The way that you communicate and connect with people is kind of everything. That’s what I think. When you search the internet for personality types, you find millions of results tempting you to classify yourself as one of a variety of things. “Who are you?” they ask. “Are you an extrovert?” “Introvert?” An introverted extrovert. This is a story about my quest to know more about myself. I’m Jackie. I love expressing myself through my work. But I don’t like to be the center of attention. I spend a lot of my time alone.
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I kind of like it that way. I can be charismatic and friendly, but it tends to wear me out. Which is to say, I guess I’m a introvert. But is that it? What does that really mean? And is it holding me back? Generally speaking, introverts lose energy after long periods of social interaction. They’re super sensitive to external stimuli. And extraverts are the opposite. They’re naturally energetic and enthusiastic. But I wanted to know where this whole binary conception of introverts and extroverts came from in the first place. So I met up with Pepperdine University’s Psychology Professor, Dr. Steve Rouse, who’s down for a selfie. Could you sit up a little bit more? Sure. Just adjust in your seat. A lot of times in everyday language we talk about introverts and extroverts as if those are two entirely different groups of people. And that’s really not the case. What we see from research is that it is dimensional characteristic. The reason why people think of introverts and extroverts is two different groups of people is maybe because of the history of the concept.
The person who really introduced that concept was Carl Jung. Meet Carl Jung. Well, that’s Carl Sagan. Isn’t he charming? This is Carl Jung. Carl Jung was a psychiatrist in the middle of the 20th century. Carl Jung had the idea that we all have kind of an introverted ability and an extroverted ability. But some people lean more toward the introverted side and other people lean toward the extroverted side. Today there aren’t very many people outside of psychotherapy and psychiatry who really consider themselves to be ascribing to a Jungian theory. But as binary conception of personality does persist in one incredibly potent way, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The Myers-Briggs Test was developed in the 1940s based on Carl Jung’s typological theory. The idea is that there are four main psychological functions: sensation, thinking, intuition, and feeling. And that every individual is ruled by one of these functions. It was originally used to match women entering the workforce for the first time with jobs that would suit their personalities. The test has taken off and become wildly profitable, but it’s based on a theory, not data. In the 1980s, psychologists moved away from Jung’s theories of personality and towards something more scientifically motivated based on language. They developed a test known as The Big Five.
It’s called The Big Five because it revolves around five different dimensions of personality. The first is extraversion. Outgoing. Assertive. Energetic. Neuroticism. Angry. Anxious. Depressed. Agreeableness. Compassionate. Cooperative. Trusting. Conscientiousness. Organized. Dependable.
Disciplined. And lastly, openness to experience. Creative. Curious. Adventurous. Personality tests does allow us to have some time to really sit back and think about, “Who am I? What are the characteristics that my friends can perceive in me?” Because there are some ways that the me that I see myself may be different than the me that my friends see. I would argue if any test helps people understand themselves and helps people understand and empathize with other people better, that’s fantastic. But to be honest, the Myers-Briggs doesn’t appear to be as strong a test as some measures of The Big Five. Since The Big Five is supposedly the holy grail of personality tests, I took it. Of course, I’m not always sad. Basically assessing how much of a relativist I am. “I love a good fight.” Am I the one fighting? Am I reading the fight? I don’t want to be a douchebag. Question 121 out of 300. “Rarely overindulge.” I’m on 256.
“I am not bothered by difficult social situations.” Almost. Okay. And send! Oh damn. My agreeableness score is really low. I’m highly neurotic. I’m easily upset even by what most people consider the normal demands of living. I’m tough, critical, and uncompromising. People consider me to be sensitive and emotional. Oh my god. What’s normal though? Okay. Alright. I really feel weird about all of this. I think I’m closer to being an extrovert than I thought I was. Whoa. What does it mean? I don’t know.
Clearly there’s a lot that complicates personality. It’s more dimensional than just a binary introvert, extrovert spectrum. According to the test, I couldn’t even claim to be an introvert anymore. I feel as though I tripped on my introversion and fell into a deep and complicated well of personality. Far from being a positive thing, the test made me feel bad. It was like I was looking into a mirror and I couldn’t accept the reflection. I’m about to go back to Brooklyn and I have all of this stuff. Halfway through making this post in Los Angeles, I had to return to New York City. I was only in LA temporarily. Weeks passed and I was super bothered by my personality test results. Because the thing is, I am disagreeable. I am neurotic. I am angry and sad and anxious. I don’t like myself a lot of the time. I wish I was different. Making this post would be a hell of a lot easier if I could just fake my way through it.
I needed help expressing myself in what I thought was an extroverted way. But is it just maybe an agreeable way? Ugh. I guess I’m open to that. I reached out to Lizzy Wallace, who teaches improv to folks who want to communicate better in the workplace. Yes, nice to meet you. I think improv is a great tool to help people because it’s all about being in the moment. It’s not so much about being in your own head and overanalyzing things. Oh my gosh. That’s totally me. Everyone is supporting one another. And so it’s not much about who’s the smartest, who’s the most confident, who’s the most popular. It’s about using everyone’s strength collectively. I’m going to have us start our first game. Everyone stand up. Thank you. Yeah, I’m an introvert I guess.
I’m either an introverted extrovert or extraverted introvert. I can’t figure out exactly which one. I would call myself just a person and it depends whatever day. I’d definitely say I’m talkative and outgoing, but I do like my quiet time. You have to trust yourself. You have to trust the people around you. You kind of have to let go of any neuroses you have. Any anxiety, put that to the side. And just be present in the moment. How do you feel about classifying people as introverts or extroverts? Do you agree with it? I don’t think it’s actually fair. I know for me, I’m definitely a combination of the two woot woot ambivert. Give that to your partner. Boop boop. Good. Boop boop. Good.
Okay, it changed again. Boop boop. Good. When I went into this improv workshop, I was pretty sure that I was an antisocial monster. But the boop booping was fun. It was a safe space to be silly and weird with my coworkers. Far from wearing me out, it made me feel a little lighter. It makes me want to open myself up to this kind of joy and connection more often. It’s so funny right? See? Poop poop. So here I am in all of my halfway, extraverted, neurotic, disagreeable, open and averagely conscientious glory. This whole process led me to cast off my self-assigned introvert label. And it forced me to face down complicated parts of my personality. It’s not all good, but it’s not all bad either. I’m happy to be open and off to work through my anger and anxiety when those feelings come up. Do I really want to base my understanding of myself completely on a personality test? No, of course not. But it’s helpful to have tools for reflection and self-awareness.
What do you think?.