The Introvert in You Ate the Extrovert in Me [justin]

The birth pangs started in February 2012 with two main contractions. First there was Susan Cain and The Power of Introverts. Her TED talk spoke about the biases in contemporary society that work against allowing introverts to flourish. Her message was fairly balanced while still weighing in on her convictions. The second was Time magazine’s cover story on The Power of (Shyness), aka The Upside of Being An Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated). If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes main-stream / academic media to become pop-media, it’s about 18-months, for one of the end of summer 2013’s strongest memes was that introversion is the new black.

extrovert – a person concerned primarily with the physical and social environment; one who directs their attentions outward or to things outside the self; extroversion is the condition of being turned inside out. (official definition)

introvert – a person concerned primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings; one who direct their attentions to things within the self; introversion is the condition of withdrawing from the world. (official definition)

As digital guru Isaac Newton once said about the internet, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Who knew physics and digital philosophy had so much in common?) My favorite extrovert reaction, for two reasons, has been from Gawker Caity Weaver. First, she saw what I saw and lists the plethora of introvert exhortations to take place in the past few months, the ranks of which have been undoubtedly added to since the late August post date.

“Why did the entire population suddenly delude itself into thinking that “introverted” is a noble thing to be?”

Second, I wish I had the vagina Caity has (please read “What Are You, A Girl” to get the context of this sincere compliment). I loved her semi-dry saucy witticisms which I could replicate more in my writing.

“Extroverts have as much to offer the world as introverts. So why doesn’t anyone root for them? Because rooting for yourself is unseemly, unless you’re an introvert. Fuck that.”

“Unmistakable, outrageously secret sign #15 that you are an extrovert:You read an online article about introverts in the last month and thought, ‘Haha that is so me!’ (That’s not you. You just love being part of a group.)”

I get the desire to want to be understood and known, but all of this hype on introversion overextends itself. It seems counter intuitive that persons defined as primarily concerned with one’s own feelings, would care so much what the world thinks of them that they need to unite together. It’s kind of like anarchists assembling to have meetings or somebody bragging about how humble they are.

Then again, maybe none of this has to do with being in or ex.

/ / /

In the wake of this short-term phenomenon, I decided to perform an ultra scientific survey and emailed 25 friends asking which side of the -version scale I swing to in their perspective. (I’ve always considered myself an introvert, though I have extrovert tendencies. totalsI had a 15-minute existential identity crisis when the possibility that I was an extrovert was even suggested.)

There are two main realms of interaction in my life: work and church. Work is nine-to-five, 4 days a week, but with a few other interactions like weddings, birthday parties, and the occasional wing night outside office hours. Church means basically the rest of my social life not limited to Sunday mornings, but time together whether intentionally or in just playing Settlers of Catan or creating art or having a beer. These would be the two groups I spend the most time with outside of my wife and daughters, so the data will be broke down that way. I’ve included pie charts to make you hungry.


Here there were only a few straight cut-and-dry responses: one from a person who went to Princeton for counseling and another who is monochromatic. Answers typically went  somewhere along the lines of an introvert who values, intentionally seeks out, and is disciplined, in community, or, conversely, an extrovert who values practicing contemplation, quietness, and reflection.

WorkOpposite statistics came about in the work realm. Answers were more instant and distinct with the caveat of introvert that acts like an extrovert. There was also one smart-ass that wanted to change his answer to exoskeleton.

This dichotomy of the survey had me wondering if -version is greatly affected by environment. Am I a “different” person in different circles? Is this good or bad or just needed? Maybe I’m an ambivert. What? That’s right, an ambivert, a person having characteristics of both extrovert and introvert. Maybe I have the best of both you intros and extras. So suck it.

/ / /

There are two main trappings that rule our 21st century American society and they are linked: consumerism and image. This is semi-enabled by the rise of technology over the past 30 years where we can get whatever we want, basically whenever we want it, even if we don’t have the money for it or actually need it, plus we can let everybody know about “a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting respectable” quicker than Christina Aguilera can pull a crucifix out from her cleavage Mary Poppins can pull a lamp out of her magic handbag.

My trepidation with the rise (and reaction) of the introvert is that it’s just the latest commercial commodity to be used to promote our own image (or destroy others’). There’s certainly some validity to these categories and understanding how you operate psychologically, but whether on the -version scale or other tests like the Myer-Briggs LGBT ENFP, we can easily manipulate them as reasons for justification for being who we are, an escape hatch that means we don’t have to ever change.

So being in the middle as some type of ambivert (I still think I’m an intro with extro tendencies), I can relate  to the weaknesses/excuses in each. Here are two I recognize right off the bat…

  • For extroverts :: Even if you are the life of the party, you need to tone yourself down in order to allow others to shine. A couple years ago my wife went out to a party as I decided to stay home and study for class. When she got back she realized that she could be fun too. In a non-aggressive way, she basically said that because I can be so extroverty at social gatherings it can absorb/overshadow the other fun-loving-ness of others (herself included).
  • For introverts :: Just because you screen your calls doesn’t mean you should actively partake in digital Gnosticism, using technology to put up walls or interact with humanity in safe (read cowardly) ways. A month ago my Dad called me out on this (without knowing it). I texted him asking him to do something for me and I never heard back. So I saw him a few days later wondering if he ever got my request. Basically he insinuated that he got a text but that I didn’t actually ask him anything, meaning that it takes a bit more dignity and vulnerability to ask for something face to face and that’s how requests should be made. He made me proud as he bitch slapped sucker punched me with my own philosophy unknowingly. As an aside, check out this video about the Innovation of Loneliness and our (mis)use of social media for (dis)connection.

The offspring  of consumerism and image is the self-infatuation-to-the-point-of-destruction called narcissism. It plays out differently, but both -versions suffer from the same epidemic. However, consumerism is redeemable by taking in the right things (see John 6), and so is image.

Everybody reading this, no matter how broken, is created in the image of God and some of us are even being conformed into the deeper, more true image of God through Christ. Image is important to God (though by His definitions, not ours) and He’s in the business of redeeming narcissists. In the human realm, it’s not that a redeemed narcissist doesn’t care about his image, he just cares about it in the right way.

Andy Crouch, in his new book, makes a case that we all play God one way or another. The question is, what god are we playing? Whose image are we bearing? He writes:

The story of what has gone wrong with power is the story of how the image bearers misused their gift of creativity. They replaced the true image of the invisible God with all too tangible substitute images, false gods who bring nothing but diminishment and disappointment. The misuse and rejection of God’s gift of image bearing takes the form of idolatry and injustice, the two things God most hates.

Jesus wasn’t an intro or an extro, He was God in the flesh, the ultimate image bearer. He partied both big and small, taught a few and the masses, often retreated to a lonely place to connect with His father. He loved the Father and loved others regardless if it was comfortable or pushed against His Myers-Briggs test results. And it’s He who gives us the power of choice, freeing us from being enslaved to our own narcissism the rest of our lives.

There is very similar language to the serpent’s temptation to be like God in Genesis 3 and Paul’s exhortation to be imitators of God in Ephesians 5, but the heart behind each is worlds apart. The first is about idolatry, irreverence, and the orphan spirit that thinks it needs to fend for itself. The latter is about love, flourishing others, and knowing that you are a child of God who is taken care of.

An infinitely better question to be asking ourselves is not whether we fall in the introvert or extrovert tribe, but rather, how are we going to imitate God, regardless of our proclivities? Who will we follow? What path will we walk?

5 thoughts on “The Introvert in You Ate the Extrovert in Me [justin]

  1. Favorite: “He’s in the business of redeeming narcissists.”

    I felt like the introvert discussion was important and necessary right up to the point where it started treating extroverts like shallow, undependable, self-obsessed (ironic, yes) party hounds. The discussion was helpful for me in realizing that there’s a difference between pushing the boundaries of my own comfort and actually making myself emotionally unhealthy trying to be something I’m not. And yet, there are places where I’m comfortable enough with the people that I do a very good imitation of extrovertedness, and usually enjoy that.

    Also, introversion–despite its portrayal–does not have to be a matter of inward focus. It can be a deeper focus on one person or project at a time, which is why a healthy percentage of artists are introverts, I think. But the world needs both. Always both. It’s a shame that, as exemplified by this summer’s discussion, we feel the need to pride ourselves in being ourselves at the expense of others who are equally created by God.

    • True, true. It’s good to understand your naturally designed boundaries as an individual, as long as those are not seen as the thing the trumps the voice of God when He wants you to step outside of them for a specific purpose.

  2. Ambivert, bambivert.

    I actually just had a similar thought to the image-bearing point just the other day. The reason people love to be labeled (no matter how much they deny it) is because they are made to bear an image — which indicates that people always search for meaning and definition outside of themselves (even introverts — why else would that term bring such a rapturous sense of epiphany?). So the inclination to look beyond ourselves is there, but the struggle comes in knowing which image is truly Imago Dei.

    • Jacob, blakeob. That’s what I always say.

      Reminds me of the Alien Righteousness we read which Bonhoeffer / Luther talked about… “that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith…”

      It’s not who do I say I am, it’s who I AM says I am.

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