The test breaks down whether you’re introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, feeling or thinking, and perceiving or judging. And while general understandings of what it means to be an introvert vs extrovert are widely held (there's even a quiz you can take here!), deciphering what, exactly, those terms mean in today's world isn't necessarily straightforward. This is especially true given the entire concept of social media asking us to communicate at all times. (Are we ever really alone anymore?) Since it's complicated—but knowing yourself and whether you identify as more of an introvert or extrovert can be helpful—it's time to break down how these terms apply to people in today's world.
What are the key differences between introverts and extroverts, again?
“An introvert is a person who is most comfortable being alone and gets the most fulfillment and energy by being alone,” says clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD. He adds that, in general, introverts tend to spend time thinking about communicating to the point of overthinking and also skew sensitive. They also thrive from structure and enjoy deep conversations.
To that point, introverts can enjoy socializing, but often feel drained or exhausted as a result, says clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD. “Having time to themselves is important for introverts.” Extroverts, on the other hand, often feel the opposite. They “get a lot of joy and pleasure from being with people,” Dr. Gallagher says, adding that extroverted people are commonly comfortable engaging in small talk and often feel crowds to be energizing rather than depleting.
Extroverts “love stimulation, communicating, talking on the phone and texting, and love social media,” Dr. Mayer says. Extroverts typically have a wide variety of interests, enjoy being the center of attention, thrive when working on group projects, feel at ease around others, and like to share their thoughts and feelings with others, he says.
Is it always a matter of introvert vs extrovert, or can someone be both in today's world?
Introversion and extroversion are on a continuum, so while people do typically fall into one category, it's certainly possible to have tendencies from the other side. “No one is really a complete introvert or extrovert,” Dr. Mayer says. “We are some degree along that continuum.” Think of this as a similar situation of being on the cusp of two zodiac signs: While you can, in fact, only have one single sun sign, you may exhibit characteristics common to the neighboring one.
“Introverts need to be more aggressive in finding ways to avoid all the rapid-fire stimulation that the world throws at them.” —clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD
And being an introvert or an extrovert generally look different for each person, Dr. Gallagher adds—but that may have to do with society's shifting priorities and communication methods more than anything else because the basis for how you identify has to do with how your brain functions. This, says psychotherapist Mayra Mendez, PhD, hasn't really changed over time. What has is how we use our brains to participate in the changing world. “Society can make these categories look different, and people who are introverted and extroverted act differently than they used to,” Dr. Mendez says.
For example, the advent of social media has made the world “the extrovert’s paradise,” Dr. Mayer says, explaining that the medium's various platforms have allowed for “so many ways to communicate and participate in the world.” Extroverts, Dr. Mendez says, are more likely to be active on social media, share things with the world, and feel comfortable living out loud, Mendez says. “They don’t have to work as hard to connect with other people.”
This landscape of constant connectivity can skew tough for introverts, though. “Today’s world is flooded with noise and over-communication, therefore introverts need to be more aggressive in finding ways to avoid all the rapid-fire stimulation that the world throws at them,” Dr. Mayer says.
What introverts and extroverts should prioritize, respectively
If you’re an introvert, it’s crucial that you make sure to schedule alone time, Dr. Gallagher says. “Make it a priority to help you keep a happy and fulfilled life.” Also key for introverts is to set healthy boundaries as a means for saying no when necessary and recharging when they need to. And given that many coping mechanisms involve social situations and other people, it’s also crucial that introverts find creative, healthy strategies, like mantras.
Boundaries should also be top of mind for extroverts—more so in the the scope of respecting those of others, Dr. Mendez says. That doesn’t mean you can’t engage with other people—just don’t be offended if they aren’t as comfortable sharing information as you are. Dr. Mayer agrees. “The most common issue that I have seen clinically is that extroverts often have problems juggling boundary setting between themselves and others,” he says.
The most important rule of thumb to remember though, is that neither personality is preferable to the other. They're simply different, in the most complex, nuanced, and personalized way—and exactly what makes you, well, you.
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