It’s Friday night. It’s been a long, difficult week. Some of your friends have organised a group social function for the evening. Which one of these reactions reminds you of yourself?
“Oh I’m so excited!! Can’t wait! A party! That’s just what I need!!”
“Can’t go. I just need to go home and relax”
Delving shamelessly further into the world of stereotypes…I posit that if you identify more closely with the big smiley face chances are that people have told you that you are extraverted, loud, often the centre of attention, a bit of a showoff….or fun, outgoing and chatty. People have also probably observed that you have 1024 friends on Facebook.
If, on the other hand, you completely related to the importance of sitting at home by yourself on Friday night then I suggest people may have used words like introverted, shy, quiet, anti-social… or thoughtful, private and observant to describe you.
How am I going? Recognising yourself …or someone else perhaps?
Some of these behaviours and observations point toward the world of personality types and differences…specifically the personality dispositions termed Extraversion and Introversion by psychologist Carl Yung. Firstly, though, I want to clear up the slight social misconception that being extraverted or introverted means being either loud or quiet. You might be…but that is not the full story….
In psychology introversion and extraversion actually refers to what energises you or where you put your attention. Introverts are people who get energized by the internal world of ideas and images in their own mind. This is often achieved through time alone or with one significant other in order to reflect and process. They can become drained by too much social interaction. Extroverts are people who get energised by the social external world of people and things. This is often acquired through social interaction and activities and expressive communication with others. They can become depleted when they spend too much time by themselves or are prevented from social company.
A good way to understand the basic cycle experienced by introverts and extraverts is to imagine a good old fashioned hourglass…(refer to picture below;))
Now imagine that the sand is your energy source.
….imagine you are an Extrovert. You have become empty of energy because you have been by yourself. You feel flat and unenthused…so you surround yourself with people and activities. Now…imaginatively turn the hourglass over and start letting the energy sand flow through and fill up the base …. The sand grains filling the base represent a gradual build up of energy derived from company, social activities, talking and being in groups. You feel terrific and full. You are at your best.
Now imagine you are an Introvert. You feel full, refreshed and energised after spending time reflecting on ideas, processing and being alone. Hence the base of the hour glass is full of sand…now turn the hourglass over. The sand grains slip through and represent a gradual depletion of energy due to being in company, attending social functions, being in groups and having conversations. You start to feel depleted of energy…and need time to process and reflect in solitude.
The reason why introverts and extraverts seek different ways to energise was hypothesized by Psychologist Hans Eysenck in 1967 as being because they have different levels of arousal or activation in their brains, specifically the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS). Basically, Eysenck’s theory suggests that introverts have generally higher levels of resting activity in the ARAS than extraverts. This leads introverts toward inhibitive behaviours that tend to decrease excessive external stimulation, whilst extraverts tend to show more impulsive behaviours and seek social experiences to increase the activation in the ARAS.
So, basically, its ok to need company and its ok to need solitude. It is just the way our brains are. Everyone needs solitude sometimes and everyone needs social company. You may simply need more of one of them to recharge your batteries:)
It can be tricky negotiating the differing energy needs of extraverted and introverted people in relationships, workplaces and family groups. Sometimes a little understanding of the qualities behind the differences can go a long way.
So here’s some tips…
For Extroverts dealing with Introverts:
…understand that introverts have a lot going on beneath the surface. They have a lot to offer. Don’t underestimate them:)
For Introverts dealing with Extraverts:
…understand that extraverts have immense social skills and the capacity to bring people together. Don’t judge them:)
Phew we got past the ‘Dont’s’. Think its time for some ‘Do’s.
This is how to ‘love’ your extravert or introvert…
Affirm them publicly.
Let them try new things.
Talk things out with them.
Encourage their contributions.
Give them time to think.
Allow them privacy and space.
Let them observe new things first.
Encourage their perception.
The world needs us both. Understanding and accommodating the differences where possible is the key.
OK…introverts…sit and ponder this quietly for a few minutes….and feel validated.
Extraverts…………extraverts….??? um…where did they go?? At a guess… I’d say probably already chatting with friends about how excited they are to be extraverts;)
Written by Shannon Gostelow
For an online personality test go to
For further reading
Bullock, W. A., & Gilliland, K. (1993). Eysenck’s arousal theory of introversion-extraversion: a converging measures investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(1), pp. 113-123.