5 Things Only On Again/Off Again Introverts Will Understand

People talk a lot about personality types, trying to figure out if they are introverts, extroverts, or (to use a term that’s gaining popularity) ambiverts. In very general terms, introverts gain energy from moving inward, extroverts gain energy projecting outward, and ambiverts fall somewhere in the middle. It’s always tempting to define ourselves and others in concrete ways (after all, life would be a lot simpler if we all fit in a set of predefined psychological formulas), but when faced with these categories, I find myself wanting to describe myself with an unwieldy title like “an ambivert tipped slightly toward the introvert side of the scale but who swings toward extroversion sometimes.” Abbreviation: “ATSTTISOTSBWSTES.” It’s a mouthful, I’ll grant you.

I try not to put too much stock in these kinds of labels because I think they can be limiting — both in terms of how others see us and how we see ourselves. When I was growing up, I thought I was a total introvert. I liked being alone, didn’t love being around people I didn’t know well, and I often felt unable to speak up in social situations. My belief seemed to be confirmed by the comments I got from classmates who didn’t know me well; they often would say things to me like, "You're so shy! You never talk!" (What are you supposed to say to someone who is telling you that you’re incapable of speech? My answer was usually “Nothing.”) When I got to college, I suddenly realized that I am not actually a particularly shy, quiet, or reserved person. I just always thought that was my role, and other people’s assumptions about me only reinforced that feeling. When I left home and no longer felt the weight of those expectations, I learned that I can be quite a chatty, social person in the right situation. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that we shouldn’t try too hard to fit ourselves or other people into perfect little boxes labeled “introvert” or “extrovert” or “ambivert” or anything else, really. People are gloriously complex, and they can change over time. Why box them in?

“ATSTTISOTSBWSTES” has a certain poetry to it, but I think for now I’ll go with the label of “part-time introvert.” If you’re like me, these traits may feel familiar:

1. You intro or extroversion depends a lot on the situation you’re in.

I sometimes find big parties and social events to be draining, but I often find interacting with groups of people in professional situations (even in public speaking situations) to be energizing. Am I the only one who's like this? If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that context is everything when it comes to being an introvert or an extrovert. (This may be confusing for some of the people around you. For example, if a coworker is used to seeing you be really outgoing at work, he or she may be surprised when you're reserved at a party.)

2. You’re friendly, but it can take a while for you to make friends.

You’re usually comfortable with new people and can be fairly adept at small talk. But you have a harder time actually becoming friends with a new person because, despite your friendly chatter, you’re naturally reserved. For you, opening up and developing a truly comfortable relationship with someone takes time.

3. You like the spotlight — some of the time, anyway.

You enjoy having people’s focus on you as you tell stories or make jokes, but the idea of being the center of attention all the time makes you exhausted just thinking about it. You want to regale your friends and acquaintances with your latest ridiculous work story, but then you’re happy to hand the reins over to someone else.

4. You actively enjoy parties and other social events, but you need alone time, too.

You enjoy other people’s company, and when you have too much time on your own, you get restless and even depressed. But, although you love socializing, you also recognize that sometimes sanity requires that you hole up on your own and ignore the rest of the world.

5. Your introversion and extroversion changes, and you don’t always know why.

Above, I suggested that the degree to which you’re intro or extroverted depends on the type of social situation you’re in, but sometimes there may not seem to be a clear reason at all. You may find that you’re totally happy to hang out in a big group on one evening, and then find a similar situation to be completely exhausting a month later. This change could be related to stress, fatigue, or other things happening in your personal life, or you may simply be a chameleon when it comes to introversion or extroversion. A chameleo-vert, if you will. (No, that’s a terrible name. I am not good at naming psychological types, apparently. It’s probably a good thing that I am not a psychologist).

Images: Giphy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

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