Nothing could be further from the truth: the REAL difference is that extroverts gain energy from groups and lose it when alone, while introverts are the other way around: they recharge when left alone, and use up energy when dealing with groups of people. This is the real difference, and what we perceive as the big difference is actually just a symptom of the distinguishing trait: of course someone who recharges in groups will be thriving in them, just as much as someone who uses up energy in a group will eventually look for solitude to recharge.
That being said, everyone needs time on their own, and even the most typical extrovert will occasionally need time to herself. It just isn’t as obvious as in the case of an introvert who seems to absent a lot. It’s a matter of perception of presence.
So why do we need to isolate ourselves occasionally? I believe that isolation is necessary to process intellectual and physical experiences, make plans, take decisions and generally be in touch with ourselves. The introvert has a higher chance of doing that – and usually will have time to spend even after having done all this, where the extrovert will be looking for company again soon – maybe too quickly to really finish whatever needed doing in the first place.
Isolation in itself isn’t the holy grail either: if anything it would be moderation that takes the prize! Either extreme, 100% extrovert and 100% introvert, will ultimately be an uncomfortable place to be, as we either don’t take the time to process, or get engrossed in process to a degree that it hinders the exchange with the outside world. My understanding of the matter leads me to believe that balance is necessary, and that balance can only be found in relative and temporary isolation.
There is a certain amount of soul searching we need to get done on occasion, figuring things out, asking ourselves questions that need asking and answering, making decisions that affect our lives and the lives of others. I don’t imagine the extrovert is able to do these things while being the centre of attention (= too much distraction), nor is the introvert in isolation able to look at things from different perspectives (= too little interaction with others). And just like an introvert might be craving more interaction, yet dreading the implications, an extrovert could occasionally be looking for a more quiet time.
Apart from the obvious need to be unperturbed at certain times and at certain intervals, taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of the world around us can be simply delicious and enjoyable to both introverts and extroverts, if at different levels. Either type can actually enjoy time alone, and that time alone is precious. It can serve to consider options for the future, meditate, enjoying hobbies, etc. and many of these can be more enjoyable if done on your own, although our extrovert might have a lesser need to isolate herself overall, and her hobbies will naturally involve more activities that by definition involve others.
Isolation offers an opportunity to listen within, and leave the outside behind for a while. An opportunity to be with yourself, and define yourself and your actions from your own being, rather than relying on the evaluation from others. Again, both extreme extroverts and introverts may have similar issues with different backgrounds: the extrovert might just define herself through her friends and activities and find it difficult to retreat and reconsider, thus getting stuck in that circle of definition from the outside; the introvert might just be too self-centred for his own good, running in circles around his own thoughts and never considering tempering them with outside influences. Once more: extremes are hard to deal with, and balance is necessary.
How do we find that balance, then? I’m not saying that either of them have to change the way they interact with their peers, by no means! Maybe it is enough to simply acknowledge that isolation is necessary and making enough time to get things sorted, but not so much as would make your brain simmer in its own juices for too long.
Are there spaces between total immersion and isolation, the two extremes? Of course, there are! An introvert might find small groups enjoyable, catering to his need for escape when necessary, but also to a need for communication and exchange. An extrovert is likely to be happy in the active environment of a bar, without engaging too much with the people around her. It’s all gradations of a spectrum, and often a simple question of exposing yourself to other types of environments in order to determine which ones you enjoy and which ones you don’t.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.