January 18, 2010

Introvert or Extravert?

I'm reading a book called Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture and the author, Adam McHugh, gives three categories of differences between Introverts and Extroverts. Apparently he took the description from another book called The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Lancy.

First of all he points out that:
Introversion is one of a constellation of factors that fluidly work together to shape how we act. Introverts gather the information that feeds our inner worlds in different ways; some rely on the concrete experiences of the senses (an S on the Myers-Briggs), while some depend more on their intuition (an N), interpreting what lies below the surface. Some introverts make decisions more from their hearts (An F) and others more from their heads (a T). Some prefer to structure their lives carefully (a J), whereas others opt for more spontaneity and flexibility (a P).

We also fall somewhere along a spectrum between introversion and extroversion. With the three categories he describes, I find that some people immediately strike me as extroverted in one category, but it's a little more ambiguous in another category. And even within a specific category, we may lean toward one side or another, but it's possible that we show characteristics of the opposite side of the spectrum at times.

The three categories of introversion/extroversion are: 1) energy source, 2) internal vs. external processing, and 3) depth vs. breadth.
Introverts are energized by solitude.  We are recharged from the inside out, from the forces of our internal world of ideas and feelings.

We generally fill our energy tanks in private or in the presence of one or two close friends, or else in a public place without interacting with those around us.

Long periods without quiet refueling leave introverts feeling physically exhausted and emotionally hollow.

Extroverts, on the other hand, derive their energy from outside of themselves. They need other people, interaction and various kinds of stimulation in order to replenish their energy. Too much time alone, silence or inactivity leaves extroverts feeling drained.

I've often heard people explain the energy category (and I've done this myself) specifically in terms of spending time with people, but over time I've grown to see that it's not just a people thing. As he points out above, activity and variety are also keys to the energy equation.  I've noticed before that on days when I have one large project to work on (like making year end school movies or pumping out year end giving statements) I have more energy at the end of the day than when I've spent the day clawing my way through a to-do list 20 items long (even when the items on the list were all small things like making a phone call or tackling some burnt out light bulbs). There's something about the transitioning from one task to the other that wears me out. If I can find a way to make the tasks all seem congruent, I do better than when they strike me as disparate tasks.

In our culture we are continuously bombarded by stimuli, in the forms of information, images, conversation, and a multitude of other data and experiences.  In order for introverts' lives not to degenerate into disassociated states of confusion, we need to process these stimuli and integrate them into our lives.  Another way that this integration process might be described is filtering.  We need to filter information and experiences, allowing the good to take root in us and transform us, discarding the bad or irrelevant.

Extroverts have flexible and porous filters that allow much to pass without getting clogged.  They can usually take a much higher amount of stimuli before they become inundated.  They mostly process externally, through conversation and interaction with others. Taking is an integral part of their processing, and they often speak in order to understand. Their speaking and thinking occur simultaneously. Though they are capable internal filtering and reflection, they are most alive when engaged in the world of people and activity.

...extroverts may be more physically expressive than introverts.
The introverted filter, on the other hand, is much finer and more rigid, only able to allow small amounts of stimuli to pass before it backs up. Introverts process internally, in the workings of our own minds.  We integrate and think silently. Ideally, we like to be removed from external stimuli and people in order to process.

Though we are capable of engaging in the world, we are most alive in the reflections of our minds, mulling over concepts and experiences.  Our learning style centers around observation and contemplation, and we are not as dependent on external feedback for growth.

Many introverts do not do well with interruptions, either when we are speaking or reflecting.

When the finer filters of introverts become clogged in the presence of people, we often go silent.

When this filtration process is impeded, the result can be disorientation and confusion -- or for me, temporary depression....

My first thought upon reading about this second category was, "but I'm so good with Dad!" Part of having Picks disease includes perseveration, which means saying the same thing over and over and over again until everyone around you goes insane. My dad's perseveration drove my mom nuts, and my sister, but somehow I put up with it easily.  But I suspect that's because, after having 3 kids under the age of 2, I learned to filter beyond my filter. I could "turn off" my dad in a way that they couldn't and sometimes people would complain about my dad's repetitions and I'd be surprised that he'd been speaking that whole time and I hadn't even noticed.  (My kids hate when I've turned them off -- they keep asking me a question and I don't hear them at all. There are definitely times when it's not an asset.)

But as I finished reading this section, especially the last bits about shutting down and getting depressed, a light bulb went off.  There have been so many times when I've been in the midst of a stressful conversation and between my trying to convey my thoughts to people who obviously weren't understanding me, and trying to make sense of and sort through their responses to me, I would just get to the point where I couldn't even function any more. I'd have to leave the room. Or I'd break down in tears. Or I would just get very, very quiet.

Introverts tend toward high degrees of intimacy in our relationship, which we usually have fewer of than extroverts.  Introverts are rarely content with surface-level relationship and do not generally consider our acquaintances to be friends.  We may find small talk to be disagreeable and tiring.

Introverts also prefer to have depth in fewer interests.  This trait is connected to our style of processing. The breadth of information about a wealth of topics often results in introverted-filter overload.  Instead, introverts prefer to invest our energy resources into a a smaller number of topics or activities. We desire to mine them for all their richness, to explore all their nuances and complexities. This commitment to specialization of expertise, along with our love of ideas and our powers of concentration, explains why many introverts thrive in lives of scholarship.

Although this third category introduces a new idea regarding introverted vs. extroverted behavior, I think it overlaps a lot with the other two categories. Switching between topics is harder on our filters than sticking with one topic and digging deep. The same holds true with switching between activities or even with the number of people we hang out with.

The way I think of it sometimes is sticking on the main road vs. taking detours, especially detours that I wasn't expecting. If I *feel* like I'm sticking to one general task all day, I do a lot better than when I feel like I'm headed in one direction, and then a friend of mine calls up to ask if I'd like to go for a walk and suddenly I'm like a deer caught in the headlights. "What! Throw a variable into what had started off as a straight forward day?! You've got to be kidding!" I go silent and I'm sure she's on the other end of the line wondering what happened to me. And when I relent and go on the walk (because she IS my friend and I DO like going on walks once in awhile, though I usually prefer being alone) I come home and the rest of the day is gone. No matter how much work I still had to do, I'm physically and emotionally unable to deal with anything else that day.

McHugh, in this chapter on the differences between Introverts and Extroverts, gives a list of "common attributes of introverts." If you're still not sure on which side of the spectrum you fall, perhaps this will help:
  • Prefer to relax alone or with a few close friends.
  • Consider only deep relationships as friends.
  • Need rest after outside activities, even ones we enjoy.
  • Often listen but talk a lot about topics of importance to us.
  • Appear calm, self-contained and like to observe
  • Tend to think before we speak or act
  • May prefer a quiet atmostphere
  • Experience our minds going blank in groups or under pressure
  • Don't like feeling rushed
  • Have great powers of concentration
  • Dislike small talk
  • Are territorial -- desire private space and time
  • May treat their homes as their sanctuaries
  • Prefer to work on own rather than with a group
  • May prefer written communication
  • Do not share private thoughts with many people
I've also posted some interesting quotes from McHugh's book regarding physiological differences between extroverts and introverts in the INTJ Group: Dopamine vs. Acetylcholine and Blood Flow


  1. interesting....

    pausing part-way through reading to say: wow, I didn't realise this about having lots of small tasks, didn't know that was an introvert thing as well. I hate things being "bitty", I hate having to do lots of little things. Much prefer a large chunk of work on one project, definitely.

    okay, now to carry on reading...

  2. yeah, i never would have thought of this as introverted, but now that i've read what he says about it, it totally makes sense. it really saps my energy.

    i think when i was younger (and naturally had more energy) the lists didn't bother me as much (and since I'm a "J" also, i love lists). but now that i'm more... mature... i find that though i still need and use lists, trying to tackle them is one of those things i put off until i simply can't make up any more excuses.

  3. * Prefer to relax alone or with a few close friends.
    * Consider only deep relationships as friends.
    * Need rest after outside activities, even ones we enjoy.
    * Often listen but talk a lot about topics of importance to us.
    * Appear calm, self-contained and like to observe
    * Tend to think before we speak or act
    * May prefer a quiet atmostphere
    * Experience our minds going blank in groups or under pressure
    * Don't like feeling rushed
    * Have great powers of concentration
    * Dislike small talk
    * Are territorial -- desire private space and time
    * May treat their homes as their sanctuaries
    * Prefer to work on own rather than with a group
    * May prefer written communication
    * Do not share private thoughts with many people

    so true
    this is me to a T

  4. this one especially hit home to me when i got married and moved in with two other additional roomates (one of whom is a veeery vocal extrovert) at the same time. i went from having a huge house in Detroit (where large, empty houses are easy to come by) all to myself, to a little apartment in san francisco where even my bedroom wasn't mine alone any more. man, was that first year of marriage a major downer, and i think this was a large part of it.

  5. I'm a huge list person...and love them. I've always put portions of my lists together that were related to form "larger" tasks...which I'd always thought was my striving for ultimate efficiency in all that I do, but I realize now I was possibly doing it subconsciously as well.

  6. I'm with you on the territorial thing too. Thankfully, I'm married to an introvert, so we were aware before we got married that we would need his and hers space, no way could we have coped with a one-bedroom flat. He's got his room, he also goes out to the garden shed a lot, whilst I've kind of taken over the lounge. Whenever we've gone away together, we have had to pay for two bedrooms - we just wouldn't cope otherwise.

  7. it's like us
    except he's taken over the lounge...and watches his 'action films,' which I hate, on the TV there, and I am often on this computer in the main bedroom, with a spare 2nd hand TV in the corner, where I watch more thoughtful films like Jane Austen etc etc :-) ...and where I can keep an ear open for the kids in their respective bedrooms, and on their computers too [they are 17 and nearly 20, so I'm glad they still live at home]

    sounds awful, but it works.. I remember how I was after about 14..I needed to be in my own bedroom with my own space

    we do meet up sometimes lol..and I get exercise by running up and down stairs for cooking and clothes washing/drying

    the space gives me strength for being with my family day in day out

  8. to me this doesn't sound awful at all, it sounds like you've found a practical way of making this work, recognising the different needs each of you has. much healthier than trying somehow to fit into some kind of straitjacket of what society expects and regards as "normal", at the expense of your sanity and at the expense of the health of your marriage - imagine the amount of resentment you could build up over the years if you constantly felt he was denying you the space you need in order to breathe! (I think there are couples where it does work like that - where the introvert part of the couple gives in to the emotional blackmail from the extrovert part, the "if you love me you'll want to be with me all the time" kind of pressure, and I really don't think that's healthy.)

  9. yes

    and also what 'the Church' can seem to expect too
    if we read 'all the books' - as I used to lol

  10. oh yes, don't get me started on how some churches can be...

  11. I devoured 'all the books' on marriage and family in the early years

    how soul-destroying some can be [without meaning to be]

    my husband, as the 'non-reader,' was probably better off without them, as he just served and loved from instinct [or the Spirit's prompting]
    which I hope I did/do too, but...maybe I was too much of a perfectionist back then

    trying to keep up with the 'spiritual Joneses'

    just checking if I'm still on topic...I think it is related still, as I think reading has been, at least for me, a symptom of being introvert.

  12. lol! i always think of reading as being one of the havens for introverts.

    of course, i suppose it depends what you read. non-fiction can be tiresome sometimes, but i loooove a good story.

  13. now that's interesting - without knowing my husband, I would have instinctively said: yes, of course... but he is an extreme introvert, and his capacity for reading is very minimal. he just finds there's too much in there to process. he will dip into a book once in a while, read a tiny bit and then spend ages digesting it.

  14. what kinds of books does he read? j.k. rowlings or dostoyevsky? i should think the latter would take more processing than the former.

    and is your husband an S? N's like to get the big picture so i suspect they'd be more likely to read faster than an S.

  15. We haven't done the Myers Briggs thing, so I can't say for definite, but I think he is a lot less intuitive than I am, so that might come into it. As for what kind of books - neither of the above... he hardly ever touches a novel. If I tell you that he's nearly 49 and is able to give you a list of all the novels he has ever read, does that give you an idea? ;) no, if he dips into a book it will be some non-fiction, maybe a biography or some church history or books about spirituality or psychology - that sort of thing.

  16. if you want to, there's this: http://similarminds.com/personality_tests.html (try one of the jung tests. the longer the better but the short are often fairly accurate. but it's important that you think about how you are when you're home or somewhere you're more yourself as opposed to work where you might have to behave a certain way for the job.)

    i think rob can count the number of fiction books he's read on two hands. it was 2, i think, when we first got married (and those were books he had to read for high school). i've inspired him to read more. ;-) but it usually takes him a year or two (or more) to get through a book. i think he's an ESTP (although we got into an argument saturday about whether or not he's an E or right in the middle.)

  17. thanks for the link - I'll check it out. I had a look at the paragraph near the top here with the explanation about the different types, and my instinct is to say I'm an INFP. now trying to guess what Jeremy might be, I'd say: ISTJ. in other words, the only bit we have in common is that we're both introverts...

  18. hmmm... I'm not sure about everything they say there... they make me sound like a much better person than I am...

    and this stuff about avoiding conflict? where did they get that from?

    and not detail-oriented? I'm known as Mrs Fine-Tooth Comb. I do proofreading!

    true about the mundane details of everyday life... dust is invisible to me...

    but not liking to deal with hard facts and logic? please... I'm the one who annoys people by introducing logic into discussions and spoiling their emotional waffle :)

    good at writing - yes. good at listening - yes. but there's a fair bit here that is not talking about me at all...

  19. what i've found is that most descriptions of INTJs fit me about 80%. i think the fact that each description is a bit different shows that even though we can categorize people, there's still a lot of variation within those categories as well.

    here's a few other INFP descriptions.


  20. lol... I just so so so don't relate to percentages, or to scales of 1-10...

  21. My first year of working full time I tracked all of my spending on little 3x5 cards and at the end of the year I made little pie-charts, by hand, to show how much I'd spent on each category. Sometimes I even did pie-charts by month. I love making pie-charts.

  22. wow... I guess that's the J bit, right?

  23. um... probably more T. but yeah, the J probably helps. ;-)

    one reason i like doing accounting type tasks (which is what i do both for the church and the foundation that i do work for) is that i love herding numbers around. it's a blast.

  24. oh, I can relate to that (proving that I just won't easily fit into any box...) - I used to play with numbers in my London office days and I loved it.


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