With all the people I’ve met through being a therapist, performer, officiant, former youth pastor, and someone who strikes up conversations with random people (yes, I’m that guy), I remember only meeting one person who described themselves as an extrovert when the topic came up (I have weird conversations). Even the very outgoing and fun looking people I’d assume were extroverts said they were introverts. In public they could be the fun person, but if given the choice, they’d rather be at home in the quiet. Does this mean I’m somehow sheltered and I’m only meeting introverts? Logically, if I’m meeting as many people as I do, the majority of people I talk to should be extroverts because the introverts are less likely to want to engage in a conversation with me. If I work with couples in therapy, shouldn’t at least one of the partners be an extrovert, especially if “opposites attract,” or is it just introverts who need help? Could it be this idea of introverts, extroverts, and the new term I heard, amberverts, be misleading?
The basic lesson I was taught years ago was that extroverts get energy from being with people while introverts get energy from being alone. From my experience, we should be capable of getting energy from both, especially if we’re emotionally healthy. I first recognized the problem with the extrovert-introvert idea many years ago, but didn’t know what it meant. As a teenager, my sister was never home; she was always out running events and meeting up with friends. When we were at church or at one of her band events (she was cooler than that makes her sound), I’d be amazed at how well she’d bounce around greeting people and sharing laughs. She was incredible. At home she was a little more reserved, but she was still the queen of being social. This social dynamo continued to dominate until she became a teacher and suddenly she was never going out besides her regular Saturday line dancing night (okay, maybe she wasn’t that cool, but to me she was). This really bothered me because she was supposed to be the social dynamo, but now she was becoming more of a hermit. I soon became a youth pastor and I was always bugging her to come out to events I was running through the church or with friends, but she never wanted to go out. How did this vibrant person flip so drastically? Was she denying her extroverted self?
As I mentioned earlier, the people I often assumed were extroverts would actually classify themselves as introverts like my sister would. What I didn’t understand then, I soon learned when I became a very busy therapist. Last year in particular I went through a phase where I was working too much. At the end of the week my wife knew when I had worked too much because my eyes look dead. She calls it my zombie face. Even before I was this busy, I found I avoided church for about four years minus a few special visits or speaking engagements because the thought of seeing people in my free time made me want to vomit (sounds healthy doesn’t it?). What I’ve since realized is being social is like a muscle, and it can be overworked. As a youth pastor I had enough alone time to be ready to interact with people at events, but as a therapist I’m spending most of my time in fully engaged conversation with people and like my sister, I learned what it meant to be socially exhausted. It’s not about being extroverted or introverted, it’s about reaching my max for social interaction. Just like a muscle, our social ability needs to be worked out in order to grow, but it can’t be worked so hard that it’s damaging. Here’s a simple scale to represent this:
No Social Time (-10)—————-Enough Social Time (0) —————- Too Much Social Time (10)
Like a normal scale, the middle, Enough Social Time (0), is the healthy spot. It’s the amount that keeps us engaging with people in a healthy way without wearing out that part of our brains. When I was refusing to go to church, I was like a 5. When I hit zombie face mode, I was closer to the 10. Fortunately, my social stamina has grown and I’m getting better at keeping myself to a 0-5. As you can probably guess what is 0-5 for me is a 10 for others because how I’ve grown, but whatever our ability is, everyone needs to be striving for the middle.
The problem with many so-called introverted people is they’ll use that title as an excuse not to go out and instead hide in their house. This in turn weakens their social abilities and how much social interaction they can handle preventing them from wanting to go out in the future. Meanwhile, people with too much social time can wear out that part of their brain like I did (not bragging) or they can neglect the basic tasks and responsibilities that make a happy functioning household. Finding the balance of Enough Social Time (0) is difficult and sometimes impossible to follow because work or life can get in the way, but emotionally healthy people do their best to find a balance when they can. This can mean taking a few minutes at work to talk to coworkers or strangers in line at stores or spending a few extra minutes in the bathroom away from people if they need a break.
But what about the energy so-called extroverts get in public? Like a football player before a game or a performer before walking on stage, they get energy from their adrenaline. There’s just enough fear and anxiety that kicks in as a way to make their senses sharper and their brains work quicker. If there’s too much energy, the person is overwhelmed and freezes. Our bodies are meant to get energy from social interactions, which means sometimes we’ll be enhanced (like when we’re attracted to someone) or be overwhelmed (e.g. there are too many people). You could argue introverts are quicker to be overwhelmed, but regardless, they need to work on growing their social abilities because it is like a muscle: If you never use it, you lose it.
This week may you consider what healthy social time is for you and how you can achieve that.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)