Have you ever reached a point of wondering, “Is who I’ve always thought I am who I really am?” That’s what I’ve been thinking about the last couple of weeks. I always considered myself to be very outgoing. Having a twin sister that I shared a room with, I was rarely alone. And I was fine with that. Team sports and clubs occupied my time during my teen and college years. The more friends, the better. I wanted to be at every sporting event, concert and party. I had FOMO before it was an acronym. Even for much of my adulthood, I have craved friendships and GNOs and activity. I longed to be the life of the party. The “fun” one. I wore the label EXTROVERT proudly. But over the last few years I have felt that changing…
Now, firmly entrenched in my 40’s, I find myself much more discerning about who I spend my time with. Large crowds don’t appeal to me much. I would often rather stay home and relax. I still enjoy intimate friendships and relations with family, but I prefer the time spent on them be quality and not quantity. In fact, “spending” my time is exactly how I view it. My time is a precious commodity and I sometimes weigh potential interactions in terms of how I want to “spend” what I have. Can I “afford” it- so to speak- or will it drain my coffers. I seek out encounters that will energize me for my daily tasks and fill me up to be able to pour into kingdom work.
On paper, the way I choose to fill my time makes perfect sense and seems wise to me. But it made me wonder, was I wrong about the orientation of my personality early in life? Or am I merely an extrovert who has gotten old and tired? OR is it possible to change what appears to be a God-given characteristic?
I decided to get some good working definitions to start my research, because although we tend to think “extrovert=outgoing” and “introvert=shy”, I know that there is a lot more to it. Merriam-webster.com offered a little insight. “Extroversion: the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” “Introversion: the act of directing one’s attention toward or getting gratification from one’s own interests, thoughts, and feelings.” So it’s about where we receive fulfillment. This didn’t clear much up for me since I currently crave both social interaction and alone time. So I searched for an online quiz that looked reputable to find out where I fall on this introversion/extroversion spectrum. Psychology Today says I sit smack in the middle of the two. A score of 49 to be exact – with 0 being complete introversion and 100 the most gregarious of extroverts. Here is what the report had to say:
According to your results you appear to be the type of person who enjoys socializing with both large and smaller, more intimate groups of people. You don’t mind being around big crowds, but that doesn’t mean you’ll want to crash every party you’re invited to. Having an active social life and extending your network of friends is relatively important to you, but it isn’t the most crucial thing. You’ve managed to strike a great balance between actively involving yourself in your larger social network, and spending some quality time with a few intimate friends. Although you may not always be the conversation-starter or the “life of the party”, you are generally a very outgoing individual, whether among friends or people you are less familiar with.
This sounds pretty accurate to my present leanings, so does that mean that as a youngster I was trying to be something I wasn’t? Or that I’ve changed? Research yields many differing opinions from people with impressive credentials. Only God may know, but I found a few things that seem to fit my situation and may be interesting to others – maybe especially so to special needs parents. Although many believe that something as innate as introversion/ extroversion cannot be changed, Dr. Richard J. Davidson disputes this in The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How It’s Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Live – and How You Can Change Them, a book he wrote with Sharon Begley. What I found particularly interesting, was his belief that an extrovert can become introverted after experiencing traumatic events that can dramatically impact personalities and correlating brain activity. One example he sited was a small boy who was the most outgoing and biggest introvert in the study who later returned as a sedate introvert. During the time he was gone he witnessed his father’s slow demise from cancer. If this type of change is possible, I would think having a medically fragile, mentally disabled child would qualify as such an altering trauma.
Carl Jung, who was the first psychologist to name and explore these concepts, believed that over a person’s life span, extroversion and introversion tend to balance with healthy development. Scott James, a Meyers Briggs profiler, agrees that “as we get older we’ll naturally develop our non-dominant functions and become more well-rounded.” He doesn’t, however, believe this technically changes whether we are introverted or extroverted. Still other scientists view extroversion and introversion as a fixed part of someone’s brain physiology, which, like all biological variables, follows a “normal distribution”. Most people are near the average (that is definitely me), and extremes are rare. Just like height and weight. Those near the average might be called “ambiverts”.
The research I did was mostly to appease my own curiosity. I do think it is important for each of us to have a good understanding of where our tendencies fall. There is no right or wrong orientation, but knowing what energizes you and what drains you can help you navigate your personal relationships and protect your emotional health.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14