The Misunderstandings of Extraversion

Being an extravert, I believe, means you are someone who generally seems to gain energy from being with people and socialising. This is in contrast to being an introvert who generally seems to lose energy from being around people, and will later need some time alone to recharge.

With internships asking for students to be a people person, socialising often a big part of forming relationships, and classes at school rewarding participation, the real world is a place where extraverts can thrive. Interaction with people regularly occurs and is praised throughout life; I recognise the privilege of being an extravert.

On certain social media platforms, I have come across the romanticising of introversion and the characterisation of extraverts as attention seeking, inconsiderate, and sometimes just obnoxious. Just when I typed “introvert and extravert” into Google, a flurry of book recommendations all focused on introverts appeared. The books had titles: Quiet: The Power of Introversion, The Introvert Advantage, Quiet Power, The Secret Strengths of Introverts etc. When I typed “extravert quotes”, most of the quotes were just explaining the difference between the two, giving a pitiful description of life as an introvert, and some were from the books I came across earlier. This included, what I believe to be, a controversial quote from Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking:

“Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating. Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”

I’ll leave you to decide for yourself if this is an accurate characterisation of the two.

Looking up “introvert quotes” introduced me to quotes from famous people talking about introversion and poetic lines on the joy of solitude; all generally positive messages. It was an example of ownership people are taking in their introversion by highlighting what their strengths are. It was a lovely thing to see. However, with pride in introversion, some have begun to put down extraversion in the process.

Of course, introverts are misunderstood in western society, but extraverts are certainly misunderstood themselves in some aspects. There are many ideas about extraverts which are simply not true. For example, many think extraverts find it easy to make friends. I admit that it is nice to enter a social situation knowing I probably won’t feel exhausted afterwards, but gained energy from socialising does not remove fear of rejection. In my first year at university, I was in a strange loop of attending lots of different events and talking to many people, but then never seeing any of them again. Why? Because I was scared of asking if they wanted to meet up later or go together. Even asking them for their social media accounts terrified me.

Generally, there is this idea that extraverts are very confident people, but that is also not true. Many extraverts can find interacting with people fairly easy, but feel insecure inside. I can’t count how many times I have spoken to someone, just from being instinctively being drawn to people, while thinking in the back of my mind: “These people are just pretending to enjoy your company”. I am sure many introverts have had similar thoughts, and they do not disappear with extraversion. This draws on to my next point, that extraverts are aware of other people’s desire for solitude, and they do fear disrespecting people’s spaces. The idea that extraverts do not care if others do not want to socialise is not true. Many of my more introverted friends will occasionally do their own thing so they get to “recharge”, and as much as I desire being with them, I know to respect their need for some space. Obviously, we know we are not entitled to anyone’s time.

This can be a bit of a curse for the extravert though. If we gain energy from being with people, it can mean we do not do well in isolation. I have days where I felt drowsy and out of focus all day only to realise in the late afternoon that I had not spoken to anyone all day. It is pretty common to spend the day alone in the world of university where everyone has their own schedules. This dependency we have on other people can be frustrating when others needs need their solitude.

Of course, we do not want be with people just to talk at them, extraverts also love to listen to other people. We love to “bounce off” people, meaning hearing what they have to say or at least experience some engagement is a big part of interacting with them. This hopefully debunks the claim that extraverts are poor listeners.

When I make all these claims, I am not saying that there is no such thing as extraverts who are terrible listeners and rather obnoxious, (I have met my fair share and I find them unbearable too), but that being an extravert does not imply that you have these bad traits. In the same way that not all introverts are pretentious and cold individuals, not all extraverts are attention seeking people who love the sound of their own voice.

Also, I want to clarify that I recognise the complexity people. People are definitely far more than being introverted or extraverted. The groups themselves are not even that simple, with some introverts needing to socialise sometimes, extraverts occasionally needing to recharge, and some believing themselves to be somewhere in between.

I write all of this with intention of letting people understand, rather than setting ourselves apart from the other. We should aim to see the distinction between being an extravert or introvert and just being an arsehole. We should take ownership in who we are without adopting a major superiority complex. Both extraverts and introverts have their strengths, and I think we should celebrate all of them without putting the other down. People “function” in different ways, and when someone who differs in how they “function” to us is a part of our lives, we should do our best to respect them.