Introvert, Extrovert, or Nothing—Are You Who You Say You Are?

There are risks in believing things about yourself.

These things you believe?

They might come true.

Recently I played trampoline dodgeball. Whatever you think that’s like, you’re probably right.

Do you remember trampolines as a kid? How carefree? The giggle fits? Still like that.

The setup is about half the size of a basketball court filled with connected trampoline “ponds” the size of an SUV. You jump from one trampoline to the next while madly attempting to avoid dodgeballs flying everywhere.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Between fast-paced matches I would continue to jump and jump, laughing like a kid.

And sometimes I would stop. I’d zone in on the blaring high-school era pop music (Britney Spears, Nelly, etc…), the glaring lights, the dings of adjacent arcade games, all the new friends I was playing with…

And suddenly I’d think: “Man, I really hate being with all these people.

Then I’d start jumping and feel really good about things again.

a trampoline in a park


How Do You Exist?

I jokingly told my sister about the trampoline dodgeball, one of my many lukewarm attempts at socializing. I mentioned how in new social situations, I often get side-swiped by the overwhelming desire to be alone.

She quickly cautioned against getting caught in thought patterns like these, saying that sometimes the stories we tell ourselves simply aren’t true, but that we come to believe them after enough repetition.

Maybe I don’t hate being with people (sometimes). Maybe it’s just a baseless thought-habit.

In many ways, I agree. We say things like “Oh, I’ve always been a control freak” or “I haven’t tried fish in 15 years, but I’ve always hated it!” as [insufficient] means of excusing current behavior by committing to a past version of ourselves.

But that version may no longer exist.

Or if it does, it’s no more embedded in who you are than a simple decision to take showers before bed every night.

Personalities change, they evolve. According to the longest personality study ever made, we’re essentially different people every few years. Physically and psychologically.

You’ve seen it: humans can be remarkably inconsistent.

It’s commitment to consistency that’s often the true force behind stability. Committing to what we believe about ourselves helps us to make sense of our place in a world that is generally quite senseless.

My antisocial behaviors have always frustrated my sister because she feels the need to pick up my slack, to cover for my awkwardness.

It’s always been this way, and the truth is that I’d probably be much, much worse if it wasn’t for her. I recall a pivotal social-learning moment in sixth grade. She greeted a teacher and I eavesdropped: “Hey there….How are you doing?…I’m good, thanks. Excited for the weekend.”

I thought, “Ahhhh, so that’s how it’s done!”

Still, my desire to socialize depends wholly on my mood and how much I have or haven’t been alone in the preceding hours.


Who Are You Now?

But here’s the thing:

While she’s right that we can get caught in false thought patterns, there’s power in simply accepting who we are in the moment. Even if you’ll change tomorrow. Even if you were different before.

Even if you change.

meggan and sister at a mountain lookout

We only have so much energy to devote to daily living, let alone to the deeper (and arguably more important) issues of personal growth. By no means am I knocking self-help, but one has to pick and choose on the journey.

It is only now, in my 30s, that I’m beginning to accept and understand what it means to be an introvert. I’m not especially antisocial, but in my case—and introversion is different for everybody—I get especially worn-down by noise stimuli.

It may have little to do with an “introvert personality”; in fact, it may just be weak nerves. I’ve been reactive to sounds since infancy. My mom once said it was entertaining to watch little me “unravel” when my brother would tap, tap, tap away at things to bother me.

I love connecting with people, but would rather stay home reading than meet a friend in a loud restaurant.

Maybe I’m a superb extrovert, just with sensitive ears.

Luckily, there’s science behind the introvert neurological connection. Susan Cain popularized Jerome Kagan Ph.D.’s study in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. My suspicion is that we blow the psychology of introvert/extrovert out of proportion.

Yes, you’re constantly changing, but within that change, you remain. The task of being you, of somehow being truthful to that concept, is never-ending.

“You can’t step in the same river twice,” they say incorrectly…

The water changes, the the river remains.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment below…and get an email when I post something new.

In related news, this great Invisibilia Podcast on personality is worth a listen.

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