I've always envied extroverts.
They have so much energy and charisma. They're so gregarious and comfortable in social situations. They always seem engaged and have so much fun.
So I've spent a lot of time trying to be one. And I always end up back in the same place: hiding in the toilets, exhausted.
I've gone through life assuming this is because I'm a bit of a weirdo - figuring there are very few people in the world who sneak off, mid-dance in a nightclub, to sit on the bog for fifteen minutes, doing absolutely nothing but staring at the door. Or who socially overload until they need to spend an entire day hiding, with their phone turned off, physically recoiling at the thought of social interaction.
But then I watched a TED Talk by Professor Brian Little, who flung up the exciting revelation that I'm not alone, and there is in fact a reason for my seemingly loopy behaviour. And it has nothing to do with a subconscious need to be around porcelain cisterns.
As Little explains in his talk, one of the key variables between extroversion and introversion is how we process what's around us.
"One of the things that characterises extroverts is they need stimulation," says Little. And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting: loud noises, parties and social events...you see the extroverts forming a magnetic core."
But for introverts, scenarios of this description can be powerfully overwhelming and, although they may be fun at the time, can require serious wrapped-in-a-blanket recuperation time to recover from.
Not that we introverts are unfriendly hermits who can't handle life. We simply need a little more time to process what's happening to us, which in turn contributes to one of our key strengths: introspection.
I'm not going to take this opportunity to list off attributes that make introverts useful, in a way that looks like I'm trying to justify our existence. There are plenty of articles, books and lectures floating about that do just that.
But it's safe to say our strong inner worlds are invaluable to society, which is why it's unhelpful when we overload and don't give ourselves the time we need to reflect and relax. When overwhelmed, we struggle to make the considered contributions that make us vital.
"We need to be very careful when we act protractedly out of character, " Little explains. Sometimes we may find that we don't take care of ourselves. I find, for example, after a period of pseudo-extroverted behavior, I need to repair somewhere on my own. As Susan Cain said in her "Quiet" book, I sometimes go to the bathroom to escape the slings and arrows of outrageous extroverts."
In the same vein, an extrovert's social prowess would be put to poor use if you stuck them in an isolated countryside hamlet all day with nobody to bounce their ideas off. Periods of social isolation cripple an extrovert's admirable drive to be active and effective.
It's okay to play each other's roles from time to time, but it's important for us to accept that we have different needs. Introverts need quiet, and extroverts need engagement.
So be honest with yourself about where you sit on this scale. And if you need to hide in the toilet every now and again, don't be ashamed to lock that cubicle door and sit on the crapper staring into space for as long as you see fit.
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