What Everybody Ought to Know about Extraversion and Introversion

Ambivert. This is a word that frustrates me like very few words do. It is a buzzword used to describe a person who likes time with people and time alone.  Why does it frustrate me? Because it’s unnecessary, inaccurate, and damaging. Unnecessary because the truth is we all enjoy some time with people and some time alone. That’s normal. We don’t need a word to describe it. Inaccurate because introversion and extraversion mean a lot more than whether or not a person prefers people-time or alone-time. I’ll explain this in more detail momentarily. Damaging because this is the starting line for identifying a person’s personality type, which only leads to confusion rather than clarity. And if personality is confusing, it’s unusable. So what’s the point?

Let me say it clearly: Ambiversion is not real.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how our personalities develop as we age. To avoid the technical psychology shop talk, we’ll turn to our friends in the 100-Acre Woods for an example.

Childhood

When Christopher Robin was young — like birth to 12 years old or so — he had one favorite imaginary friend. Pooh Bear. (Yes, I know he moved on from the 100-Acre Woods well before he was 12. I’m using an analogy to keep it simple.) During these years, he depended on Pooh Bear to help him understand the world around him.

Teen Years

As Christopher Robin moved through his teen years, Rabbit started helping more and more with the decision-making. By the time Christopher was 21, Pooh Bear and Rabbit were responsible for about 90% of how he functioned in the world. The other inhabitants of the 100-Acre Woods were there, but Pooh and Rabbit were his most familiar and trusted teammates.

Early Adulthood

Adult life proves stressful for Christopher Robin, as it does for most of us. Lucky for him, a third member is added to his team starting around 21 years of age — Eeyore. Eeyore is best at helping Christopher figure out how he feels about things and whether or not something is meaningful. This is helpful information during times of stress, when Eeyore is most frequently called on for assistance. It’s good that Eeyore is only occasionally called on because, as the third member of the team, Eeyore has not gotten a chance to develop in maturity like Pooh and Rabbit. Even though Christopher Robin is an adult, at best, Eeyore contributes with the skill of a 10 year old.

Later Years

Mid-life crisis hits in the forties, and a final member of the team gets involved. Piglet. Piglet helps Eeyore most of the time. If Christopher Robin really gets into a jam that Pooh Bear and Rabbit  can’t get him out of, Piglet may run the show for a bit. He’s good at revealing possibilities they haven’t thought of themselves. But, like Eeyore, Piglet’s growth and development is stunted as a result of his late addition to the team. Typically Piglet only functions with the ability of a 3 year old, so Christopher Robin is wise to keep himself out of a lot of situations (a.k.a. high or chronic stress) that require Piglet to get involved.

And that is how healthy personality forms.

In our childhood, we primarily depend on our favorite function to navigate our world. In the teens, we add a second function. Early adulthood brings in a third, or tertiary function. And the senior years incorporate a fourth or inferior function. There are still 4 more functions, just as there are still 4 more characters in the 100-Acre Wood which have not been discussed. They are part of the team, but they are a secondary team which remains mostly inactive except under unique circumstances. For our purposes today, it’s enough for you to know they are there. We won’t discuss them any further.

Here’s the point. Extraversion and introversion dictate which world — the external world or the internal world — the function manages. To return to our example of Christopher Robin, Pooh Bear manages the internal world. And Rabbit manages the external world. So Christopher Robin is an introvert. If Christopher Robin were an extravert, Tigger would be his favorite — managing the external world. And Roo would be the second team member — responsible for the internal world.

Here’s why Ambiversion is not real.

Pooh is not Tigger and Tigger is not Pooh. They are two totally different teammates. Pooh is not sometimes Tigger and Tigger is not sometimes Pooh. Christopher Robin does not sometimes prefer Pooh and other times prefer Tigger. His favorite team member is ALWAYS Pooh Bear.

Switching to Tigger for the favorite would change Christopher Robin’s entire team.

Each member must take care of the opposite world than the one who came before. This creates a balanced personality. So if Tigger manages Christopher’s external world, then the next member must manage his internal world. That is why it cannot be Rabbit. Rabbit manages the external. Roo is the strong thinker who manages the internal world.

When it’s time for the third team member to be added, it must be one who works with the external world again. In that case, Kanga, not Eeyore is the new addition. And finally, another internal world manager is added as the last one to the table — Owl, not Piglet. So if Christopher Robin could legitimately be an Ambivert, it would mean he is switching his entire team depending on whether he wants to be alone or with people. And that is not the way personality works.

But why do you need to know all of this?

Clearly, in the podcast episodes, we’re only looking at one team member — the favorite. So why are we talking about rearranging entire teams?

The strongest team member who manages the external world is the easiest to identify. And they may hold the clues for what the rest of the team looks like. When you correctly identify the first two team members, you have correctly identified the whole team, the exact personality type, and therefore know how to work most effectively with that type.

The secret is in the extraversion or introversion.

Step 1 in correctly identifying your or your child’s or anybody else’s personality type is knowing whether they are truly extraverted or introverted. Please resist that thought I know just went through your head: Oh, my child is definitely an introvert because he’s shy. No! There are plenty of extraverts who are shy and plenty of introverts who are not. Don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Below is a checklist of questions. With them, you can figure out the question of extraversion or introversion with a little more certainty.

You can use this checklist as you are thinking about anyone you know well — yourself, your child, your spouse, your BFF. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you are trying to identify the personality of your firstborn child.

First let’s consider how your child uses their words.

Grab a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Keep a running total of your child’s score as we work through these questions. If your child is older than 10, answer these questions in the context of what was most often the case for your child before age 10.

Add the points that follow each question to which your answer is, “Yes.”

  1. Do they think out loud? (2 pts)
    Or do they only speak once they have figured out what they think? (0 pts)
  2. Do they tend to give long, involved, spinning explanations and stories? (2 pts)
  3. Do they lose their thought if they’re interrupted or made to wait their turn to speak? (2 pts) If so, does that frustrate them? (1 pt)
  4. Do they frequently interrupt others? (2 pts)
  5. Do they make your ears tired with all their words and noises? (2 pts)
    Or do they only talk if you hit on the right topic with them? (0 pts)
  6. Are they more private, reserved, and thoughtful? (0 pts)
    Or are they more expressive and enthusiastic? (2 pts)

Now let’s consider how your child prefers to use their time.

Keep your tally going. Continue answering these questions with what was most often the case for your child before age 10.

  1. Is/was training required in order for them to be content playing on their own? (2 pts)
  2. Do they need someone physically nearby so they can focus on their work or play? (2 pts)
  3. When they play independently, do they prefer to play in high traffic areas (2 pts) or in solitary, out-of-the-way places? (0 pts)
  4. Do they tend to observe first and then do? (0 pts)
    Or do first and reflect later?  (2 pts)
  5. Do you need to switch up their activity to keep them from getting bored and misbehaving? (2 pts)
    Or will they disappear and entertain themselves with something interesting for an impressive length of time? (0 pts)
  6. Do they like to concentrate on one thing/person at a time? (0 pts)
    Or do they like variety and action — the more the merrier? (2 pts)

Tally your child’s score.

If your child scored 10 points or less (for both their words and their time usage), they are most likely introverted. If your child scored 20 points or more, they are most likely extraverted.

For scores between 10 and 20 points: The closer they are to 10 points, the more likely they are to be introverted. The closer they are to 20 points, the more likely extraverted. You are currently seeing a mild preference for one or the other. Purpose to pay closer attention to these particular categories over the next month or so and quiz yourself again. Be sure to distinguish between each child’s preference and the influence of an extraverted sibling. Measure on the child’s own preference. It is likely you will get a stronger, clearer score the second time around.

This narrows the eight characters down to four.

Extraverted children will most closely resemble one of the first four characters in Season 2 of the podcast:

Listen to the episodes and see what seems to resonate most with your experience of raising your child.

Introverted children will most closely resemble one of the last four characters in Season 2:

  • Roo
  • Eeyore
  • Pooh Bear
  • Owl

Though introverts are harder to identify because their favorite character manages their internal world, which is hidden from others, there should be clues in one of the episodes that resonate with your parenting experience of your child.

There is a secondary confirmation of introversion.

Once your child is 10 years or older, you will likely start noticing elements of one of the extraverted characters (Rabbit, Kanga, Tigger, Piglet) in their behavior. Or to say this from a retroactive angle, if elements from one of the extraverted character episodes remind you of experiences with your older child, it is likely your child is an introvert. This is because the second teammate that is added to an introvert’s team manages their external world. Therefore, the second team member is easier to observe in an introvert.

For example, my third child is a Pooh Bear.  In her younger years, she was quite easy going and compliant as long as I kept her well-rested and well-fed. As she got older, we started seeing a little bit of a Rabbity edge to her behavior. However, even as a 15 year old, she is not nearly as Rabbity as her oldest brother or father — both of which prefer Rabbit as the first and favorite teammate. Her active personality team, therefore, matches the example I gave of Christopher Robin. Pooh Bear is her favorite. Rabbit helps Pooh Bear. In her young adult years, she will add Eeyore to the team. And after midlife, Piglet will be incorporated.

Keep it simple.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to identify someone’s personality, especially when it’s personal and the stakes are high. This is certainly the case when we’re talking about really understanding our children. Deep breath. Keep calm and think of Winnie-the-Pooh. That’s the whole reason I am taking us on this journey. It simplifies a lot.

Rather than trying to identify which of the sixteen four-letter combinations of Myers-Briggs, let’s just see if we can identify your child’s (or children’s) favorite team member. If you can first clarify whether your child is an introvert or extravert, you can immediately eliminate half of the options. Then, listen to each of the four episodes to identify which of those characters sounds most like your child.

Pro Tip: It’s often easiest to identify personality preference by the weaknesses, struggles, or stressors. Those are incorporated throughout the episodes, too.

Above all, stay open and be patient.

Don’t rush the process. It’s more important to correctly identify your child’s personality than to identify it quickly. And don’t force it. It’s natural to want to make people fit our own way of thinking. Remember, though, personality is not a right or wrong. It’s a set of preferences — like which hand we write with. You wouldn’t force your left-handed child to write with their right hand just because you’re right-handed. So be careful not to project your own preferences and expectations on your child. The whole point is to train our children to be who they are created to be.

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