Are You Really an Extravert?
Hi, I’m an Introvert - but I haven’t always thought so.
During my 20’s and my early 30’s I would have said I was an Extravert. It seemed a good fit to me and I think my family would have said the same. In fact when I told my brothers my revelation, they laughed incredulously.
I thought that my tendency to want to discuss interesting topics, to be talkative, to externally process my thoughts and to be happy to initiate conversations meant that I was an Extravert. I carried an air of confidence and was applauded for my ability to make newcomers feel welcome. I was proud of my warm and friendly demeanour and felt appreciated.
I knew that I was at my best with one-to-one interactions, but I still thought that I was energized by being with people. Although at times I was quiet and contemplative, I certainly didn’t think I fit the profile of an Introvert. In my mind a stereotypical Introvert was shy, self-conscious and unable to carry on a conversation.
But after much soul-searching I realized that I had been fooling myself for all these years. I was burnt out and exhausted. I thought there was something wrong with me: that I was perpetually awkward and that I just didn’t ‘fit’.
So imagine my relief when I finally figured out that my inability to chill out, or perform like a true Extravert, didn’t mean I was descending into depression or completely losing my mind. In reality, it was my Introverted tendencies desperately trying to make themselves heard!
When I left work and became a full-time mother, I began to hang out with a group of mum-friends. I flew along in a whirlwind of exercise classes, frequent group catch-ups over coffee or at the park, joint swimming lessons for the kids, and of course sharing our lives via email, Instagram and Facebook.
It seemed to work for a while, and I genuinely enjoyed the company as we figured out this parenting gig together. However, although it had started well, I gradually realized I was struggling. I was depleted and gasping for air. I felt I was compromising on things that were truly important to me. I was feeling overwhelmed, tired, unable to perform to what I thought was expected of me, and completely insecure.
I couldn’t understand it. These girls were my friends. What was wrong with me?
I have gradually come to an understanding of myself and my needs. Understanding myself, not just as an Introvert but as an INFP, has been like shining a floodlight into my life.
I have realized that, although I enjoy a hearty conversation and I can talk a lot, this doesn’t automatically make me an Extravert. I am energized by good conversation, not necessarily by just being with people. I can enjoy a party—as long as is there is someone interesting to talk to. I get tired and bored with on-going surface chatter and group banter. I am a good listener and I am energized by digging deeper and engaging in meaningful discussions. However I become overwhelmed with the expectation to keep up with too many details of people’s lives. Also, my deeply empathetic nature becomes weighed down by too much information from too many sources at once (no wonder Facebook wears me out).
At times, I definitely need people to get me out of my head by listening and helping me process my overwhelming thoughts out loud. This, however, needs to be an intentional and authentic discussion, one-on-one, with someone I trust and who isn’t threatened by my intensity. When I’m comfortable and relaxed I can be very light-hearted, enjoy a good sense of humour and have a good time.
When it comes to shopping, going to the gym, working on a project, or generally getting things done, I’ve realized that I’d much rather hang on to my independence and have my own space. I don’t commit or make decisions well when I’m under pressure. I need time and minimal distractions to process what I’m thinking and feeling, and to generally rejuvenate.
I’m comfortable initiating conversations, and I actually get quite a buzz from meeting new people, but I’ve come to understand that this stems from my other personality traits. As an INFP I’m very aware of other people and intensely curious about their lives. I like to hear about different experiences and make meaning of various ways of thinking and doing things. I also don’t like to see people standing alone, or feeling uncomfortable, so I will go out of my way to ensure they feel welcome and embraced. This openness doesn’t mean I want to make more friends to fill up my social calendar. On the contrary, if the expectation becomes too great, I find myself freaking out and withdrawing—which of course can be terribly misunderstood.
Learning to live a more authentic life is close to the heart of an INFP. Learning about who I am and how I function best is an on-going process—as I’m sure it is for you too. Understanding what I really need, to be invigorated and live to my full capacity, is freeing.
As I give my Introverted tendencies permission to shine, I find I can live a more balanced life.
- I need to purposely make space for myself. As an INFP I give a lot of myself to others and can forget to take time out. I need to make time to read, to create, to write and to explore and express my thoughts.
- It is crucial to focus on my strengths as an Introvert (and an INFP)—especially when it is tempting to think I don’t quite measure up in this fast-paced world.
- I need to intentionally engage in relationships that inspire and energize me. I tend to wait for others to make plans and just ‘go with the flow’ but I often then feel tired with the expectations and carry guilt about what I should be doing.
- I am learning to set good boundaries, especially when I find myself people-pleasing. Sometimes it is okay to say NO!
- My insecurities often have me questioning my choices, so it is important that I understand that what is “normal” (or necessary) for an INFP is sometimes going to be misunderstood. And that is OKAY!
How about you? Does any of this resonate with you? I’d love to hear your experiences!