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I’ve discovered I’m an ‘introverted extrovert’

We all know what introverts and extroverts are. But what about introverted extroverts? Or even extroverted introverts? It’s not always as simple as ‘I’m an introvert’ or ‘I’m an extrovert’. I used to think it was, but I’ve discovered that it’s actually not.

The way to know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert is to understand how you recharge your batteries when you’re tired, and what it is that tires you. An introvert, for example, gets tired when engaged in activities with groups of people and they recharge their batteries by spending time alone. You can find them by themselves in libraries, parks, and cafes. Usually reading.

An extrovert gets tired when engaged in activities by themselves, and they become re-energised when they spend time with groups of people. You can find them going to (or organising) parties, or getting involved in group activities of some kind. You can find them anywhere there’s large groups of people.  They’re the ones smiling and laughing and significantly enjoying the socialising.

But what about the ‘fringe dwellers’, the ones that seem to fit into both categories in some strange way? While most people are either mostly introverted or mostly extroverted, there are some who seem to sit outside the general understanding of what it is to be introverted or extroverted.

For a while, I used to think that you’re either one or the other, and I imagine that’s an example of my black and white thinking. But I’ve recently discovered that maybe that’s not entirely true.

I know I’m an introvert. For all my life I’ve loved my time alone, doing my own thing, enjoying my own space. I really don’t like going to parties or being in or around large groups of people, and if I am, it exhausts me and I need to recharge by doing my own thing, by myself or with very small groups of very close friends. Most days at work exhaust me because I have to interact with people, and by the end of the day I’ve just wanted to sit by myself, doing something I enjoy alone, saying nothing and talking to no one. After an hour or so of this, my energy would come back and I can interact with people again.

But at the same time, I’ve also recognised this past year or so that out of all my introverted friends, I’m the most extroverted. I’m always the one wanting to catch up with my friends and spend time with them. I’m always the one doing most of the talking and joking. I’ve often joked about how I’m the most extroverted of all of us introverts in the group (not including one of them who is actually an extrovert), but it’s become something that’s made me wonder.

And then there’s my recent experiences this past couple of months that have added to my curiosity.

For the past 14 years I’ve lived with other people. Usually just friends or flatmates, but also with girlfriends, fiancees and, for the past three and a half years, with my wife (although we only got married 11 months ago…). I’m used to being around people in my home environment.

Last year I spent almost 2 months away from my normal home environment, living and working in Sydney and commuting back home to Canberra every couple weeks. At the end of every day I was exhausted. But I found a friend in a restaurant I had dinner at every night. He loved to talk, and I found myself loving to talk with him too, and we shared many stories. It was enjoyable and rewarding. But not really an extroverted thing to do. Or was it?

I’ve now been away from my home environment again this past two months, living in Canberra – essentially by myself – while away from my wife who’s been in Melbourne. I’ve been sharing accommodation on a mostly weekly basis with AirBnB hosts. They’re not friends, and my time with them has been minimal, so there’s been no extensive social interaction with them.

And it’s been driving me insane!

I’ve found that I miss regular, nightly company. I miss my wife, and I miss being able to ‘socialise’ every night at home with a friend/flatmate who I’ve been sharing with since 2008, who moved out early this year and inspired Fanfan and me to move to Melbourne. So now that I’m back in Canberra and missing my ‘social interaction’ with my wife, I’ve tried catching up with him and some of my other friends a lot, so that I can socialise after work. I’ve discovered that socialising with a close friend helps me recharge my batteries, but I end up feeling somewhat frustrated when my introverted (single) friends are too tired from their day and don’t want to catch up because they just want to spend time by themselves….

What the hell? When did this shift in  me happen? But it made me realise something has changed in me. Somewhere along the way I became more extroverted. And so I did some research.

I found that there’s not much out there about ‘extroverted introverts’ or ‘introverted extroverts’, but it’s a concept that does exist and is discussed in a very small number of locations on the internet. Well, by very small number I mean I could only find THREE websites actually discussing it.

So what’s the difference between them?

Introverted extroverts are evolved extroverts. They’ve developed some of the characteristics of introverts, particularly socially. They’re not true extroverts, because their style is quite different. Sharing a mix of the characteristics of two potentially very complex types makes IEs pretty complicated.

Extroverted Introverts are a tough study. They’re real introverts, but they’ve grown an external persona as a public image. This persona is specifically adapted to the career environment. They’re so good, in some cases, that you may not even meet the real person, because there’s no opportunity to see through the public image.

At first I thought I was an extroverted introvert, thinking that I was an introvert who has developed extroverted traits due to life and my career. But the more I read, the more I discovered that this wasn’t the case at all.

The Extroverted Introverts, or EIs, are introverts that have become experts at personal appearance and self promotion. For whatever reasons that have made sense to them in their life, they’ve decided that pretending to be extroverts is better for them than their true nature. They’re actors, living inauthentic lives to please other people and get along in the world in ways that seem to work (but which probably create more problems for them than they realise – I refer to my article Live your life).

The problem with analyzing an EI is that they’re very fluid characters. They are perfectly capable of literally changing with every breeze. [I’m not.] The main reason for this is that their social skills are very much tuned to the main game. If they perceive a change in atmosphere, they change. So if the boss changes his mind, they change their opinions. [I don’t.]

Their form of introversion is rather bizarre, compared to the pure introvert. The EI’s entire persona and career is directed at producing a thing which is effectively another person. When doing their performances, they actually are someone else, quite different from their inner person. [I avoid this. Authenticity is important to me.]

The weak point with the EIs is that they’re unstable if things go wrong. If they somehow lose their role orientation, or the performance goes wrong, they can react very badly. Some are prima donnas, and some are just plain insecure if their masks come off. Either way, the actor is stuck without lines, props, and the support mechanisms.

All of the descriptions about EIs made it very clear to me that I’m not one.

On the other hand, the Introverted Extroverts, or IEs, are extroverts that have evolved through life and work to become more introverted. Now, I also know this isn’t me – I know from my lifetime of experiences and memories of behaviour that I was never an extrovert. However, there are apparently a rare few IEs who are introverts but have become more extroverted over time, usually from their work. Now that’s something I can relate to. My work as a business analyst over the past 6 years has meant I need to interact with project stakeholders and business representatives at all levels, in order to build rapport and gather information from them. With that in mind, the following excerpts makes a lot of sense to me.

Introverts don’t change drastically, but this form of the IE is what happens when they do. Their confidence has also developed enough for some selective extroversion.

IEs tend to be older, usually developing in early middle age or late adolescence. Experience has often dealt them some difficult cards, and frequently they’ve become a lot more advanced than people of their own age.

IEs are intelligent, and they recognize good working methods of doing things. Introverts have a lot of learning skills and habits which make them brilliant students, and the IE has no difficulty adopting them [or in my case, maintaining them]. They may also have introvert friends whose sheer ability has taught them how to use these skills. Their evolution is perfectly natural, and the result is a really effective hybrid.

The single accurate description of IEs is Low Key. IEs are the exact opposite of Extroverted Introverts in the sense that there are little or no theatrics. The IE doesn’t bother to put on an act, because they assume others can see through acts as easily as they can. Their former extroversion remains functional as social judges, and in fact it’s a major asset.

They don’t tread on toes or try to belittle people. They can still be real extroverts when they feel like it, or when provoked, but that’s not often. Usually they’ve completely outgrown it. If they suddenly become full powered extroverts, it generally means they’re either annoyed, or enthusing like kids about something.

IEs are not suited to the roles of extroverts. They can do the work, and are often as good as the pure extroverts, but they’re rarely happy in the social hurricane environment in which the extroverts thrive. They simply don’t like it. Trying to remake them into extroverts is like trying to make them into 5 year olds again. They’ve moved on, and it represents a step backwards.

For the introverted IE form, that environment is poison. They hate it, they’re allergic to it, they loathe it, and despite their extroversion skills, and even if they can do the work, they’ll already be on the way out the door.

So I know I’m an introvert because of how I need to recharge my batteries with solo activities after being around groups of people. Especially people that I’m not close to. But I value spending time with close friends in small, intimate occasions like brunch/lunches or dinners, or just hanging out over a coffee or at home, and chatting about whatever comes to mind. I’m usually leading the conversations, and usually initiating the occasions. It’s what made me think I’m an extroverted introvert – an introvert with extroverted tendencies.

But to discover that I was more an extrovert with introverted tendencies was quite fascinating. It answers questions, and gives me more information about how and why I do the things that I do.

Thanks for reading! Please add your own thoughts below.

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