Some years ago I wrote a post about introverts and extroverts to clarify the relationships between introversion, extroversion, interpersonal, and intrapersonal processing (click here). I think it’s time to revisit the discussion, furthering it a bit.
Those who are strong interpersonally, the thinking-out-loud-seeking-engagement types can be introverts or extroverts. Likewise, the intrapersonally strong—those who need to seek inner clarity before they meaningfully engage with others—can also be either introverts or extroverts.
Most of us want to classify ourselves as one or the other, and the potential for doing so (for self-clarity) seems compelling. But the reality is, our inherent humanity makes this impossible because we are very complex physical, social, psychological, spiritual beings. Theoretically, we possess all human characteristics but in different proportions in different situations. That’s just how it is.
Using myself as an example, primarily I am strongly interpersonal, so I do a lot of external processing (thinking out loud). Socially, I am mostly an introvert. There are, of course, some situations where I am extroverted, as well as situations when I do take time to go inward to sift out my thoughts and feelings (intrapersonal).
In evaluating behaviors, mental health professionals recognize that behavior is best assessed on a continuum. For example, many people recognize that in some situations or parts of their life they have obsessive-compulsive tendencies. It’s not pervasive enough or disruptive enough, however, to be considered a disorder. Likewise, all of us process experience both internally (intrapersonal) and externally (interpersonal). The question is, where do we fall on the continuum and how does the context (relationship, role, etc.) affect our natural tendency?
Pigeonholing and stereotyping are tempting as we seek to understand ourselves and others. We need to make sense of our experience, and plenty of typologies and other structures are out there to “help” us simplify our humanity. It’s really not that simple, so let’s be careful and honest with ourselves that as we naturally seek to achieve this understanding, we exercise caution to respect our complex humanity and celebrate our subjectivity.