Extroverts and Introverts

I was raised by an extrovert…one of the all-time greatest extroverts of the world, Ms. Judith Wolf.My father was one of the greatest introverts of all time. Go figure. They probably met somewhere in the middle which I think involved a bed or at least a bedroom.I am using the words extroversion and introversion as they were defined by C.G. Jungas part of his personality theories. Extroverts are folks who find their stimulation in the outer world–enjoying being with people or being out in the world, enjoying the events or large gatherings around them- without always having to be the center of attention. They get energy and stimulation from the outer world, and usually lose energy when they are alone.Introverts seem to get their energy from solitary activities or with a few close friends rather than large gatherings of people. They can be social, but choose their social contexts a little more carefully that extroverts do. They can be overwhelmed with too much stimulation, and need to measure their dose of external input. (This has nothing to do with shyness, which may be an example of social awkwardness.)  Introverts typically prefer less social activity.The key difference is energy. An introvert might look like an extrovert, talking, laughing, joking, the center of attention in a social situation–but an introvert loses energy doing it, and has to be alone to recover. An extrovert might look like an introvert, quiet, not saying much in a social situation–but an extrovert gains energy by being with other people.

Given these definitions, we all lie somewhere on the spectrum.

So back to my family of origin.
Cast of characters: (analogous to the play You Can’t  Take it With You)

  • My Mom, the flaming extrovert. (Think Auntie Mame, Ethel Merman.)
  • My Dad, a sweet, quiet introvert. (Think Jack Benny, Owen Wilson, Bill Pullman, Tom Hanks )
  • My oldest brother, Mike, an introvert with great social skills–especially in his professional life. He says: “When I’m working, being an extrovert is my job. I get paid for it. People who know me only professionally are surprised that I’m an introvert.” He credits Mom his model and inspiration.
  • My middle brother, Mark, an introvert with even greater great social skills, built a large medical practice in Panama City, FL, and almost everyone there knows him. (“Oh, you’re Dr. Wolf’s sister?  He delivered my babies.”)
  • Me, a-wanting-to-please extrovert, completely overshadowed by Mom in my childhood. Moved 3,000 miles away (that’s how much space it took) and voila! created my own tribe.

Despite the introverted majority in the family, we grew up in an environment that was very social and extroverted, driven by Mom, and enjoyed by every one of us.

On the weekends we got up early, (no lying about in bed,) did chores, and went out. In the winter the activity menu included: roller skating, ice skating, going to museums, bowling, plays, movies, or visiting family.

In the summer the menu was: going to the beach, movies, amusement parks, miniature golf, block parties,and more. It was go, go, go! To lie about reading a book was a kind of heresy. (Comic books were the worst travesty.) Mike, as the uber-introvert, was a heretic, and would sneak away so that he could read. It was a matter of survival for him. The toilet (the only place he could read without Mom’s interrupting him) had a lock on the door.

We had lots of parties and dinners and gatherings with friends and family.  It was an energizing life. Exciting!!!!I!!!!loved!!!!! the FUN!!!! that my family!!!! had. You had to be funny and clever and very quick to get a word in. And if you weren’t fast enough, you’d end up the inadvertent straight-man, or worse–the butt of the joke. It never occurred to me that there might be another way to live.

Years later, I went into therapy for a committed bit of time. My therapist repeatedly pointed out my fear of connecting to my introverted side. As she put it, “You go running for the hills every time you even get near it!” What was introversion for me? Partly it was being alone, and I hated being alone! Turning inward made me antsy, and without a friend to connect to I was lonely. I found it scary. Why would I want to open to those feelings?  It was much more FUN!!!! being double or triple booked for events the same day!!! It was much more fun to perform during the day at one venue and then do the same thing at night somewhere else. It was much more fun to have a party than almost anything!

There were only two solitary activities that I enjoyed: reading, and watching movies. I could and still can become immersed for days, weeks in the world of written or visual storytelling.

Well, time changes all things. I am older. I don’t want to do as much as I used to–even if I could. I think about how I want to spend my time. I decide whether or not to go to an event by locating it on my personal energy-expenditure-versus-joy-payoff-chart (check the Wikipedia article on energy-expenditure-versus-joy-payoff as soon as I get around to writing it–which will be as soon as the energy-expenditure-versus-joy-payoff for writing it is optimal) When I teach with 150% of my energy and I don’t want to budge again for the rest of the night. I need to be with myself, for writing, art, drumming, and walking the dog. I prefer being connected to being alone, but now I can tolerate alone pretty well, too. Nature (a euphemism for getting old) helps.

This behavior conforms to Jung’s personality theories, by the way. He says that as we mature we begin to develop the other parts of our personality-hopefully we become “well-rounded”.

The other day I recognized something interesting. It seems that I keep being attracted to the same combination of weird “ingredients” I grew up with:

Husband number 1, is, was, and will ever be an introvert..full of amazing information and eclectic tastes, but you have to wait in line to get  the information. Sometimes the line moves verrrrrrrry slowly. He used to say that trying to get him to do something was like pushing water in a bowl. Keep trying but you won’t get very far!

Husband number 2, is also an introvert, a long-time meditator and now a meditation teacher, therapist, and lover of all things Buddhist, and also the most amazing dancer, drummer, and can enjoy a great party. However, he can also go on 3-month silent retreats.

My best friends, K, D, and L are introverts.

It is interesting and sometimes challenging that I am drawn to my opposites. Just when I am starting to gear up for more FUN!!!!!  I may see a glazed look in my companion’s eyes–a sign that for them the party is over.

My girlfriend L (who is highly introverted, and an HSP (see Wikipedia) and I can be in the middle of an intense conversation when all of a sudden she gets up and says, “I’m done now,” and exits.

And I am left feeling: WOW, I am too much; I did something wrong. After the shock wears off, I begin to see that her bailing out is not personal. She is full. Full! And took responsibility for her fullness. Abrupt, maybe, but that’s how she takes care of herself. And I’ve learnt to value her directness. Her knowing when her cup is full makes the time I spend with her very precious.

I like to process. No, I don’t like to process, I need to process. My friend D sometimes criticizes my processing. Sharing nearly everything about myself strikes her as egoic, and self-centered–the “Zorina Show.” Meanwhile in (my version) I am excited or confused and I WANT TO SHARE!!!  Her introversion has rules. I don’t always follow those rules and that makes her feel there is no space for anyone else around me. I don’t like that picture. So I try to be quiet and let her or others’ speak in the silence… and then, and then….someone says something I know about. And I get excited again!!!! OY.  What makes us friends is a matter of the heart, not mind. Even though I sometimes piss her off, and feel her unsaid criticism, I still value the sisterliness I feel toward her and with her. Go figure. Love is love.

My dearest friend K and I have been through many ups and downs negotiating the sometimes vast distance between her introversion and my extroversion. I want a lot of time with her. In fact, I would love to live with her. I would see more of her. Seeing her and being with her is a balm for my spirit.

But there were problems. We’d make a date to meet for coffee, and and then have to say no, because her well was dry. She worked for a financial company, and after a long day she’d say she  just didn’t have the energy.

In those days I couldn’t understand the “my well is dry” syndrome. Dry well? Just go pump some more water!

We got into a bad cycle. I would ask her for time, she would say yes (maybe trying to please me), then not be able to show. I took it very personally. If you love me you would…

Eventually because I couldn’t have what I wanted and still valued her and our friendship, I had to learn to accept her as she was, not as I wanted her to be. I still wish I could live with her, but I feel closer to her now–  despite physical distance and lack of quantity time, than when we lived in the same town.

And of course, the most interesting and challenging introvert-extrovert  relationship is with my husband, Terrence.

He is my best friend and we are as different as different can be.

He loves silent retreats. He is nourished by deep quiet and concentration.

The dharma turns him on. He loves the intricacy of Buddhist thought with so many ways to talk about emptiness. He trained as a therapist, and loves the stimulation of his psychological training, and working with others individually–not at parties..

We meet on the dance floor, but don’t always dance together.

We meet in our studio where I teach drumming and he teaches meditation.

We meet in the world of ideas, art, music. We meet in the world of family and friends, although my capacity and desire for connection outweighs his.

We meet in our sleep, where our bodies curl around each other in the night.

We meet in being alone with each other.

Being extroverted has benefits. Life continues to share its wealth with any one who cares to connect; there is no end to the variety of people one can meet.  As your cast of characters shift, you can sometimes find one’s definitions of life and self can broaden and deepen.

Being an introvert has its benefits. You can choose how much of your time is to be shared with others and in what way. You can rely on yourself and find energy by narrowing your activites–despite the demands of an extroverted world. ( Read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).

We are different, you and I. We need to recognize and honor those differences while staying in our own skins. I need to ask your permission to continue telling you the amazing story of my life if I see your eyes glaze. I need to go for walks or take a yoga class to open to the active quiet within me.  I need to invite you, not assume that you would love to go to a social gathering. I may not choose to sit still in silence for long periods of time, but I can appreciate and value bringing myself a silent center, to calm, to soothe.

We can meet in the middle.