Is your personality defined when you are a child and set for life? I don't believe so, well, certainly for me, at least. Introvert to extrovert and back again. There are times when I want to be with people, interacting. Then there are times when I just want to be alone. Let's dig in.
"Extroversion and introversion refer to where people receive energy from. Extroverts are energized by socializing in larger groups of people, having many friends, instead of a few intimate ones, while introverts are energized by spending time alone or with a smaller group of friends." Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/extrovert-vs-introvert#:~:text=%E2%80%9CExtroversion%20and%20introversion%20refer%20to,a%20smaller%20group%20of%20friends.%E2%80%9D
Ask yourself or your friends how introvert or extrovert is defined. The typical interpretation for me used to be quiet and reserved vs outspoken and boisterous. More recently, I have a new understanding of it, which is more aligned with the definition above, save for a slight difference.
"Introverts lose energy in social situations whilst extroverts gain or absorb the energy from social interaction." I prefer seeing it this way.
Many of us have done fun quizzes on social media that tell us our personality type. In a more serious setting, such as prior to a prospective employer engaging you on your services, you are sent for a psychometric test. Generally, you will be given a monicker thereafter, e.g. INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judging). As most analytical people do, I tested as an INTJ a while back, when I felt that I err'd on the left-brain side of life. They are unique in that they are seen as very difficult to coach in the business coaching arena because of how their minds and personality work, which is precisely why they are valued in the science, engineering and tech space. Now, these tests always say they do not attempt to put people into a box. If one deconstructs the term "psychometric", we see that it is a measure (metric) that attempts to quantify, in some sense, the psyche of a person. However, I believe personality and psychological behaviour cannot be quantified scientifically. That is why we have the qualitative methods of research that are accepted as true or as true as can be discerned, on the basis of sufficient observation of a population, followed by in-depth analysis. I believe that personality is fluid, and can evolve throughout our lives.
Herein for me, lies the problem. In apparently not putting you into a box, you are being put into a box. No matter how often it is stated that the outcomes of tests such as Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and Enneagrams are indicative and simply guidelines, once given the label, human nature is such that we make our judgement and stick to it on the basis of those labels.
I talk about being more balanced of left and right brain than a typical INTJ myself. Left and right brain is not scientifically supported to relate to analytical and creative nature, respectively, but are used to describe a person of either inclination. Typically an INTJ would be more left-brain dominant.
Then there is this device of death known as Holland's Hexagon of Occupational Themes. Death of hope and dreams of having freedom of career choice. Okay, fine. We all have choice, but when you are young and impressionable in school and have to start building your abilities toward a future career, you are easily influenced into a box. Whether it be due to your cognitive abilities or otherwise, kids are often told what they 'will be good at' in a future career. The school system also makes 'intelligence' seem more valued than other attributes and thus is probably the more lucrative opportunity in the future. Utter and complete bullshi!t if you ask me. However, not knowing any better, we believe that box we are put into and, in most instances, shape our careers and lives around it.
That raises the question, "Did I want to become an engineer because I wanted to or because I was convinced that I was inclined toward technical thinking and that, in fact, pushed me toward liking it?" I mean, truth be told, I hated math! To go full-on Matrix here, we could ask if any choice is truly free, or is it predefined by society in which we must either fit or live a life of loneliness?
In 2022, at the age of 33 years old, and after almost ten years of having been an engineer, I was told by an experienced psychologist that I could never incorporate the social and artistic aspects into my career because they were on the opposite side of the hexagon to my current career. That sent me through the roof and made me more determined than ever to prove my PhD thesis that says we need more balance in science, engineering and technology pedagogy. I have since found myself excited by the creative far more than the analytical, in fact, I have begun to detest the latter.
On one end of the spectrum, when I was first diagnosed, I was in a high (hypomanic) phase for sure, I just did not know it at the time. It is a euphoric state, like being high. Self-confidence is sky-high, and nothing can stop you. Too much so, and you end up saying or doing things you regret when you return to Earth. I talked about it quite a bit in my last post, " What being bipolar feels like."
Today I want to explore one aspect of the other side of the spectrum, but don't be misled to believe that being in a low state does not mean your brain slows down. On the contrary, I found myself overthinking worse than ever. The anxiety, I suppose.
One of the unfortunate aspects that is common in ADHD adults, as well as bipolar people, is that of feeling of being antisocial.
Picture being in an overall low (depressive state). You are not excited by the things that usually would make you really, really happy. You don't organically want to be around people or hear their stories and when you are pulled into a conversation , you act like you are fine because you don't want to be seen as a weirdo for running away, but you are not able to stay focussed on the conversation for more than 10 seconds. The time it takes your brain to get bored of small talk that is just not stimulating enough to keep you engaged.
We need to talk about a few things because if I don't explain what I mean by 'boring' and 'not engaging' or 'small talk,' people tend to jump to thinking that I find them boring etc. I do not find YOU boring; my brain is just not interested in the topic of discussion at this time whilst I am in the state I am currently in; this tends to be my brain's reaction. This leads to just wanting to be alone so I don't have to hear or act like I am okay. At the same time, however, my low self-esteem in this state means I stay in that spot and absorb all the boring rocks being hurled at me. Why? Because I don't want to be the weirdo that needs to walk away, then be thought of as needing [.....xyz......] because of my condition.
Yes, this is the proverbial toast being buttered on both sides. It certainly is because no matter how it lands on the floor, it's doomed for failure.
Here are a few definitions from my world:
Boring - My brain is insufficiently stimulated by the interaction or topic either because I just don't find it interesting at that time or I am distracted by something else that is on my mind; it is not the first time I am hearing it from you, I am well aware of what you are saying to or about me or, you are just dragging it out too long for my ADHD brain to stay tuned in. Sorry, I want to, but it is really not my fault. I promise that I am trying my level best.
Not Engaging - My brain wants to be stimulated by learning new things as often as possible, even if my dumbass brain will probably forget some of it soon (or not be able to recall it). Also, this is why I get so bored in a specific job after a short time. Case in point, when I was a piping design engineer, I got to a point where I had done a few designs, and it was just repetition after that, the nature of the industry. Similarly in my last position as an engineering and operations manager, I was hired to use my knowledge and experience to improve systems and processes, but the company did not want any of those improvements, which were so boring to me because they were the basics of what I had learned at the beginning of my career in either event, let alone suggestions that were futuristic and potentially would put us ahead of the competition.
This is why I love my academic PhD work. However, I don't feel free enough to give it the time it deserves as it will likely not bear (income) fruit any time soon. I don't want to be super rich, but I have a family to support. Despite all the assurance and backup my wife has given me, I still feel responsible for doing my part.
Small talk - Holy shi!t, this one gnaws at my psyche so hard! We really must be the dumbest species on this planet. Every other species has purpose in their actions, yet we humans will do frivolous cr@p because we built a society in which it is the acceptable norm. Examples...
1. You go to a 'function', be it a wedding, funeral or family gathering, and you can pre-empt everything that will happen or be discussed. You stand there awkwardly because everyone in the room probably feels the same way but does not want to be the odd one out, so you just go along with it. Do what is 'expected.' Do we even know what that is, or why?
2. You're at a social event with people you barely know. The topic of discussion around the braai (barbeque) amongst the men, may I add, as the ladies are all confined to their circle, because, well, that's just what society has built. You're asked, "So how is business?" by a dude that you barely know, who has no idea of your professional background, who you are or what you actually do. This, for me, is the biggest outcry of "I have nothing meaningful or engaging to say, but I feel socially pressured to fill the space with idle, irrelevant, zero-value-adding chatter." In my head, I am screaming, "Why the F%$! am I here?" as I smile and respond, "Ay, this economy, you know how it is." But do I or you for that matter? Because I have no clue what you do, nor do I really care, so how could I possibly know if the economy affects your work at all?
Why am I here? - Because I am too ashamed of myself, my self-esteem, and my 'condition' to be seen as a societal outcast. I am not ashamed to admit this because I am human, after all.
Introvert to Extrovert and back again
How can I profess that I understand both sides of introversion and extroversion? Well, because I flip-flop between the two most commonly with mood state. When I am in a high state, extroversion dominates, but when in a low like above, introversion takes over.
Somehow the world has made it such that extroverts seem to progress in society quicker. At some level, they are seen because they are able to make themselves seen. Introverts, on the other hand, can contain within them, incredible value in the same situation as the extrovert, even more in many instances, but getting that out of them takes a different approach and more importantly, understanding.
What was I hoping that you would take away from this? Introvert or extrovert, should not matter. Try not to judge a person on how they present in a social situation. Take a second to be mindful of how they might prefer to interact. Stop to think about it, and relative to your energy level, whether you need to increase or decrease to close the gap. We may need a lower-energy approach if we are introverted and that is okay. Similarly, an extroverted person is not necessarily boisterous, and over the top, we just love absorbing energy from those around us.
Awareness and mutual understanding need to happen before any assumptions are made in order for everyone to feel comfortable in social interaction.
See you next time!