“You are such an extrovert.”
No one had ever called me an extrovert until my boyfriend, who does it pretty frequently. Until recently, I’d passed off these comments as a statement of just how introverted he is, but I’ve come to realize that he’s right (don’t tell him I said that). I love being around other people. I love talking. If I’m alone too much, I get depressed and tired.
I’ve always called myself an introvert, because being with other people is sometimes exhausting, and sometimes I would rather be alone than with other people. But these things have been true not because I am an introvert but because I have social anxiety. When I compare being alone and being with friends, family and/or my boyfriend, there’s no contest: I’d choose the other people every time.
Recently, I attended the FemCatholic Conference. Surrounded by strangers all day, I nonetheless found myself chatting them up and ended the day feeling excited and energized. My boyfriend informed me that feeling energized after a day surrounded by people is exactly the definition of not being an introvert. So even being with strangers is less exhausting now that I’m managing my social anxiety well*.
But this is all semantics, right? Why does it matter whether whether I call myself an extrovert or an introvert?
It’s a good question, especially for a self-righteous “But I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology” person who regularly goes on rants about the over reliance on the Myers-Briggs and similar personality assessments. (The Big Five is obviously better, amirite, psych majors?)
It’s true that judging other people or ourselves based on whether we’re an INFJ or an ENFJ is not good. But I do believe that these labels can help us understand ourselves and other people – and relate to ourselves and other people – better.
Why is it important for me to understand that I’m an extrovert? Because when I know I’m going to have a few evenings alone, I can plan ahead of time to schedule a girls’ night or a date with my boyfriend that week. Why is important for me to understand that my boyfriend is an introvert? Because when he tells me he needs a night to myself, I understand that it’s not a rejection of me or of spending time with me – he just needs to recharge.
In his encyclical “Fides et Ratio” (“Faith and Reason”), St. Pope John Paul the Great wrote, “God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” He continues, “The admonition Know yourself was carved on the temple portal at Delphi, as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as ‘human beings’, that is as those who ‘know themselves’.”
So, while I will continue to argue against an over-reliance on the Myers Briggs in the workplace to anyone who will listen to me, and while I will never introduce myself as an ENFJ (I did re-take the Myers Briggs, or at least a free one on the internet, and my I turned to an E), I will always encourage myself, the people around me, and the one or two people on the internet who read my blog to learn about ourselves. Having the language to describe our personalities and our preferences is helpful in learning about the person God made us to be.
So, I’m an extroverted, socially anxious Catholic/writer/public speaker/editor/musician/friend/sister/daughter/aunt/godmother/girlfriend who loves to be with other people but sometimes is impatient with them and wants to curl up on her couch and read a book.
Who are you?