Introvert Versus Extrovert . . . When & Why "Just Being Yourself" Doesn't Work!
Introvert Vs Extrovert
At the end of September 2013 my husband and I returned from a five month trip to Kaua'i island. Upon returning to Buffalo NY (where we were living at the time), we found that our priorities had changed. It became clear to me that human relationships are really the “stuff of life”. Lytenian and I both identified as “introverts” our entire lives, but in late 2013, I began thinking of myself more as an “extrovert” for the first time.
An introvert is someone who “fuels up” or “gets their energy” from being alone. When enough energy is stored up, an introvert can be socialize, which “drains” them. For an extrovert, the opposite is true. Socializing gives an extrovert fuel, and being alone drains them again.
Growing up the definition I heard was simply that introverts prefer solitude, and I identified with that. But why? I now have a surprising answer to that question.
Humans are naturally social, but we turn introverted and solitude-seeking in environments perceived as hostile. Not feeling free to be yourself makes an environment seem threatening. And it is! If you can't be who you really are then you're not safe to communicate your needs and have them met.
People say “be yourself” and then others will “like you”. I've found that to be false. My “self” is honest, open, opinionated, highly sensitive, open to correction, introspective, adventurous, and rather ignorant of what is going on in pop-culture, fashion, sports, and movies. This “self” has never fit in with the majority of people.
When I was sixteen I realized that I could create a version of myself that would be popular. I spent a year learning to dress, speak and act like a teenager my age. It was an unpleasant struggle, yet by the age of seventeen I was hosting house-parties and constantly answering my cell phone. Everyone wanted to hang out with "me" – yet I wasn't being me at all! After a little over a year of this, I gave up my popularity in favor of being myself again. I was rather relieved!
So what is an introvert really?
Introverts are people who differ enough from the norm that social situations are not “safe” for their true inclinations.
No wonder there are an increasing number of self-identified introverts!
So why did I become more extroverted in 2013? While I was on Kaua'i island, I began to socialize with people in a different way. Many of my interactions had to do with survival. What was I going to eat that day? Where could I harvest my food? When communicating about my basic needs it was easy to relate to other human beings. We all need to find food, transportation to that food, clean water, and so on. There was no need for me to be anything other than myself when communicating with others about these basic needs. And thus, for the first time in my life, being around people was life-affirming and energizing.
After the five-month trip, I began identifying parts of myself that I am not afraid to share with anyone. In fact, the whole trip increased my faith in the universe, decreasing my overall level of fear. Because of this, socializing in general felt less threatening.
Because my overall fear of socializing was reduced, I began to creatively seek people I could interact with in a way that felt good to me. I began thinking more outside of the box about social interactions. In 2014 I began attending new and interesting sorts of activities – acro-yoga, sewing parties, juggling workshops, and even beer-brewing workshops despite my own choice to not drink. I found that people who attended these unusual activities were great, open-minded conversationalists.
In 2017, I started up my own Ithaca Raw Food & Consciousness Alchemy meetup group to start hosting my own creative events. I came up with the concept of the Conscious Social where ice-breakers, meditations and unconventional socializing standards were normalized and woven into the social atmosphere.
Much of being social as an unconventional, high-anxiety person is learning what topics to bring up with which people. If the conversation starts heading down a path you're not comfortable with, don't perpetuate it . The moment you add to the discussion, you're forwarding that topic. Think of something insightful that is relevant to a recently dropped thread of the conversation to steer the conversation, or find a different group of people to speak with. Whatever you do, don't continue to participate in a conversation that feels draining or limits your authenticity.
It is critical that you maintain your authenticity and some level of comfort in your social interactions if you want to be able to socialize without feeling drained. If you're already someone who identifies as an introvert, then you have experienced a lot of draining social interactions. Through the very powerful mechanism of association, your mind is already set up to view all social situations as potentially harmful. This perceived threat is very real, because the associated emotional damage is very real. To heal this wound, you need to make socializing safe for yourself.
I've learned that it really is okay for me to exclude myself or leave a situation. When you know you can do that, the pressure is off. You never have to “pretend” to be anything that you are not or suffer through a situation where being yourself is not comfortable.
Lytenian (my husband), a notoriously anti-social person, has come through this same journey with me. We discovered that he can be quite social for hours on end when he is feeling like he is “safe”. We first discovered this as at a polyamory gathering in 2012. In this setting of alternative relationship styles, there was a sense of radical acceptance. Suddenly we were not weird for our choices in food, clothing, recreation, and study. We were just more unique, interesting individuals – just like the other fifty attendees!
Prior to this gathering in 2012, Lytenian had always shied away from social situations. He would prefer to hide behind books, computers, and power tools. He would make any excuse to be away from people. But at this gathering, he spent the entire four-day weekend socializing and he didn't feel drained. For me, this was all the proof I needed. In the years since then, my conviction about the true nature of introversion has only grown stronger.
We're All Actually Ambiverts
In reality, there are no people who simply are always drained by social exchanges from birth, or people who are always fueled by social exchanges from birth. We're all ambiverts – people who can be drained or fueled by socializing depending on the circumstances. However, there's a catch! Our associations are a large aspect of the circumstances! This means that every past negative social experience is relevant when calculating whether or not you're likely to experience a social interaction as fueling or draining.
What can be done about these past negative associations? The key is to stop reinforcing them. Stop attending events or activities that you already know will feel draining. Start attending events that will have an unpredictable emotional result for you. Go to new social activities that you've never done before, and go into it expecting a different experience. Set yourself up for a successfully pleasant experience by bringing everything you need to feel safe. That might include comfort foods, a best friend, an extra fluffy sweater, an extra canteen of water, a favorite essential oil, or a book to read.
How Moving from Introvert to Extrovert Has Changed My Life
After discovering this new aspect of myself that actually likes socializing, I began to orchestrate my life in new ways. In 2014 I led my first series of in-person classes. Where most of my work had previously revolved around long-distance clients that I took by phone and e-mail, I began to actually teach live classes in my home. I discovered that one of the easiest ways for me to personally feel safe is to be the facilitator of an activity or event. As the event host and leader, I could set my own norms. This made it possible for me to create classes that felt safe to other "introverts" like myself by cultivating an environment of radical acceptance.
I still recommend that people who take my in-person classes start with my e-books, such as Collecting Calcium (a nutritionally complete meal plan specifically designed for overcoming and preventing bone problems such as arthritis and osteoporosis), and The Ultimate Nutrition Reference. There is a place for hermit-like home-study in everyone's life.
For me, being hermit-like has been the story of my childhood and teenage years. The long years of introspection were powerful in my development. My twenties have been dedicated to learning how to socialize. As you may already know, when you struggle with something or come to it late in life, you make a better teacher than a natural. A natural swimmer, like myself, has a hard time teaching someone else to swim. I don't think about swimming – I just do it! But when it has come to my digestive system or socializing – I've struggled incredibly. And I've persevered. I've kept trying in the face of hundreds of failures. This is precisely why I've become a master at the things I have – because of the struggle. Mastering the art of interacting with other humans is still a work in progress, but it is one of the most satisfying challenges for me to overcome.
Interaction Using Structure
One of the most popular ways for "introverts" to gather is over board games. The structure of the game creates a way to interact that everyone agrees upon when going into the game. The game comes with its own jargon and methodologies. For the period of the game, the players put themselves into the prescribed roles of playing the game. Within that construct, the players are allowed to be themselves safely. Because of this, board games were the primary way I was able to socialize as a child, and thereby I became passionate about gaming in my teens.
This led to my creation of several games including Heir to the Phoenix Crown, a hard-core strategy game; A Voice of Conscience, a party game of ethical quandaries that is easy to learn and teach; Decisive Desserts, a game that combines a recipe book with several card games; Numinous Nonflict, a medium strategy game; and Other Temperate Fruits, a party game that takes word-association to a new level of fun. Creating games and hosting board game gatherings has been a critical bridge for me in times when I didn't know how else to connect with others.
Other structured events include: berry picking excursions, hiking, yoga, dance classes, jewelry making workshops, and consciousness alchemy sessions.
Spending Time Alone
I'm still fairly "introverted" by most standards. I work from home. I meditate, read, write, paint, clean and do many other activities alone each day. But this doesn't mean I don't crave social interaction. Lytenian used to complain: "She never leaves me alone." He would sometimes even say, "I can only escape her by working while she sleeps." This seems to be another common trend among "introverted" people. While they may shy away from large groups of people, they'll be found clinging (often quite physically) to their primary partner in life for much of each day.
How Priorities Impact Energy Levels
Many people use the excuse that they "don't have time" for something when they explain why they are not doing it. This is never really true. We have time for anything we prioritize. Often, we prioritize things that are actually very draining both physically and emotionally. When we do this, it exacerbates any existing associations with socialization. If we cling to social events as our one source of energy, we'll be even more attached to attending any party we're invited to if we work in a draining atmosphere. And if we cling to our alone time as our one source of rejuvenation outside of our stressful workplace, then we'll be even less likely to branch out and attend a party.
If you really want something, then energy will be generated by giving yourself complete permission to prioritize that want. I started designing board games while I was simultaneously traveling, working to support Lytenian and myself, working on refining my house-guest skills, and maintaining a low-budget healthy lifestyle. (The low-budget aspect combined with the healthy aspect meant taking every offer of discounted organic produce at grocery stores and finding ways to turn it into delicious meals for my husband and I.) Can you imagine squeezing hours of design, development and game testing into such a busy lifestyle? Yet I really wanted it, and I made it a priority.
Looking at your life as a cluttered time line with no room for anything new is very stressful. This outlook – all by itself – is a strong contributor to feeling attached to one's existing association with social activities.
I learned that I had a lot more time than I thought I did while I was on Kaua'i island. I experienced what it was like to wake up with the sun each morning and head outdoors to find my breakfast. In a single day I might lay a row of plants, harvest a basket of mangoes, pick and enjoy figs, check up on the aquaponic system and work on it for a while, water the greenhouse, go for a walk, enjoy a conversation with a friend and neighbor, spend time working for a client or two, clean my outdoor kitchen, do dishes, prepare meals, and more. Each day was incredibly full.
That made my days in Buffalo seem quite empty by contrast. I realized that I had plenty of time.
Of course, how much time you have is consistent. It is your level of energy that is in flux. I had more energy while I was on Kaua'i island. The air was pristine. I was getting more exercise and harvesting the food I ate. My social interactions were life-affirming. These factors all seemed to magically give me "more time" but in reality, these factors were giving me more energy.
After returning to Buffalo from Kaua'i island, I started putting some of my extra energy into expanding my non-fiction reading. The trend of expansion, inspiration and growing energy was furthered by reading Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God. I've found that having uplifting reading material creates a lot more energy in my life, allowing me to prioritize more of the things I really want.
Identifying What People Really Are At A Deeper Level
What people are inherently is potential itself. Very little about a person is impossible to change. That said, there are aspects of people which are so deeply ingrained they are very unlikely to ever change. For example, take representational systems. Whether or not you're more of a visual processor or a auditory processor is unlikely to ever change. My primary system is kinesthetic. This means that when I recall something, the most vivid aspect of the memory is generally what I felt – the texture, the shape, the positioning, and the emotions. When I think of a board game, one of the first things that occurs to me is how the pieces feel in my fingers, and how the texture of the cards and board feel. An auditory processor will quickly notice the sound of birds or music and recall these aspects more sharply than people who are more visual or kinesthetic.
Representational systems are core how how you perceive the world, and thus, they're unlikely to ever change. Whether or not you feel drained by social interactions is how you respond to a given type of stimuli. It is mostly controlled by your associations, feelings and thoughts during a given instance. That makes it much more malleable.
This has become my primary area of study – the layers of your personality and what makes you who you are, and how to explore and adjust who you are to fulfill your greatest visions for yourself. If you're interested in more of my insights, sign up for my newsletter below.
The Consciousness Alchemist