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To Talk or Not to Talk: That's Not the Question
I was born in a country where quiet, studious teenagers who excelled in math and sciences were upheld as the norm. Your self-worth and social standing depended on how your grades ranked in comparison to a multitude of other overachievers. A calm, reticent demeanor called for respect; your achievements spoke for you all you needed to say.
Then my family migrated to Canada.
Be BOLD. Bigger is better. Express yourself. Confidence is key. It’s your time to shine. Better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. Little did I know at the tender age of eight that we had just moved in to “A Whole New World”—on so many levels. More than culture shock, I experienced what I’d like to call personality shock: a tsunami of social values and attitudes quite opposite of ours, sweeping us away on a daily basis. Thankfully my parents had an easier time, as my mother was an extrovert and my introverted father had a scientific job that suited his temperament nicely. As for me though, I spent the next six years or so being verbally pushed and pulled around and prodded and slapped and stomped on by so many extroverted schoolmates that I could barely recognize myself when it was over. And it never really was. Not surprisingly, what made me an easy target were my apparently introverted traits, which my extroverted “friends” were either too young or too careless to understand. Being introverted made me powerless, and my protecting myself in my own way I was further targeted, spurring on the endless cycle of verbal and emotional bullying.
I don’t hold anything against them though; back then they didn’t know any better, and neither did I. Nowadays, a few of us are closer friends than ever. After years of personal research and self-discovery, it’s safe to say I’ve learned a thing or two about each of the personality types. Can introverts and extroverts (and ambiverts, which I’ll talk about later) truly get along? I believe the answer is yes. It is possible, and in fact very achievable for people of all personality types to have beautifully harmonious relationships if we are willing to understand and embrace each another’s differences.
In our North American, extrovert-dominated society, the first and biggest problem to tackle is the lack of understanding, or rather a misunderstanding between the personality types. It’s sadly apparent that right now, a majority of the general public have either no idea or an incorrect idea of what it means to be an introvert or an extrovert. For starters, “introvert” is not a code word for “anti-social”, “bookworm” or “doesn’t like people”. On the other end of the line, “extrovert” is not synonymous with “obnoxious”, “loves public speaking” or “party all the dang time”. Surprised? Perhaps not. Perhaps the best way (for the general public) to define the difference between introversion and extroversion is by answering the question: “How do you relax best?” (Ravenscraft)
Contrary to popular belief, introversion and extroversion are not about how “quiet” or “outgoing” someone is—it’s about how they recharge their mind and soul. Introverts (or more precisely, those of us with stronger introverted tendencies) tend to recharge best in solitude. They spend or lose energy from socializing and being around large groups of people. Extroverts (or those of us with stronger extroverted tendencies), on the other hand, recharge or gain energy from other people (Cooper). Their energy is drained away when they spend extended periods of time alone, leaving them restless and starving for human interaction. It’s not about how much you like being around people that defines your personality type; it’s the way your mind naturally recharges. This is why introverts can love people and love building meaningful relationships with people, and extroverts can be shy.
Also, it’s wise to note that these two terms (first popularized by Carl Jung in the early 20th century) were originally meant to indicate the two extreme ends of a spectrum. Carl’s point is made in his quote: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” (Cooper)
This is really important for us today, because it means that most of us actually fall somewhere in between.
For example, as briefly mentioned earlier, someone who identifies as an “introvert” is in reality just someone with stronger introverted tendencies within them. One helpful analogy is the concept of handedness. Most people are either right or left-handed, but writing with one hand doesn’t make your other hand crippled (Ravenscraft). Similarly, both introverted and extroverted people can perfectly adapt and do things that aren’t typically associated with their “type”—it just requires a bit more effort. Understanding this made me realize that people shouldn’t be defined by their personality type, as they so often dismissively are. And more importantly, people seriously shouldn’t define themselves this way. It’s good to know where your energy comes from in order to better take care of yourself, but you shouldn’t let it prevent you from doing everything else that you can be doing—just because the stereotypes say people like you won’t like it.
I didn’t move straight from China to Canada. In between, I spent three years (junior/senior kindergarten and grade 1) in the lush paradise called Singapore—what I’d like to remember as the “golden years” of my childhood. Believe it or not, during those early years I was vibrantly expressive and outgoing, always eager to be with people and make exciting new memories. I was astoundingly articulate in Chinese back then, and was a natural leader in school, extra-curriculars and during (highly complex and imaginative) playtime with friends. I was, at that time, every bit an extroverted child.
So what happened when I suddenly moved here? Even now I’m still not too sure myself. I don’t believe that culture shock could turn a person’s whole temperament around, but I think it’s possible that certain (perhaps traumatic) social triggers can shut down someone’s extroverted tendencies and turn on his or her previously dormant introverted ones. For the next eight or so years I roamed the earth as a self-proclaimed “introvert”, unable to put in to words the strange feelings of suffocation and restlessness during long periods of self-afflicted solitude. What I’ve finally begun to realize is that what I am may be neither of the two opposites—that I may very likely have been an ambivert all along.
The “ambidextrous” category of personality types, ambiverts (as the first half of the name suggests) exhibit both introverted and extroverted tendencies equally (Cooper). These people generally enjoy socializing and being around lots of people, but after a considerably long time this will start to drain them. They also enjoy solitude and quiet, but not too much of it. Ambiverts actually replenish their energy levels with a mixture of alone time and social interaction. Wow. That all sounds so convenient, doesn’t it. . .until you realize that as far as misunderstandings go, ambiverts consequently have it the hardest. However, as I learn more and more about myself and the people around me, I can better take care of myself, and therefore better take care of the people around me. As an ambivert, I was born with a foot in both worlds—and even though it’s hard to keep my balance, it seems that I am best positioned to be a bridge builder, to help slowly mend the gap between wonderful, misunderstood introverts and extroverts.
Like most other relational issues, the best place to start is better communication. To all introverts: take a chance and speak out about your needs to your extroverted loved ones. Trust me, they want to know. Prioritize your limited social energy on spending quality time with the people most important to you. Allow your extroverted friends to talk things out and explore options. Compliment them in the company of people, accept and encourage their enthusiasm, and let them shine. Most importantly, make time for yourself to recharge, recharge, recharge—so you have the social energy to do all those things. And extroverts: respect your introverted loved ones’ need for privacy. Never ever embarrass them in public, and try not to push them to make as many friends as you do. Give them time and space to think, and allow them to speak in their own time. Understand that just because they’re not down to hang out Friday night doesn’t mean they don’t want to see you on Saturday. And perhaps most importantly, don’t try to turn them in to extroverts if they’re really not (Ravenscraft). These are just a few things everyone can do for each other for starters; it will take a genuine willingness to accept and embrace, for both sides to meet halfway—in the best way.
When it comes to the introversion-extroversion spectrum, no temperament or personality is better or more ideal than the other. We’re all just different. There’s so much that flourishing introverts have to offer to the world: science, art, music, film, poetry, mathematics, literature, medicine, philosophy, and so much more. Likewise for flourishing extroverts and ambiverts, just perhaps in wonderfully different ways. Right now the North-American society is an extrovert-dominant society, but that doesn’t mean introverts or ambiverts should be less valued or recognized, just because they may be quieter on the outside. Everyone deserves respect for their natural temperament and their contributions to the world. Think of introversion, ambiversion and extroversion as pieces of a puzzle; when rotated and positioned carefully, each piece is designed to fit perfectly with the others to create something amazing and completely new. If introverts, ambiverts and extroverts embrace each other’s uniqueness and put their natural talents to work together for a cause greater than themselves, we can create a kind of synergy that will undoubtedly rock the world.
Cooper, Belle Beth. ‘22 Tips To Better Care for Introverts and Extroverts’. buffersocial. Buffer, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.
Ravenscraft, Eric. ‘How Introverts and Extroverts Can Peacefully Coexist’. lifehacker. Kinja, 2 July 2013. Web.10 Feb. 2015.