I had gotten to a place where I truly believed everything I was called: ‘not sexy,’ ‘not funny,’ ‘too intense,’ desperate.’ All those labels they gave me, I took them because there wasn’t a trace of my true self left.
My point of view was worded quite aptly on a blog I read recently – labels are for packages, not people. The introvert-extrovert labeling is the product of a social life. A person in isolation can not be labeled as an introvert or extrovert. Behavior that seem to be commonly observable in a majority of people leads to this labeling. There is a social cycle that a person goes through to become an introvert/extrovert. Based on how you respond to social situations you are branded. But, calling you an “introvert” is irrelevant if you don’t know what it means. That is where the internet comes in.
With the ease and infiniteness of information available, and the popularity of personal development, personality tests have become easily accessible to everybody. The introvert-extrovert labeling is a major part of these tests. You take the test and based on a few objective answers find yourself labeled as an introvert/extrovert. While such tests have validity (especially the Jung’s & Briggs-Myers test), all they do is indicate what sort of behavior you may exhibit. They are not guidelines to live by because no one knows you better than you. Especially not a database that matches answer and behavior patterns. But, because there are traits that seem to be common for a group of people, you get the feeling that this group of so called “introverts” or “extroverts” understand your position in life and you tend to associate with them based on the classification. So, now you know what exactly an introvert/extrovert is, you tend to look for behavior pattern in yourself that are characteristic of that group. It is again in social situations that such behavior comes to light.
Now as you go through life, you start seeing certain behavior in yourself, and identify with being an introvert/extrovert. It becomes your personality. However, personality is shaped by the society – parents, teachers, friends, classmates, colleagues. The way society reacts to an individual’s behavior conditions their response over time. If you were to be scolded every time you wanted to be hugged as a child, you’d become conditioned to treat human contact as undesirable. So, with the widespread awareness of introversion/extroversion, people give meaning to the labels. If you are being exuberant at a party, you are an extrovert. If you sit on the side with your drink, you are an introvert. And you, in all your intelligence and wisdom, start to see yourself as your label, you become it. It goes from being a personality to “It’s just who I am.”
The label that was created by the society, starts to define your actions. The identity formed on this basis becomes so strong that people find themselves locked into a behavior pattern. They deny their own feelings because of the label. An extroverted person will go crazy at a party even though s/he is sad because they believe they are supposed to be outgoing and social – “I am the party animal, not the sad, sulking type. What will people say?” Or, an introverted person may want to go crazy at a party to celebrate an achievement, but, s/he will hold back fearing the rejection and ridicule that might stem from such an expression of open joy – “I am so happy I can do the rain dance now, but, I don’t dance in front of other people. I don’t want to be a weirdo.” Such a mismatch between your feelings and actions will deprive you of living a full life, experiencing the whole gamut of human emotions. The label that you have become chips away at your individuality as a human being.
For example, I like reading books more than going to nightclubs. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy partying with my friends. I like to listen to music on my earphones while commuting, but that shouldn’t stop me going on group rides with my fellow bikers. If I believed I was an introvert through and through I won’t be able to socialize with people and share in the joy and sorrow of my friends and family. I tend to introverted behavior so that is my frame of reference. However, even for extroverted behavior the principle is the same. There are a few things that are essential to break out of an artificial label (inspired by Scott Dinsmore) and yet, do so in a socially beneficial manner.
- Be clear on your values – What experiences are you willing to compromise on, and what you believe to be essential. What things in life do you hold dearest.
- Know your strengths – Know what you excel in and how to maximize the experiences that puts them to use. What skills are you better at than most people you know.
- Learn from your experiences – Notice what felt good and what didn’t As the list builds up you will start to see patterns emerge based on your own life experiences.
- Start living life on your terms – Define your own success, happiness etc. Don’t follow what the society says “you ought to”. Remember, no one know you better than you.
- Give back to the society – As you come to know who you truly are, find a way to contribute to the society by doing what you excel at and enjoy doing. Share the love and happiness you find in your life.
I think the present attitude favors the extrovert over the introvert, and the pro-introvert crowd is all for accepting them as they are. They quote examples of famous individuals who appeared to be introverts. Such an attitude is indicative of a rift in society. The overbearing extrovert discriminates (directly or indirectly) against the withdrawn introvert. The introvert responds by withdrawing further and asserting the right to “let me be who I am”, which pleads helplessness to change one’s own behavior. This is personality divide in society is similar to those based on religion, geography, or social class. It is a strange paradox. Human beings need to exist in a society to survive. But individuality, that which distinguishes human beings from all other living things, is being eroded by social life. Both have to coexist though. I believe that cherishing individuality is the way for society to prosper. If everyone becomes open to all the human experiences, the understanding between people will transcend all limitations and boundaries. Only by understanding each other can we bring about meaningful and positive change in the world.