Have you ever watched the popular TV sitcom I Love Lucy? If you have, you might remember an episode where Lucy advertises the powerful Vitameatavegamin, only to become inebriated and start messing things up. Even if you aren’t familiar with the show or episode, other media in our culture is rife with references to partying and similar high-energy social behaviors.
Whenever we hear this rhetoric, about 25% of us are thinking, “Parties? No thanks, I’d rather be at home watching Netflix” while about 75% are thinking, “Parties? Sure, I’m looking forward to it!” And a group somewhere in-between are scratching their heads wondering whether they like parties or not.
Contrary to popular belief, “introvert” is not a synonym for “shy,” nor does “extrovert” necessarily mean “outgoing.”
In terms of introverts, as Marti Olsen Laney reveals in her book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World,
“Introversion is, at its root, a type of temperament. It is not the same as shyness or having a withdrawn personality, and it is not pathological. But you can learn to work with it, not against it.”
The same goes for extroverts and ambiverts. There are outgoing introverts, shy extroverts, and millions of people who fall somewhere on a spectrum in-between.
Essentially, the labels introvert and extrovert are broad terms that refer to where and how an individual draws and recharges their energy.
Why are different people energized by different things? We turn to biology to explain.
These particular differences originate from our individual neurochemistry, and from differing levels of one specific neurotransmitter: dopamine.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that signal the brain to do various things. Dopamine, a specific type of compound neurotransmitter, is commonly known as the “pleasure chemical” because, as Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary explains, one of its functions is reward-based motivation.
It is released into our neural pathways when we have sex, eat foods that are high in sugar and fat, and do other things commonly associated with pleasure. When it is released, our brains are signaled to make us feel good about life, satisfied, and energized.
What does this have to do with introvertism, extrovertism, and ambivertism?
In her book, Laney cites studies that show introverts tend to have higher dopamine levels and tend to be more sensitive to the particular neurotransmitter dopamine, which means that they are more easily overstimulated by lights, color, companionship, activity, sounds – you name it.
Extroverts, on the other hand, have both lower dopamine levels and are less sensitive to it, so they require greater amounts of external stimulation to feel normal and energized.
Ambiverts, well, fall somewhere in-between.
Carl Jung’s Discoveries
The terms introversion and extroversion were actually coined by psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung in the early 1900s (though at the time the latter was spelled “extraversion” and some psychologists maintain the old spelling).
In his book, Psychological Types, Jung elaborates on the two temperaments and how he sees them as, not a black and white system, but a continuum.
Many of us have both extroverted and introverted traits, but most will fall fairly clearly to one side or the other. Until recently, those were considered to be the only two viable options, but recent studies have indicated otherwise.
In the Huffington Post article, ‘Yes, It’s Possible To Be Both An Introvert And An Extravert’, Carolyn Gregoire cites research that suggests that as many as 38% of the population may be so close to the middle that they may, for all practical purposes, be considered an ambivert;
Someone who is equally characteristic of both temperaments.
Statistics, however, are hard to pin down, since there are no clear criteria for measuring a person’s introverted or extroverted tendencies.
Which Category Do You Fall Into?
While there are official tests (as well as dozens of free online tests of varying accuracy), discovering your own tendency is generally fairly straightforward.
Do you crave experiences featuring massive amounts of stimulation, such as theme parks, wild parties, or arcades? Do you find that when you’re alone or in a quiet setting you often feel uninterested, bored, or generally dissatisfied?
Chances are, you’re an extrovert.
On the other hand, do you become overwhelmed and shut down after long exposures to public places, new things, or large groups? Do you prefer one-on-one time and feel sure that you could be fairly happy with just Netflix and your cat for several straight weeks?
You’re probably an introvert.
Are you looking back and forth between both descriptions and finding that you’re equally drawn (or equally repulsed) by each idea?
You just might be an ambivert.
It’s one thing to know something about yourself, but it’s another matter entirely to know just what to do with that information.
What are the pros, cons, and neutrals of each personality type? How can you embrace the positives and overcome the negatives? Do you need to change from one type to another?
The answer to the last question is an emphatic no.
Each type is equally valid and has its unique strengths and weaknesses. We all feel, at times, that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But once we begin to understand how to work with our own distinct temperaments, we begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin.
What Does Your Type Mean for You?
Extroverts, by any measurement, the largest of the three groups can often be idealized and stereotyped. They tend to carry themselves well and are rarely overwhelmed. They adapt to new situations quickly and generally perform well in any social setting.
Extroverts often shine in leadership situations such as managers, coaches, urban planners, or politicians.
There are, however, a number of dangers to their stimulation-seeking lifestyle. The need to find more thrills and excitement to raise their neurotransmitter levels, which can lead to addictive behavior, can be a hazardous situation to get into.
Also, while extroverts do require more external stimulation, that doesn’t mean that they never need quieter times alone to process. Even extroverts can become overstimulated, it just takes a lot more. So an extrovert should beware of overdoing it when it comes to seeking large groups and high energy activity.
If you are disposed to more extroverted tendencies, experiment to find out where your sweet spot is between quiet time and party time, and try to maintain that balance.
Don’t be afraid to play to your strengths. Exhibiting confidence in a variety of situations, a willingness to try new things, and a general excitement about life is certainly a good thing. Just be careful to show patience and sympathy towards the introverts in your life, even when they befuddle you.
Introverts, greatly in the minority, can feel lost and misunderstood. They live in a rich inner world populated by a plethora of interesting thoughts and ideas.
Many of the finest thinkers and artists have been introverts. They place a strong value on close connections and intimacy with a small number of people and can be extremely loyal.
Despite this delight in relationships, however, it is very easy for the introvert to isolate. They often feel that others don’t understand them. As a result, they typically shut down fairly quickly in situations with too much external stimulation.
They need plenty of time to be in solitude to process everything they’ve seen, thought, and experienced before they’re ready to venture into the outside world again. And, if they don’t get that time they will quickly become frustrated and frazzled.
Even though introverts require very little stimulation, it is still possible for them to become bored and under-stimulated if they avoid activity and society too much.
Again, it’s important to pay attention and discover just how much alone time versus the outside-world time you require. Then, to learn to balance the two in the way that brings you optimal function and contentment.
Embrace your complex ideas, rich imagination, and your predilection for intimacy. Just remember, not everyone sees interpersonal relationships and thought processes the same way you do, and that’s okay.
Ambiverts can often feel confused and left out. They like to be alone at times but not nearly as much as the introverts. They can enjoy a good social situation but don’t crave stimulation in quite the same way that the extroverts do.
Generally, they will either feel neutral about activities on both ends of the spectrum, or they will move back and forth from introverted tendencies to extroverted tendencies fairly equally.
A great deal of research has been done, only recently, on ambivertism and what it entails. In a Psychology Today article, David DiSalvo explains how recent studies show that ambiverts tend to far outshine both other categories. Including in many areas of business, specifically in the field of sales.
They draw on strengths from both types. The easier adaptation and confidence of the extroverts, and the imaginative creativity and empathy of the introverts.
Once again, it takes paying attention to your own personal patterns. To know just what amount of stimulation is right for you to bring you the best satisfaction.
In general, however, it can actually be easier for you to achieve balance than your introverted or extroverted friends. This is primarily because you’re less extreme in your preferences. Embrace that!
Embrace Your Type
Whether you think you’re an introvert, extrovert, or an ambivert, it’s certainly not the sum title of who you are.
Your place on this temperament continuum is only one aspect of you. It’s what melds with numerous other facets to make up the unique and specific entity that is yourself.
Knowing your type and what it means for both your day-to-day life and your future plans, however, can go a long way towards improving your ability to make decisions, function in society, and find peace and balance.
Remember, no single type or temperament or piece of the spectrum is better than any other. Like any aspect of our individuality, each has its own pros and cons. Each has aspects that enrich our lives, and aspects that could use some work.
It all comes down to knowing yourself. Observing your own tendencies. And working with that information to find the lifestyle that will make you and those around you happier, more successful, and more fulfilled.
That, and maybe just a spoonful of Vitameatavegamin.