Before we got married, my husband and I attended some pre-marital counseling sessions that used the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory (MBPI). After answering a lot of questions, we were each assigned a four-letter personality profile. These profiles represented our inclinations in four different areas. Our counselor felt that knowing these things about each other would help us avoid misunderstandings based on personality. He was right. The MBPI has helped me in my marriage, all my relationships, and my writing. People are different, and I believe diversity is what makes the human race successful and interesting. Frankly, I find it fascinating.
In the next few posts, I am going to talk about the four main designations of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. I am no expert. I will be simplifying ideas. If you want “better” information about this psychological assessment tool, I suggest visiting the Myers-Briggs Foundation.
Extrovert vs Introvert
As you probably already know, extroverts are outgoing and introverts are shy. This isn’t a black and white designation, with everyone being one or the other. Instead, think of it as a continuum. On the shy side, some people are more shy than others and the same is true for the outgoing. Some people are right in the middle.
Let’s go a step deeper into what it means to be an extrovert or introvert. It’s all about energy.
Extroverts get their energy from being around other people. They like being active, doing things. My father was an extrovert and a teacher. In retirement, he often led workshops at conferences. He’d talk about the buzz he’d get from being at a conference, talking to others, being surrounded by people. The large conference experience, for him, was positive and renewing.
His description of a conference was mindboggling to me, the introvert. Introverts get their energy from being alone. It doesn’t mean I don’t like being around other people, because I do. I go to conferences, but they are incredibly exhausting. I’ll meet people, chat, do the conference thing, then go back to my hotel room and collapse. After a quiet evening alone, I can summon the energy to go out and socialize again.
I like being alone. I like when the house is empty. I don’t put on music or the television. I like silence. For me, this is comforting and wonderful. This is how I recharge. I don’t want to be home alone all the time, but I need this sort of time if I am going to have the energy to function in the world.
My father was not as comfortable being alone. This doesn’t mean he avoided it, but when he was home alone, he would have the television on or music going. Quiet, alone time exhausted him. If he needed to re-charge, he would go to his favorite restaurant/bar. He was friends with the employees, and he loved to sit and chat with new people too. This is how he re-charged.
The extremely introverted need more alone time to re-charge than the mildly introverted. The extremely extroverted seek more social situations than the mildly extroverted.
Why is this important to a writer?
You need to know what sort of characters you are writing. Who is an introvert? Who is an extrovert? To what degree? How they respond to being left alone or being forced to socialize will add depth and authenticity to their character. Many writers are introverts, and they need to make sure their out-going characters don’t seek isolation to re-charge. That isn’t how it works.
How can knowing this help your relationships?
If you are an introvert married to an extrovert, or vice versa, you need to understand how this makes you different in terms of energy. You need to let your spouse re-charge in the appropriate way. An introvert is not trying to hurt your feelings when s/he needs to be alone. It is a matter of survival. In the same way, an extrovert is going to need to be around more than just you, the introvert. Don’t be hurt that you aren’t “enough.”
Two extroverted parents with an introverted child need not worry about how much time their child spends alone. That child has different needs than they do.
Even people of the same sort, two extroverts or two introverts, are likely to be at different points on the continuum. A mildly shy person might want to “go out” more often than the extremely shy person.
Knowing the energy/re-charging needs of people in your family won’t solve every problem, but it can help inform your discussions.