Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
An introvert is somebody who feels recharged and replenished after spending time by themselves in their interior world.
An extrovert is somebody who feels recharged and replenished after spending time with other people socialising in the external world.
Those are the modern definitions anyway. The terms originally came from the psychoanalyst Carl Jung and have been used in a variety of different ways. Not everyone agrees with them. The thing about those definitions, though, is that they have recently been backed up, more and more, by neuroscience. Scientists can actually map how introverts’ and extroverts’ brains process information differently and handle the neurotransmitter dopamine in distinct ways (google it).
Anecdotal evidence and personal experience also support the definitions. I myself am an off-the-scale introvert. When I am really tired and worn out, I feel refreshed by spending time by myself, usually creating things, reading or just thinking. Other people I know feel refreshed by hanging out with other people. It’s not that I don’t like hanging out with other people, I love it, it’s just that it ‘takes’ energy from me, rather than ‘giving’ me energy. I have a small number of friends who know me extremely well, rather than lots and lots of friends.
Thinking about this lately, I’ve wondered: What’s a good way to think about introversion and extroversion?
As usual, as a Christian when I’m trying to make sense of an issue, I look at Jesus and try to see how he handled or would have handled it.
Was Jesus an introvert or an extrovert? If you look at his life, he seemed to be really good at BOTH taking time out to be by himself AND spending time with other people socialising and interacting.
He regularly “got up very early and went off by himself to pray” (Mark 1:25) and “withdrew to lonely places” (Luke 5:16). But at the same time, he had twelve friends who went with him everywhere, three of whom were extremely close to him, not to mention the seventy-two other followers and the crowds of people that came to listen and speak to him. He was always crashing people’s houses, stopping to chat to people in the street, and being the centre of attention at parties (you can see these things all through the gospels).
I would personally conclude then from the example of Jesus that the best way to go about life is to aim to be really good at spending time by oneself (and with God, for we can never really be truly alone), but also to be equally good, with the rest of one’s time, at spending time with other people. Balance is key.
This reminds me of something my wife told me that the 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whom she is studying for a PhD) said in a book called Life Together: Paraphrased, if you are naturally introverted, you should regularly push yourself outward in the opposite direction by making sure that you spend time with other people; and if you are naturally extroverted, you should regularly push yourself inward in the opposite direction by making sure that you spend time by yourself (and with God). For balance.
At the same time, I would say, and I think Bonhoeffer would say, that it’s important to acknowledge our own personality trait (whether its inherent intro/extroversion is part of fallen human nature or a unique redeemed human characteristic) and give ourselves grace: it’s important to make sure also that we have regular time by ourselves, or with other people, depending on how we feel replenished.
Right now, I’m trying to work out how to survive as an introvert teacher, in a job which involves being constantly immersed in people. So far, I think it’s going to look something like taking regular breaks out to read or create things (like little blog posts) instead of feeling pressured to hang out in the staff-room every break time; accepting that I thrive in small tutorial settings and can only take a certain amount of loud, chaotic large class teaching at a time before I need one of those breaks; and being well-boundaried with not taking on too many extra-curricular, interaction based activities. I’ll let you know how it goes.