The Medley of Introvert and Extravert

When I’m immersed in a personal project, my desk is an open-cast filing system. I sit amidst a messy array of paper, pens, notepads, diary, phone and computer. But when the work is done, I suddenly see the untidiness. I have a compulsion to ‘zen up,’ not resting until my desk is clear and everything back in its place.

As an introvert who prefers external order, I’ve often puzzled at this tendency. I’ve come to understand it as a shift in what my environment means to me. When I’m working, my desk is an extension of my inner world, as the spontaneity of introverted intuition flows. Afterwards, it reverts to the external world and  needs sorting.

I wonder what a counselling room means for those who enter it. It would be easy to class it as an introvert’s environment, providing an individual with focus; space to reflect; a neutral listener, and a relationship held within boundaries of time and place that regulate intrusion and make it safe to self-disclose.

Yet the setting could also be extravert-friendly, offering a depth of feedback and listening that enables extroverts to risk going deeper into their own inner worlds. For introverts, counselling may pose an extravert challenge of talking things out, not just thinking them through. Putting things ‘out there’ in words may bring the vital breakthrough to greater clarity.

Isabel Myers’ success in pioneering the Myers-Briggs® model as an accessible psychological tool can tempt us to rely on the simplistic categorising of our various preferences. We need to know what significance an environment, activity, situation or relationship has for a person in order to understand them accurately. Meaning is all.

The busy shopping mall that attracts the extravert with its energy and stimulation may give an introvert time alone in a crowd; gardening may offer extraverted contact with the outside environment or quiet, uninterrupted introvert space. For the extravert the phone may be a lifeline, whilst the introvert hears it as one more interruption.

And how do introverts and extraverts draw the line between public and private space in the ambiguity of the digital world? Do we see virtual space as public unless deliberately marked out as private? Or private unless more public channels are opted into? We may know those who chart their every mood on Facebook, but struggle to look us in the eye if we comment face-to-face on a shared status.

We might assume that extraverted Facebookers will write spontaneously as they talk online to an extensive network of digital friends, whilst introverts will post after careful thought and have far fewer connections. Yet the extravert may seek to spend time with friends in person, whilst the introvert may prefer to remain detached from immediate encounter, while developing a wide circle of connections online through written contact.

Even in face-to-face encounters, it is important not to caricature the introvert as quiet and withholding versus the loud and forthright extravert. We may be meeting an introvert’s effectively developed persona rather than an extravert’s natural ease with the outside world. An introvert friend has an extraverted work role. Every Saturday morning he sits alone at his local coffee shop, to read the papers and listen to his i-pod. It’s a vital part of his week as he recharges his batteries after five days of strenuous output.

Drawing conclusions about type from context alone is no guarantee we have got it right. What walks and looks like a duck may in fact be a duck, but it’s always worth checking to see if it quacks.



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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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