In my younger years, I remember being both extremely outgoing in social situations while feeling physically and emotionally drained after. In college, I adored living on a campus, surrounded by friends, but disliked living in a small room with any one of those friends for 2 whole semesters.
So you can imagine how confusing it was when I was asked, during a psychology course, to conceptualize myself on the spectrum of introvertism and extrovertism.
If struggling to define yourself in binary terms resonates for you, remember that there is no right or wrong way to simply be you. No matter what framework you’re using, honor the different factors that have created your preferences and experiences.
For example, my being an only child and having chronic illness and anxiety shapes me in various ways — such as needing alone time to rest and recharge — including how I imagine myself on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.
Like many things in life, the concepts of “introvert” and “extrovert” is more fluid than just identifying as one or the other. They aren’t even polarizing personas (even though pop-culture would have you believe that’s the norm), and defining them isn’t as simple as “extroverts are better leaders,” “introverts are more intellectually gifted,” “extroverts have more positive personalities!” or “introverts are just shy!” either.
Especially when you think about whether you could be both/and.
And, in my professional opinion as a therapist, internalizing these stereotypes is more harmful than helpful. It creates an almost forced, and oftentimes false, understanding of self.
But if you give yourself permission to exist on a spectrum, you could redefine the way you use and recover energy for your day to day.
These psychological concepts date back to Carl Jung in the early 20th century and have taken on a life of their own.
- Introversion is defined as being interested mostly in your own mental life, the insides of your brain and your thoughts. So to be an introvert often gets written as “a quiet person who is more interested in their own thoughts and feelings than in spending time with other people”. (Oxford)
- Extroversion is often defined as actions or outward existence that’s focused with external gratification for yourself. This makes being an extrovert pictured as “a lively and confident person who enjoys being with other people” (Oxford).
I vividly remember, in my training as somatic psychotherapist, being asked to get in touch with where I fell on this spectrum. I was taught to use the language “introverted-extrovert” (or one who leans more toward/is rooted more in extroversion, but with introvert qualities) and “extroverted-introvert” (or one who leans more toward/is rooted more in introversion, but with extrovert qualities), which leads to one additional word…
- Ambivert. A lesser known concept/term, which refers to a person who has qualities of both an introvert and extrovert.
Confused yet? Feeling a slight identity crisis coming on? Have the urge to scream… but also hide…? It might just mean you’re more of an ambivert!
It isn’t as simple as an introvert recharges through alone time and an extrovert recharges through time with others. It’s more about the quality of the time and the comfort level of who it may be spent with.
In fact, I don’t believe tracing the roots of our introversion and extroversion is necessary when it comes to choosing how to move forward in life. We are all sustained by finding our own balance between the relationships we have with others and the one we have with ourselves.
For example, I am very aware that my entire career as a therapist (and yogi) revolves around having found an emotional and physical balance. Myself, and many somatic colleagues alike, have been trained to find rituals that will support our highly-charged emotional work. I often keep crystals or rocks on me at all times and likewise actively release energy back to the earth after sessions with my hands and by moving my body.
So, with that in mind, come find your place at a recharging station that works for you:
Introverts (like all humans) often get stuck in our stories or narratives and disconnect from the physical sensations of the body, which accessing can ultimately lead us to greater understanding of ourselves and our needs.
These options are all centered around individual connection to self, as well as emotional engagement of your mind-body connection. Welcome yourself to engage in activities that support your ability to turn down the volume of your inner monologue for some true moments of peace and quiet.
Extroverts (like all humans) often get stuck in the excitement of the outside world and disconnect from the core of their own thoughts/feelings, which ultimately provide a lot of insight into self.
These options are all centered around community bonding and support, as well as physical engagement of your mind-body connection. Welcome yourselves to engage in activities that support your ability to quiet the chaos of life around you for some true moments of rest and relaxation.
What you need to achieve rest may take some experimenting and can consist of being with your friends but not interacting with each other, such as reading in the same room, or taking a hike with people, but without conversations.
Whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert, the most important thing is making sure you honor moments of recharging. We all deserve to rest, relax, invigorate, and find excitement in our own ways. We all deserve to create a life for ourselves that allows us to fulfill those needs.
And beyond moments of recharge, it is very important to prioritize what you want and resist the potential urge to compare or offer yourself to anyone else.
In fact, actively work toward internalizing this fundamental truth: you deserve to recharge in your own ways; to express your needs and have them met, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. We all do.
Rachel Otis is a somatic psychotherapist who has a passion for body justice, human rights, and intersectional feminism. Follow her on Instagram.