yourself you must do this or that or berating yourself because you feel bored, take a step back. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing on your own or in a quiet environment. There will be something, it could be reading or crafting or cooking or playing video games or watching films. It really doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you apply energy and enthusiasm to the task at hand.
And applying this energy and enthusiasm works whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.
Extroverts and introverts process experience in different ways
I would advise that whether you are an extrovert or an introvert you go with your feelings as much as possible. This is good general advice, but at the moment, when you may be anxious and finding things difficult, it is even more important.
You can still be true to your own personality and enjoy and celebrate the uniqueness of you.
Here is an example. An introvert and an extrovert may do the same activity and enjoy it, finding it totally absorbing. Whichever you are, after you have done your activity you may process what has happened differently.
As an extrovert you may want to get online and tell everyone about it once you have finished. You may be looking for an online forum or group of similarly-minded people. You may want to convert others to your new passion. Go for it! That is you and that is great.
If you are an introvert you may want to sit quietly and reflect on what you have just experienced. You may write about it in your journal, or save up the experience to tell your best friend on a telephone call later. You may experience a quiet joy. And that is joyous.
I had a recent experience of this in my own practice, Fiona Nicolson Cognitive Hypnotherapist (you can contact me on the contact page of this site). A client, who described herself as an extrovert with a family of mainly extroverts was worried about one of her children. He seemed to be very quiet and she worried he was finding the lockdown very difficult. As we discussed it, she began to see things differently. I suggested that her son might be an introvert who needed time alone to process what was going on. She started to recognise that this had always been true, but she was noticing it now as the whole family was together so much more. The whole family discussed what to do and made ways where the introvert among them could be given the time he needed and supported and celebrated for being the way that he is.
I found this a very heartening example of how we all process things in different ways and learn from the world in different ways. This is enriching and various and rewarding to us all. You will know what fits for you, what suits you.
Whatever your personality type aim to be happy and fulfilled within the constraints of the pandemic and the lockdown. Know yourself and it can be done.
Start talking about what you are doing and learning. And start talking about what you can take into our new world as the lockdown eases.
Books to help us understand how introverts and extroverts function in their worlds
Finally, I would like to recommend a couple of books mostly for introverts if you would like to read more about this.
The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney
“Are you energized by spending time alone? In meetings, do you need to be asked for your opinions and ideas? Do you tend to notice details that other people miss? Is your ideal celebration a small get-together rather than a big party? Do you often feel like a tortoise surrounded by hares?
“The Introvert Advantage will help you to work with your temperament and if you live with an introvert, help you to understand them better.
“It gives ways of managing and coping in a world which often seems run by extroverts. It will also help you and loved ones if they are introverts to manage their energy. Show introverts how to work with instead of against their temperament to enjoy a well-lived life. “Covering relationships, parenting—including parenting an introverted child—socializing, and the workplace, here are coping strategies, tactics for managing energy, and hundreds of valuable tips for not only surviving but truly thriving in an extravert world.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves. She gives many examples of how introverts add to our lives and our culture. She also says that we live in a very extravert world and this can lead to undervaluing introverts.
Bye for now and check out Fiona Nicolson Cognitive Hypnotherapist on Facebook
I hope you found this helpful. Let me know how you are getting on. And check out my Facebook page for regular updates on how to cope in the time of the pandemic. https://www.facebook.com/FionaNicolsonCogHyp/?ref=bookmarks
See you next month.
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