What’s the first words that come to mind when someone says introvert or extrovert? Shy? Outgoing? Quiet? Loud? Maybe you picture your friend on one spectrum and your co-worker on the other. Or maybe you can’t quite pinpoint exactly where you fall. The definitions of both personality types have long been mixed up and mistaken since they were first introduced by Carl Jung in the early 20th century.
After a while, people thought everyone needed to strictly belong on either one of the sides, but Jung’s idea wasn’t about whether we grouped ourselves as the ones who spoke up or the ones who stood on the sidelines. Introversion and extroversion really mean where we pull our energy from. And believe it or not, you may not really belong to just a single group.
Ask someone who considers themselves an introvert on how they’d like to spend a day of their weekend and you might hear answers like reading a book, taking a walk or visiting a museum. Ask them how they’d like to spend the other half and they may say chatting with friends at a coffee shop, grabbing a drink with their bestie or going to their favorite band’s concert. Introversion doesn’t necessarily mean shyness or an unwillingness to spend time with others. In actuality, introverts, or those with introverted tendencies, just tend to lose energy by spending a long amount of time with people. In order to recharge, introverts need space and time alone.
This all comes down to the neurotransmitter dopamine, the chemical in our brain that provides motivation to seek rewards like earning a promotion at work, attracting a partner or making money. It also makes both introverts and extroverts more talkative, alert and wanting to take risks. However, the reward response of dopamine is less prevalent in introverts than in extroverts. In fact, introverts prefer to use acetylcholine instead, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel content when we spend time in solitude. This allows introverts time to fire up their strongest assets, which involve reflecting on their thoughts and focusing on one matter for a long period of time.
Although they may not show them off right away, introverts have many valuable qualities. They often think things through before speaking and take the time to remember small details. Just know that they also enjoy smaller, closer groups of friends or even one-on-one time, and may need moments alone to gain energy. Whatever you do, don’t mistake an introvert for never wanting to do anything social at all. They’ll just want to catch a mental break between the events in order to get ready for the next roaring good time.
When it comes to extroverts, these individuals gain energy in the complete opposite way of introverts—by engaging in social situations. Extroverts actually lose their zest when they spend time alone. The best day ever for an extrovert would begin by eating brunch with a group of friends, going with another friend to try on wedding dresses and ending the day with a big birthday bash. Whereas an introvert might come out of that day feeling exhausted and needing a retreat, extroverts would feel recharged and overflowing with positive energy.
Here’s where that dopamine comes in again. The neurotransmitter that provides motivation goes wild in an extrovert’s brain when a gamble works out, like striking up an interesting conversation with a stranger or speaking their mind at a team meeting. Unlike an introvert, the dopamine for an extrovert takes off and encourages that person to take risks, seek out an unknown adventure and do something unfamiliar.
Extroverts have their own set of skills to complement their introverted friends, too. They tend to be independent, like to talk through their thoughts, enjoy surprises, aren’t hesitant to dive into new endeavors and make the best decisions when offered multiple options from which to choose.
If you see qualities of yourself in both personality types, you aren’t mistaken. As Jung once said, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
While that last part of the quote might be a bit of an exaggeration, it’s true that we all live on a bit of a sliding scale between showing attributes of both introversion and extroversion. This combo refers to a new word, ambivert, which means people who generally like to be around others but can feel drained after a while and will need a bit of alone time before going out in the social world again. While recharging for an introvert or extrovert means either time alone or with a group, an ambivert needs an equal amount of both to feel energized and balanced. So, what will your weekend look like? Daydreaming? Dreaming up a big plan with friends? Maybe both? Whatever it is, be sure to listen to what your body needs. Staying healthy starts with your mental health. Now that’s something we can all agree on doing.