Personality. Are we born with it? Does it develop over time? I’m going to take the middle road and say, yes and yes. Most people, these days, are familiar with the Jungian concept, popularized by the Myer’s Briggs test, of introversion and extroversion Those two terms are used widely. Stereotypically, the introvert is quiet and likes to stay home and the extrovert talks a lot and likes to go out. Despite the familiarity of these terms, the nuances of these ‘types’ can be misunderstood in the context of a relationships.
One of the core components of introversion and extroversion, according to Myers Briggs, has to do with the way one processes problems. An introvert may prefer to process internally and then share their conclusion after they’ve reached it. This can be confusing to others, particularly if the introvert’s conclusion is based, not only on the contents of the conversation with their partner but also from ideas generated on their own after the discussion ended… confusing??
Here’s an example:
George is an introvert. He and his partner Lillian were discussing installing sliding doors out to their patio. George went away to think about it. In the process of his thinking, he was imagining opening the patio doors to go out and BBQ on the deck. He started thinking about the BBQ and about the fact that it is old and might need replacing. He then went online to see if it could be fixed and discovered that it couldn’t. George seeing a flyer about a sale on BBQ’s and decided to go check this out. George wasn’t sure where Lillian was at that moment, so he mumbled to his son that he had to run to the store, while walking out the door. George came home some time later, with a new BBQ. Lillian was shocked, and and a bit angry about this seemingly impulsive purchase on George’s part stating, “We had been saving that money for a sliding patio door, we never talked about a BBQ!” George was sure that they had talked about it. His mental conversations felt as real as his conversations with Lillian and so he’d failed to notice that none of this had actually happened out loud and was surprised by Lillian’s confusion.
Thats a bit of an extreme case, but not out of the realm of reality for an introvert.
If George were an extreme extrovert, this interaction may look like this..
If George and Lillian might be talking about putting in a sliding door out to their patio. George then talks about how much he was looking forward to going out on the patio to BBQ once the door was in. George continues talking, noting the current state of the BBQ and, at this point, if Lillian is busy, extremely uninterested in BBQ’s, or just tired, she might start losing focus on the details of George’s soliloquy. George wonders if the BBQ could be fixed and what it would cost or, if they should just get a new one. George then asks, “Wasn’t there a flyer about a sale on BBQ’s in the mail this week? Maybe I should go check it out.” By this time, as George seemed to be mostly “talking to himself, or thinking out loud,” as far as Lillian was concerned, she has wandered off to the basement to check on the laundry. George calls down the stairs, “I’m going to head out.” Lillian hear’s George call down and is vaguely aware of the car starting in the driveway, thinking that he must be heading off to a meeting he’d mentioned earlier in the day. When George returns later with a BBQ, Lillian is shocked and frustrated that George went ahead and made this impulsive purchase without consulting her.
Does any of this sound familiar? Of course these situations can happen when both partners are introverts or both are extroverts.
However, In relationships, if you are aware of your own personality preferences and that of your partners,’ it can help to mitigate misunderstandings.
- The person who does a more of the external processing might need to work at asking questions of their partner and listening for their response.
- The person who prefers introversion might need to be conscious of what parts of their process they have or have not spoken aloud to their partner to ensure that you are sharing the parts of the process that will impact both of you (for example anything that will significantly impact the other persons’ schedule or bank account).
Another core component of introversion and extroversion is the question of where one gets energy. This can be misleading if one assumes that extroverts always want to be around people and introverts never do. Where one is on the spectrum of introversion and extroversion, along with one’s life circumstances will influence this.
As an introvert, living in a remote Northern community, I spent 8-10 hours a day alone for the first few months while my new husband worked at his first teaching job. It wasn’t long before I began to feel seriously lonely and even depressed. I craved the company of others. I had too much alone time.
An extrovert I know loves to spend time with people, but is also a morning person. By 9:30pm they are zoning out, and look, for all intents and purposes, like an extreme introvert, usually excusing themselves to go to bed.
If one person in the relationship has a higher level of social need than the other…
- it might be important to set aside which days are ‘going out’ days for one, or both of you, and which are staying home days.
- Also, consider how often to allow “spur of the moment’ events to take over evenings and weekends.This balance can be particularly difficult when there are young children. This is a time that many people find talking to a counsellor can be helpful.
Like every area of life, mental health will influence the way one’s personality plays out. If you have a high level of social anxiety, you may avoid social situations finding it too painful due to anxious thoughts and sensations that accompany those situations, despite your extroverted preferences.
If you are anxious and introverted, you might attribute the distress felt in a social situation to your personality.
If the time you are spending alone is feeling lonely or like too much, despite your introverted status, but you fear the exhaustion or anxiety of connecting with others, then there’s a problem. This is an internal process but also requires some outside considerations.
- Are you managing your daily life?
- What is happening in your relationships?
- How much distress are you feeling on a day to day basis?
If there are problems in these areas due to what you perceive as your introversion, then there could be more going on than just personality and it might be worth talking to a counsellor.
Someone who appears to have high extroversion tendencies, may be an extrovert, but may also be using their socialization to avoid things that they are anxious about.
If you are never home or dread the thought of being alone, you might want to check if something else is going on.
- Are you avoiding issues in your relationships or in your life, with your busy social life?
- Are there things about yourself or your history that you feel like you cannot face?
- How is your sleep? Are you using a lot of sleep aids?
- When in social situations are you talking more than you want to because you’re anxious?
Again, you might want to talk to a counsellor if these feelings or fears are becoming unmanageable.
Diversity in character is a beautiful thing. Knowing oneself and one’s strengths can be a great contributor to your own wellbeing and to your relationships. There is no ‘right way’ to be. Get curious about yourself and others around you without judging. This can only add to the goodness of life.
For more reading on relationships, check out 10 Habits of Highly Successful Couples
Also check out Staying Together, after Kids
And also How to Start a Good Fight