People like Susan Cain have done a lot to make introvert and extrovert mainstream concepts.

This is great – it means more self-awareness, self-acceptance, and happiness for everyone. Or so you’d think.

But lately I’ve noticed some negative backlash – people feeling superior for being one or the other, or putting others down.

This is a common trap when you identify with a group – whether a sports team, profession, gender, phone brand, or anything that let’s your brain say us versus them.

It’s all too easy to feel competitive or threatened or intolerant. The same efficient brain processes that help us simplify a complex world can also make us vulnerable to unhelpful us-versus-them thinking.

Here are 4 reasons to avoid getting yourself caught in the extrovert-versus-introvert trap.

How To Avoid The Introvert Versus Extrovert Trap

1. There’s no pure introvert or extrovert

Extroversion and introversion are not binary, mutually exclusive concepts like black and white. Rather, they are extremes of a single continuum.

Everybody, and I mean everybody, is a shade of grey.

You and I both fall somewhere along this introversion-extroversion spectrum, closer to one end or the other, or somewhere in the middle (an ambivert). No one is pure extrovert or introvert.

In fact Jung, who originated the concepts of introversion and extroversion, said that anyone who was purely one or the other would be in a lunatic asylum. Hopefully one with both individual cells and dorms.

And there’s more. Not only are these concepts ends of a single notion, but they are also themselves multifaceted.

Introversion, as psychologists use the term today, is not a single unified trait, but a statistically identified collection of narrower sub-traits that include level of sociability, energy, activity, sensation-seeking, interpersonal dominance, and tendency to experience positive emotional states.

Two people could fall at the same level of introversion based on a personality test, but they could be completely different on each of these underlying sub-traits.

So introversion and extroversion are relative tendencies rather than absolutes. And they are broad concepts that contain narrow traits. Therefore it makes little sense to see the world in us-and-them, introvert-versus-extrovert distinctions.

It’s just not that simple.

2. Personality is greater than extroversion and introversion

Another important reason to avoid the introvert versus extrovert trap is that there’s more to the way psychologists view personality.

The introversion-extroversion scale can be described in general terms as a biologically-based preference for more or less stimulation – which could be light or noise or socialising. Introverts like less stimulation to feel comfortable and extroverts like more stimulation to feel comfortable.

But this is one of five statistically identified components of personality. The others are:

  • Agreeableness (cooperativeness, altruism, and compliance; at the other end of the scale is a more calculating, hostile, competitive nature)
  • Conscientiousness (largely concerned with goal-directedness and impulse control; at the low end of the scale is impulsiveness and present-orientation)
  • Neuroticism (a tendency to experience negative emotions including anger, sadness, shame and embarrassment; at the other end of the scale is emotional stability, or coping well with stress)
  • Openness to Experience (relates to the complexity of a person’s mental, experiential, and even aesthetic life; at the other end is conventionality and conservatism).

Seeing people simplistically as introverts or extroverts, as though that sums them up, omits other important aspects of who we are.

3. Understanding extroversion and introversion helps you accept yourself

So if the concept of introvert-extrovert is so relative and broad, and only part of the personality picture, then what makes it important?

That’s a good question. Especially as this entire site is about introverts!

Here’s why it matters.

Of the ‘big five’ personality components, introversion-extroversion is the one with the most potential to affect your self-acceptance and happiness. Why?

Because being an introvert and not knowing you’re an introvert can leave you feeling like there’s something very wrong with you.

It can make you feel like a failure at work if you can’t concentrate in an open-plan office. It can make you feel like a misanthrope if you love your friends but need a lot of time to yourself. It can make you wonder what your problem is that you’re super sensitive to noise and light – and, well, everything.

Extroverts by their nature are more visible, more out there than introverts. Extroverts are who we hear in meetings and see in movies and observe in the media. They become our idea of the norm.

This means people who are introverted can feel like misfits. They can spend their lives trying to fit in and become something they’re not.

None of the other big-five personality components have so much potential to change how you see yourself, to affect the decisions you make in your life, and to make you happier.

Discovering I’m an at the extreme end of introversion and changing my life to accommodate this reality has been the single greatest adjustment of my adult life. It has liberated my work, improved my relationships, and turned self-doubt into self-acceptance. It has brought me joy.

And that’s why I started Louder Minds. In the hope that others would enjoy more happiness too.

4. Understanding introversion and extroversion helps you accept others

The consequence of understanding yourself better and cutting yourself some personality slack is that you also do this for others.

This is the price of self-knowledge: you must also understand others better, too.

Since finding out I’m an introvert and, over time, coming to accept and now love this part of myself, I’ve become much more tolerant of other people as well.

Accepting my love of staying in has given me so much more understanding of friends who love to party.

Cultivating my passion for nerdy pastimes and hobbies has stopped me feeling disconnected from people who love sports or adventure activities. Yes, even campers.

Indulging my preference for low-noise and low-light environments has made me more respectful of others’ preference for brightness and volume.

Accepting myself has opened me up to accept others.

More Acceptance And Happiness For Everybody

In short, the (single, broad, and very grey) continuum of introversion-extroversion is nothing more than information.

It’s counterproductive to use this information to judge others or as an excuse to feel superior.

In fact, as we’ve seen, introverts and extroverts are not on separate teams or in discrete silos – we’re all just swimming in different depths of the same grey.

But if recognising our relative differences helps us accept ourselves more, then let’s embrace those differences. Let’s cultivate our strengths and indulge our preferences and enjoy our pleasures.

And let’s consciously nurture the other side of this too – a greater acceptance of other people’s strengths and preferences and pleasures.

Let’s use what we learn about extroversion and introversion to enjoy less them and more us. 

For all of us.