introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between

Introverts have been getting a lot of attention lately. As an introvert myself, I’m not sure whether to jump for joy or go crawl in a cave till the spotlight shuts off.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m not one of those people–you know, the kind who stand solemnly by the door at parties while they wait for their prison sentence to end, dreaming of going home to tea and cats and a half-finished quilt.

But that’s the “introvert” stereotype, isn’t it? Nerdy and shy and downright antisocial. In a world where extroverts outnumber–or at least outtalk–their quieter peers, being introverted has become somewhat akin to being diseased.

In the past few weeks, though, the Internet has gone wild with all things introversion. Some of it’s self-deprecating–one post claims that an introvert’s inner monologue is “I hate everyone”–but a lot of the buzz is much more positive than that. It’s as though the world is finally realizing how misunderstood introverts are–and is trying to compensate with some pretty extravagant flattery. Of course, part of me loves this sudden praise, but part of me feels that all of this has gotten slightly out of hand.

a1f0d03234a80a877696f5ff04d41611For instance, when I came across the Huffington Post article “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert,” I was thrilled that some of my own idiosyncrasies were actually being recognized as valid–and even valuable–character traits. I saw myself in so many of the signs–I like my space (#9); I’m attracted to extroverts (#11); I hate hearing my phone ring (#14); and I often sound better on paper than in person (#22). Also, since I’ve never identified with the “loner” label that’s slapped on introverts, I loved that the article showed such a broad view of the personality, going past–and even negating–the idea that introverts are simply socially awkward people.

In fact, according to the article (I’m reading between the lines here), introverts are exceptionally wise, creative, and masterful at their craft, while extroverts are superficial, insincere, and merely average across the board.

Suddenly, being “awkward” doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Of course, the extroverts aren’t keeping quiet about all this. There’s a hilarious post on Gawker that reminds the world of why it’s run, largely, by extroverts (among the reasons: they “speak at a volume perceivable by humans”).

Still, however facetious or well-meaning these articles are, I can’t help but find them pretty polarizing. They imply that we’re all either one personality or the other; either we think or we talk, we do or we be. They create a chasm that, for the most part, we can’t cross.

This is frustrating for me because I tend to find myself tugged between two extremes. I’m not overly loud or quiet, outgoing or closed off–I just am. When I took a personality test for a class in high school, I scored exactly 25% in each of the four categories. I felt so lost as the teacher divided us into groups based on our personality types; when I asked him what to do, he told me to “just pick one,” and I spent the rest of the period pretending to fit in with people I couldn’t completely connect with.

Since then, I’ve developed a much stronger sense of identity–I know now that, when it comes down to it, I’m an introvert at heart. But I’m still told regularly that I’m hard to read. And I’m not quite sure what to make of that.

I recently wrote an essay that grapples with this idea of being in the middle of things. At one point, I likened my mind to a thick fog that enveloped my car on an early morning drive:

I picture the climate of my mind to look like this—murky, mystical, a blending of the light and dark into something like smoke. Sometimes I feel I inhabit the stretch between two worlds, like I’m suspended in space, still figuring out where to land. While all around me people are stepping through doors and shutting them tight, I am stuck in the entryway, straddling the threshold, my hand on the doorknob, stiff.

All my life, I’ve been dwelling in the in-between.

My personality, I’ve learned, is neither black nor white. My soul is not black or white. My soul is smeared with color, splattered with dye, an original work of art by the original Artist–a work he lets me paint on myself, a work absolutely in progress. I find it beautiful that I both was created and am being created. The ever-changing nature of my life means that it cannot be funneled down to a definition, a scientific classification. I am more than my personality type.

Introvert, extrovert–sometimes I think these are just titles we give ourselves so we don’t have to get into the messy, intricate heart of who we really are. It’s easy to blame our behavior on our personality type, especially when everyone else is doing the same thing–even we introverts like to know we’re not alone. But sometimes I wish we could honor the in-between too, that mysterious middle ground where, I’d guess, most of us generally hover.

Don’t get me wrong–I love this new conversation about the power of personality. I think it’s crucial to understand the basic differences between people, the two main wells (community and solitude) where energy can be drawn. I just think that the issue is more complex than we’re letting on. I believe God put more effort into the sculpting of our spirits than the simple tossing of a coin.

Favim.com-1367As I write this, seated at a counter facing a bustling downtown street in South Dakota, I’m distracted by what Nick Carraway calls “the inexhaustible variety of life.” This isn’t New York–far from it–but this little city contains its own characters, with their own conflicts–an ocean of emotion surging within each one. Each person passing by gives me a fleeting glimpse into his soul: the sweaty, shirtless biker who winks while sweeping past; the girl hurrying to her car, headphones stiff as a helmet; the old man stepping off the trolley, nothing in his hands but a wave for the driver.

There is a great wealth of humanity here. Each person has a story to be told, a heart to be heard. We’re all layered like onions, waiting to be stripped down to our cores, our smallest, truest selves.

We are more dimensional than we seem.

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4 thoughts on “introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between

  1. “Introvert, extrovert–sometimes I think these are just titles we give ourselves so we don’t have to get into the messy, intricate heart of who we really are. It’s easy to blame our behavior on our personality type, especially when everyone else is doing the same thing–even we introverts like to know we’re not alone. But sometimes I wish we could honor the in-between too, that mysterious middle ground where, I’d guess, most of us generally hover”

    Thank you for this portion, especially.
    I comment for the sake of its truthfulness, because these are whispers of my own wishes for how we would seek to know each other. Most pointedly, that we would be willing to, as you wrote, “honor the in-between.” To, perhaps, live our characters as selves-in-tension, so beautifully complex in being allowed to show both the subdued and the exuberant, instead of pushed to one side of the spectrum and stamped “there” for the entirety of our story.

    I can’t help but ponder if Jesus felt in any way at home with this description of “in-between,” as he experienced life on this earth as both human and divine. Being fully both man and God at all moments, but at times being misunderstood and mistrusted by both strangers and friends not willing to release trust to the mystery of both/and; rather than clinging to the ease of either/or.

    Food for thought.
    Beautiful writing. Thank you.

    • Sarah, thank you so much for commenting. I absolutely love what you said about Jesus understanding the feeling of being in between–it’s true, he is enigmatic not only in personality (as the Bible shows he longed for both community and solitude) but also in his pure existence. I think it’s important for all of us to, as you said, “trust the mystery of both/and, rather than clinging to the ease of either/or”–such a beautiful way to put it. Thanks again, Sarah–hope you’re doing well!

  2. Pingback: when the spotlight shuts off | schock therapy

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