For a long time, I had my ideas about extroverts and introverts. I thought extroversion and introversion were related to how outgoing someone is: extroverts are outgoing and free-spirited, while introverts are careful and observant.
After exploring the two terms, I was fascinated by what I had learned: my ideas about this topic were way off. It turns out, the two terms have a more complex and profound meaning than I initially realized. By understanding the complexity of introversion and extroversion, we can gain valuable insights that have the potential to bring about radical transformation in relationships.
Where it started.
The terms introvert and extrovert were popularized in the early 20th century by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who founded analytical psychology. Overtime, these terms became unclear and we, as a society, began categorizing people solely by the extremes of the scales. Individuals were either labeled as introverts or extroverts, not both. However, Jung suggested that introversion and extroversion were extremes of the scales, and instead, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. He believed, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert.”.
In reality, none of us are purely one or the other as our behavior would never be solely on one side of the scale. Rather, we are more likely to be somewhere in the middle, moving up and down from moment to moment. Movement depends on both external and internal factors. Most people exhibit characteristics of both introversion and extroversion, however, they may fall on one side of the scale more than the other.
Introverts and Extroverts are uniquely wired.
The main difference between the brain of an introvert versus an extrovert is the way it reacts to the neurotransmitter dopamine, a feel-good chemical released by the brain. A study found that the brain of the extrovert releases more of the feel-good dopamine in response to rewards like food, sex, social interaction and earning money. Extroverts build strong positive memories surrounding the activity. In comparison, introverts receive less of a dopamine boost, and therefore, are less likely to associate the activity with reward. In other words, each process the same experience in different ways. Extroverts view interacting with the outside world as much more worthwhile than introverts do.[i]
With that said, when you and your loved ones have conflicting desires, don’t write them off. Instead, be mindful that extroversion and introversion are simply not preferences but instead actually reflect the influence of nature and nurture.
Which is better?
Until recently, our society always viewed the extrovert as the clear winner, demonstrating qualities of assertiveness, competitiveness, and sociability. Within the last few years, however, research has found the introverts are among the most powerful and productive members in society. This is because society has traditionally undervalued their concentration, cooperativeness, and leadership ability for far too long.[ii]
Therefore, as much as you may want fix or change your introvert or extrovert, you will be better off recognizing that they are complementary to your life. Although it may seem counter-intuitive for these two personality types to get along, each of their lives will be unbalanced in one direction or the other. Each carries its own set of risks; two extroverts run the risk of burning out without sufficient down-time for rest and relaxation, overloading their system, and amplifying the stress levels in their lives. Conversely, two introverts run the risk of insufficient stimulation and inadequate external input, causing the relationship to flatline.
Mutual understanding begins with a commitment to caring and respecting each other’s uniqueness. Remember, introverts and extroverts have different needs. Extroverts positively react to social interaction more quickly, compared to introverts, who need quiet time to recharge.
When introverts do not respond the same way to situations or opportunities as extroverts, it can creae conflict. The key to getting along, however, is communication!
- Know how your partner recharges: introverts get their energy from being alone, while extroverts get their energy from being around others.
- Pick your moment: For extroverts, allow plenty of time and energy to talk things through. For introverts, allow some time to process and think things through. Planning time for a conversation will allow an extrovert to feel that they are getting the time they need, while simultaneously allowing the introvert to think things through.
- Don’t take it personally: your partner is independent of you; when you need to talk, and they want to be quiet, it is simply a way to recharge and get energy. Be mindful that your way is not the best and neither is theirs – it’s simply a different way.
- Compromise on style: The introvert has to talk about things before they get time to process; the extrovert has to give their partner some space when they want to be together. To strike a 50/50 balance can difficult. Instead, a reasonable goal is to lean a bit one way or the other on an alternating basis. For example, the extrovert allows the introvert time to rest and relax before a social event, and the introvert stays at the event an hour longer, so their partner can be more social. The key is understanding what your partner needs to function at their best. Keep in mind, it doesn’t take much to reach a small compromise, but know that a thoughtful favor on your part will reap huge dividends, not only for your partner, but also for your relationship.
- Appreciate your partner’s Influence: In an introvert-extrovert relationship, one influences the other and vice-versa. Take time to recognize their influence and how it makes you a better person. They may draw you into social situations more than you like, but it provides you an opportunity to meet more people and potentially develop great friendships. While they may be quieter, you benefit from their keen insights into challenging situations. Different is good: the key is understanding and appreciating how your differences add a richness to your life that you don’t have on your own.
Rather than working to change the other person, it is important to recognize how they are changing you, by simply being part of your life. Once you understand where your partner is coming from, you can effortlessly navigate all types of situations together.
[i]Booker, Karene. “Extroverts Have More Sensitive Brain-Reward System.” Cornell Chronicle, 10 July 2013, news.cornell.edu/stories/2013/07/brain-chemistry-plays-role-extroverts.
[ii]”When Introverts and Extroverts Attract.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 Apr. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201504/when-introverts-and-extroverts-attract.