I’m not stuck up. I’m not mad. I don’t have indigestion. I’m just an introvert, or so I thought. I didn’t always think I was an introvert. In fact, for many years, I kind of assumed I was an extrovert. I was confronted with the truth many years ago when I worked as a morning show host at a Christian radio station in New Orleans. It was a pretty sweet gig. I just had to be myself. As a bonus, I got to drink coffee and eat apple fritters from 5-9 AM.
One particular day, our station consultant, Tom, and I were talking. I remember saying something like, “I work in radio because I love engaging with people!” He looked shocked and said, “uhhh, no, you’re a classic introvert who prefers to hide behind a microphone.” His words hit home and something clicked.
In was Carl Jung, who in the 1920s, performed research on personality and developed the terms “introverted” and “extroverted.” According to Jung, extroverted people seek and thrive on social interactions and are generally outspoken and outgoing. In contrast, introverts tend to be quiet and reflective. They find social interactions draining and need alone time to recharge their batteries. Jung’s work is still popular and used in a number of personality tests including Myers-Briggs and Big Five Aspects Scales.
Tom’s revelation caused me some major introspection. My mind traveled back in time. I was always the shy guy in school. I desperately wanted to fit in with the cool kids but seemed to lack the proper social and communication skills. I felt a little awkward in social settings and was not the best conversationalist beyond a quick remark about the weather. Honestly, I just never had anything to say. After this interaction with Tom, I concluded, “I’m an introvert!” It was somewhat exciting and freeing. I was home.
As time went on, I felt uncomfortable with the label of introvert. For one reason, I just hate labels and the belief that we can cram our personalities into a neat, little box. Another reason was, being an introvert just didn’t seem to fit me all the time. True, there are times when I prefer little to no social interaction. In fact, there are days when I could sit at my computer and would be fine if someone simply shoved coffee and pizza through the doggie door at regular intervals.
But, on the other side, I love to listen to people’s stories and learning new things. I really enjoy being with people—just not everyone all at the same time. I prefer my relationships to be deep rather than wide.
Researchers have come up with a third term for people like me: ambiverts. About 68-percent of the population fall into this category. When I first heard the term, I determined, “That’s me with the latest upgrade! I’m kind of like an introvert 2.0!
But my ambiversion still needed revision. What bothered me was that some of the research suggested that ambiverts operate as both introverts and extroverts but choose one or the other depending on the occasion.
But then a little light went on. I remembered a communication term known as “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” In short, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy suggests that, at times, we might think something will happen and then act in such a way as to actually cause it to happen. For example, if you believe, “nobody in the office likes me” you have a belief system. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy suggests that your belief could cause you to act differently around your coworkers. For example, you may avoid your coworkers, refuse to make eye contact, use body language that suggests you are closed off to them, or walk around with an angry scowl. Then, at the end of the day, when no one is nice to you, you say, “see, I knew no one in the office liked me.” And yet, the reason they did not like you was because they assumed you did not like them first.
Could it be that ambiverts are the same way and simply adjust to the social challenges set before them? I began to dig deeper and stumbled upon a 2017 article in Psychology Today by Caroline Beaton. She wrote, “Research shows that we feel how we act (when we smile, we feel happier) and we act how we believe (if we believe we’re introverted, we act that way).” The gist of the article was that introversion and extroversion are a myth. She concluded, “Hopefully continued research on ambiversion and situational personality can shed light on what introversion and extraversion really are: self-limiting beliefs.” I found her comments interesting and insightful.
Now, to be honest, as much as I appreciated her article, I’m not in the camp that suggests we get rid of the terms introvert and extrovert. In fact, a great deal of research has shown that it is a “thing.” But, maybe it is also true that I don’t need to be limited by a psychological label. Maybe, a great deal of who I am is who I choose to be.
To be sure, my innate nature is to be quiet and shy and I struggle in social settings. In addition, I do, at times, prefer, if not need, to be alone. However, I can also choose not to be a prisoner of a predetermined list of behaviors assigned to a particular label. I can choose, if not create, my own path.
I may not always remember that. So, if you happen to see me at a social gathering, don’t think me to be rude or conceited or feel the urge to offer me a Tums. Instead, invite yourself into my “personal zone” (2-5 feet) and engage me in conversation. But, don’t be surprised if I say, “terrible weather we’re having” and invite you to tell me your story.