I Have Found a Vastly Superior Explanation to the Extrovert/Introvert Situation

Photo by Pineapple Supply Co.

I am a super-extroverted person. As you probably know, the prevailing explanation everyone has for what that means is that I am a person who "recharges" or "gets energy" from being with other people, unlike introverts, who get their energy from being alone.

This explanation has always seemed mostly accurate but also lacking to me. The accurate part is that I do mostly feel energized by spending time with other people: I prefer to work in an office or coffee shop where other humans are also doing things than at home by myself; if I spend a whole day without seeing anyone, I start to feel kind of bummed out and lonely; I will often leave a party or hang out with friends feeling super jazzed about life (once I manage to force myself to leave).

However, if I am truly exhausted, I do not want to go to a party. At some point, I do just need some time to myself to relax and just "be". Sure, I may require way less alone time than an introvert, but I still need a night off once in a while. I also don't feel energized by every social encounter. Sometimes, other people are just plain draining, even my favourites.

Sure, you could explain that by saying I'm just not that extroverted, even though spending 12 waking hours without seeing a person makes me feel supremely bummed out. But that also doesn't quite seem right.

My partner, who is super introverted (aren't we a pair!) is another sort-of-fits-but-not-quite to the classic explanation of introverts simply needing time to be alone. It became clear pretty quickly in our relationship that it wasn't just alone time he needed. Sometimes he would have (what I consider to be) a TON of alone time and still feel like he couldn't socialize. Sometimes being with just one or two other people that he knows well (which is supposedly introvert socialization gold) was still exhausting.

Sometimes, I realized that I couldn't use some formula of time spent alone to understand when he would and wouldn't want to be with other people because it involved more than JUST the amount of time he had spent socializing and how many people were there. (I say I realized this "sometimes" because I keep forgetting and having to re-realize it.)

Enter the new explanation: introverts and extroverts have different sensitivities to stimulation.

In this explanation, extroverts are not very sensitive to stimulation and thus require more of it around to feel like we are at a baseline. Without higher levels of stimulation, we feel sad, lonely, and low-energy, so even if we aren't with people, we are more likely to do things like put the radio or Netflix on in the background.

Introverts, on the other hand, are more sensitive to stimulation and so more easily feel overwhelmed and anxious by everything going on around them and prefer quiet environments. They are unlikely to want "background noise" or to be able to tune out a noisy bar and focus on the conversation with the person they are there with.

This explains SO MUCH MORE than just asking someone where they get their energy!!!

First of all, it encompasses ye olde energy argument pretty easily: of course, an introvert is going to feel more drained by going to a party! There is so much stimulation! Their brain has just been stabbed repeatedly by music and lights and the noise of everyone talking as well as all the socializing, and they need to go heal those wounds! And of course, an extrovert is going to be desperate to hang with friends at the end of a day! They are feeling sluggish and understimulated by this boring world!

It also explains so much more than that!

Case in point, my relationship:

Silence feels oppressive to me and relaxing to him. I listen to talk radio every morning while getting ready, and he retreats to the bedroom to have some relative quiet. I prefer to have music, podcasts, or other "background noise" on at all times around the house, he gets overwhelmed by all that noise. If I'm working on something relatively mindless, I will do it in front of the TV because it comforts me, he can't even imagine trying to work on anything with a TV show on anywhere within earshot.

When we went camping for a week in relative quiet, I started to feel antsy, needy, sluggish, and sad. On that same trip, when I put on a podcast for a while in the car, I felt instant relief to have an external voice fill my mind.

Yes, we are an Odd Couple, but not just because I want to have friends over every day and spending a day in the office is all the socializing he can stand! It's because of our baseline sensitivity to stimulation!!!

What about you??? Did this explanation just crack your brain open??? Or did you already know it and you're wondering where the heck I've been??? Or do you think it's total bunk???


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