*Introverts have been practicing social distancing for years!
I am an Extroverted Introvert. Impossible, you may say, how can one claim to possess polar opposite qualities? Well, if we can be Passive Aggressive or Manic Depressive, then why can we also not be both Extroverted and Introverted? They are not mutually exclusive qualities.
We are conditioned to believe Extroverts are the happy and successful people in society. They conjure up images of always being surrounded by friends and family, gregariously shaking hands and kissing babies like a politician with whomever crosses their path, proactively closing deals at work, being the life of the party, etc. In capitalistic America, we are taught that to be outgoing with the power switch always flipped on and at max power is a necessary ingredient for success in life. Makes sense, right? Not so fast. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), President Obama…all are confirmed Introverts. How can this be as they are all successful icons in the public limelight?
Introverts have a negative stigma of being shy, anti-social and total loners. Many fit this stereotype, but that is not an entirely accurate depiction. In fact, many people are unaware they are Introverts – especially if they are not shy – because they may not realize that qualifying as an Introvert is about more than just cultivating time alone. Most Introverts, including yours truly, enjoy company and need community and connection (an important distinction from being withdrawn which prefers isolation). Many Introverts can be the life of the party – comedians Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, and the late Robin Williams can certainly light up the room, or leaders of giant corporations like Bill Gates and Elon Musk of Tesla. In fact, some of the most dynamic, creative innovators in history are confirmed Introverts including Einstein, Van Gogh, Warren Buffet, Johnny Carson and author J.K. Rowling.
So if many Introverts are successful, engaging, charismatic individuals, what truly distinguishes them from their Extroverted counterparts? Their source of energy. An Extrovert feeds off the energy from their surroundings, thriving on interaction by absorbing the vibes from others like a sponge. Not in a parasitic or ego-maniacal way, but in a healthy way that lifts and recharges them. Just observe a family member come alive when a friend drops by or a politician get fired up when entering a packed house (ahem, current president), they feed off that energy field like a charger boost running adrenaline through their veins.
An Introvert certainly enjoys the company of others too, but it has the opposite effect on them. Social settings take their energy away, slowly depleting them perhaps suggesting it’s a zero sum game with a finite amount of energy that gets redistributed. At some point, the time comes for the Introvert to replenish by disengaging. It’s like a cellphone that needs to plug in, the battery signals illuminating low, with the need to return to its home base to recharge. He/she can almost hear it like a mini distress signal within mind & body, time to leave the party, shut it all down and return to the energy source.
If you can accept this notion, whether you are an Introvert or Extrovert that is living with an Introvert, we can all learn to live the way we feel most comfortable and complete without hurting others. I have personally offended many loved ones, unintentionally, simply by following my innate desire to retreat. It does not mean I don’t truly enjoy their company but rather just following my needs within for a period of inwardness and solitude. This can confuse people because even though I can outwardly exhibit Extroverted tendencies (hence the term Extroverted Introvert), I can quickly disconnect as the reality is it depletes my energy. I suspect many of us share a similar quality, landing in a gray area within the spectrum of these two extremes in some hybrid variation, and struggling with the internal conflict this often creates. Knowledge of this phenomenon can be powerful – for both self-awareness and loved ones – because when we identify and live true to our nature, we find comfort and grace through greater acceptance and understanding. I was never aware of this dichotomy within myself, especially as my career and social life displayed outwardly tendencies, but it now enables me immensely with time management and setting expectations with others. Know thyself, as the ancient Greeks inscribed at the Temple of Apollo, and it starts with discovering your own true source of energy.