Tuesday, March 11, 2014

30x30: Apparent Introvert

There's a fun new way of labeling people based on their personality traits!

Well not new, exactly. The idea of introversion and extroversion has been around for about a century. The terms were pioneered by Carl Jung in the 1920s, and have recently enjoyed a spike in popularity thanks to highly scientific YouTube quizzes and Buzzfeed lists.

I had always thought of myself as an extrovert. I can be gregarious. I like parties and concerts. Hell, I chose show biz as my industry, perhaps one of, if not the most collaborative of the arts industries.

But lately I've been reading about how, contrary to popular belief, introverts often do like spending time with people and can hobnob with the best of them. For introverts, however, doing so requires a significant expenditure of mental and physical energy, and introverts often need to recover by spending time alone. I also read that, while introverts are often quite social, they tend to be more thoughtful and less demonstrative.

Cue Lauryn Hill's cover of Killing Me Softly.

I was on my first ever tour with a theatre company when I realized that I need alone time every day. Every. Day. I was with a delightful group of people, but after a few days, I was getting edgy. I was taking very little time to myself, not yet realizing how important that was for me. Living with my husband and stepkid (both major extroverts) has reinforced this realization. When I don't get time alone, I can become a not so nice version myself. 

But then I began to wonder why. Why these differences? Why do I need regular intervals of solitude when other people I know thrive on constant stimulation? Is it nature? Nurture? As we all do when seeking answers to our biggest questions, I turned to the Interwebs.

So far, science theorizes that intro/extroversion has to do with how our brains function. Some researchers think that introverts' brains experience high "cortical arousal," meaning they process information more quickly, and are therefore more quickly overwhelmed by excessive stimulation. Other research suggests that intro or extroverted proclivities are due to differences in neuronal activity and areas of blood flow in the brain.

So basically, brains work differently. Fair enough. But TED Talker and author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain argues that Western culture is biased towards extroversion and values the highly social tendencies extroverts over the more reserved tendencies of introverts. She argues that neither is superior, but both groups should be afforded that circumstances and environments that allow them to thrive and be most productive.

I spent a lot time thinking that I was shy or antisocial when I really just needed solitude in order to reboot. Most of the time, I find the intro/extroversion conversation relatively inconsequential, but I do realize that it has helped me understand myself and my relationships in a way that I hadn't before.

My husband is probably one of the most extroverted people I know. He is happiest when he busy and surrounded by friends. Rare is the free evening that he doesn't want to go out. Finding a mutually satisfying middle ground can be tricky, but one other good thing that these intro/extro labels have done is help us, in our new marriage, get one another. They have helped us appreciate how our different brains make us different, equally fantastic people - as well as how we compliment, temper, and uplift one another.

So I hope it goes with all such labels.

Original Illustration by Isabella Rotman

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