Recently, my Twitter feed has been full of confident and outspoken internet bloggers, writing posts stating that they are, in fact, introverts. These blogs usually list all the typical traits of an introvert, followed by an explanation of why they fall into this category, and then finish off by saying that people are always shocked to hear that they aren't the extrovert we all expected them to be. Add in the string of comments from readers along the lines of 'me too!' or 'I completely relate to this!' and it becomes pretty fascinating reading - but not because it's something I can relate to. I think the whole thing is a really unhelpful, self-limiting division. Aren't we all far, far too complex as human-beings to be defined by the labels 'introvert' or 'extrovert'.
I am by no means any kind of psychologist - I have never studied psychology, never wanted to study it, and probably never will study it. These are simply my personal thoughts on the theory that all of us should fall into one of the two categories, and it's something that's baffled me for a while.
After a particularly difficult experience working with a boss who I didn't see eye-to-eye with, and the consequent self-esteem crash that usually comes with such an encounter, I booked myself in to see in a career counsellor, in the desperate hope I would come away feel better about myself. One of the first questions she asked me was whether I saw myself as an introvert or extrovert. Despite not being able to see what relevance it had to my situation, I also couldn't give her an answer. When she showed me the list of traits, I found that I had aspects of both in me, alongside a whole load of other traits that didn't seem to fall into either category. Some days I took pleasure in going out to big social gatherings, but some days I just wanted to spend all my time alone. Some days I found it exhausting to have to interact with people I didn't know, but other days I felt energised from the thrill of meeting new people.
I'd never really given it much thought before then, but went home and spent the afternoon on the internet reading about the terms out of sheer curiosity. Some people described themselves as 'sociable introverts' or 'shy extroverts', and I still had no idea where I fitted within all this. I spoke to some of my closest friends and asked how they'd categorise themselves. Most found it just as tricky as I did, which got me thinking - maybe we're all just far too complicated and far too intricate to fall into either category. What if the concept of introvert and extrovert was actually just a set of labels that were restricting us more than they were helping us?
One thing that became really evident during my afternoon of internet searching, was that the qualities of extroverts seemed to be idolised. Variations on the question 'how do I become more of an extrovert?' were everywhere. Many of the people who identified as introverts shared how limited they felt by the definition. Many extroverts had posted stories about how difficult they found it to interact with introverts. It made my head spin.
Finally, I reached my own conclusion on the whole concept. Introverts idolising the traits of extroverts, and extroverts worrying about interacting with introverts is restricting the way we live our lives. What goes on in the mind of the average adult is much too complex to assume that everyone you encounter either falls into one category or the other. How I interact with the world can't be defined by a list of traits and it's something that no one, including me, will ever really be able to understand.
Maybe it's time to bin those lists and just live our lives, and stop trying to fit into a category in order to justify who we are and how we behave.
I never went back to that counsellor with an answer, because I still don't have one for her.