I cracked my fingers as I sat down at my desk, knowing full well that I was about to go down a rabbit hole that I may not want to see the end of. I decided I wanted to see what my Myers-Briggs type was, the personality test that so often defines a person so well, it puts horoscopes to shame. I knew what I was getting into, the way you know what you’re getting into when you plugged my symptoms into WebMD. I could have a cold, I could have cancer. I could be completely normal, or I could be a sociopath. Only one way to find out.
According to myersbriggs.org, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’s purpose is “to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives.” The test breaks down a person’s personality into four separate categories: Introversion/Extroversion, Sensing/Nurturing, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. These categories correlate to a personality type consisting of four letters, 16 different personality types that every single person on this planet fits into. Embraced by colleges and HR departments, the test is seen as an indicator of someone’s work ethic and how they’ll evolve in the future. Unfortunately, not all psychologists agree with its outcomes.
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But even Jung himself admitted that “there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” Vox reported that many people feel that the test itself is useless, forcing complex and complicated individuals into unnecessary binaries.
For now, let’s just focus on the first of the letters, Introversion vs. Extroversion. According to these four different tests I took, I am an introvert (ISFJ/ISFP to be specific). To my friends who have seen me grow from elementary school, that would seem surprising. I am loud, opinionated, often combative, and stubborn. I like to be within the social scene when things are going on. I will laugh loudly and speak with grand hand gestures. But on the flip side, I know they have seen the days, weeks, that I spend by myself. They know that crowded bars are off-limits and that I will always instead suggest a dinner and a glass of wine.
The hardest part about being an introvert, for me, is this exact discussion. Because more often times than not, my friends will see the “extroverted personality” I use when I’m out with them. But I need that alone time to recharge my batteries — I can’t always be going, going, going. And for some, this is confusing. I know that people around me would not describe me as introverted, but it’s not that the tests know me better than my friends do. It’s all about perception.
But the time I spend alone isn’t because I’m sad or lonely. This is called “recovering” and it’s something all introverts do. Being introverted doesn’t mean you can’t be the life of the party. It just means that we are picky with whom we share our outgoing side, and need downtime to explore ourselves afterwards. Explaining that I do, in fact, enjoy being alone, reading a book, watching Doctor Who, and just hanging out by myself, surprises a lot of people that I meet. Sometimes, I’m boisterous, especially if you catch me after I’ve recovered from socializing. But other times I’m standoffish, I’ll sip my beer in silence and listen to other people’s conversations. That’s just how I work.
Recently there have been a few articles exploring the “things you didn’t know about introverts” and this fact — that we all need a recovery — is usually on it. Stephanie of Playfully Tacky published this article that truly gets down the things that, unlike the BuzzFeed quizzes and myriad articles telling you that introverts are socially anxious hermits, introversion really is about. “We need to recharge alone,” Stephanie writes. “This right here is the cusp of the entire introvert v. extrovert debate (if there is one, anyway) – Introverts need to be alone to recharge. We tend to get completely worn out by socializing. This is basically what it means to be an introvert.”
Susan Cain explained in her eye-opening TED talk the true meaning behind the word introvert. “[Introversion is] different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about, how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.” It’s not always that introverts shy away and hide from social standings, but unlike extroverts, feed off of low-key situations in which they are in control and feel powerful in a quieter environment.
And because the world doesn’t understand that introversion is not an affliction we need to cure, but a personality trait we need to embraces as individuality, the world suffers. “A third to a half of the population are introverts — a third to a half. So that’s one out of every two or three people you know,” Cain explained to an incredibly crowded room that gave me anxiety just looking at it. “All of them subject to this bias that is pretty deep and real in our society. We all internalize it from a very early age without even having a language for what we’re doing.”
When she interviewed with Scientific American, Cain talked about this problem that introverts face with the unfortunate connotation of their label.”Many introverts feel there’s something wrong with them, and try to pass as extroverts. But whenever you try to pass as something you’re not, you lose a part of yourself along the way,” she explained. “It’s never a good idea to organize society in a way that depletes the energy of half the population. We discovered this with women decades ago, and now it’s time to realize it with introverts.”
The fact that the dichotomy of introverts and extroverts feels more like rival sports teams than self-exploration says a lot about the connotation of the words. Extroverts are seen as the obnoxious frat bros that don’t understand personal space while introverts are the nerds who get shoved into lockers. Extroverts, the Labrador Retriever. Introverts, the English Bulldog. Articles and reports pit them against each other even though Introverts and Extroverts both occupy the same amount of space within a social environment. They just contribute differently to the overall structure. It’s a balance, one that not only helps keep society moving forward, but also sprouts new ideas within the societal make up of human thought and interaction. Not only that, but some of the worlds greatest pairs were Introvert/Extrovert. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Elenor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Lennon and George Harrsion, are all examples of introversion and extroversion working together in a way that is so much greater than “opposites attract.”
Cain goes on to explain in her TED talk that the people who fall in the middle of the introversion/extroversion definition are people called “ambiverts.” These ambiverts matter because they break the decidedly obtuse mold that people fall into one category or the other. Just like extroversion isn’t always “on,” introversion isn’t always “off.” Personality is a spectrum with no true introvert or extrovert defined by four letters that feel like a branding iron had sizzled it into our psyche.
Everyone always wants a binary. It’s easily digestible. Black-and-white is easier to understand than a large, vast gray area. But personality doesn’t work like that, it changes every single day.
In an interview with Newsweek, Bob Dylan put it best, “I don’t think I’m tangible to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think another thing tomorrow. I change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else. I don’t know who I am most of the time. It doesn’t even matter to me.”