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  • Fe Robinson

Do you label yourself?

I’ve heard more than one person delight in the reduction of social contact in recent months on the basis that they are an introvert, and that therefore reduced interactions suit them.

This had me pondering the meaning of introversion and extraversion, and the way we use these terms in common language. Often introversion is thought of as shyness (a fear of social judgement and humiliation) and extraversion as being gregarious, and often the two are thought of as either/ors.

The terms were originally developed by Carl Jung, and his focus was on what energises an individual. His concept was that introversion is an interest in our own mental state, and that this is demonstrated in a preference for solitary pursuits, and time on our own. Extraversion he saw as being energised by interactions with others, shown in a preference for being with other people.

I found a third descriptor on wikipedia, which I found useful, an ambivert. An ambivert is moderately comfortable with groups and social interaction, but also relishes time alone, away from a crowd. In simpler words, an ambivert is a person whose behaviour changes according to the situation they are in. In the face of authority or in the presence of strangers, the person may be introverted. However, in the presence of family or close friends, the person may be highly energetic or extraverted.

What’s important to notice is that these are preferences, they are not things on which we insist. Since Jung’s day we have come to see a continuum from introversion to extraversion with each of us having a mix of both. We also know that these factors are context specific - for example someone may be energised by being with a much loved group of well-known friends, but find it draining to attend a conference with lots of new people. Someone else may love alone time on an evening, but find it hard to be without social stimulation through their working day.

So next time you hear yourself applying a label to your personality, perhaps take some time to consider what shows up in you when, and to mindfully make sure that you spend enough time working with your preference to keep yourself energised, and enough time stretching your capabilities to maximise your flexibility (and therefore wellbeing and influence) by expanding your comfort zone gently.

Labels can hem us in and reduce our flexibility. We are so much more than any simple definition, exploring our subtleties and complexity can be a journey of discovery, and even of delight.


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