Are You An Introvert or an Extrovert?

There is a display of religious pamphlets outside Liverpool Street station, which I pass on my stroll into work each morning. A recent pamphlet title: Pornography: Harmless or Toxic?.

The pamphlets are being peddled by Jehovah’s Witnesses, a well-funded American-based group that attempts to practise Christianity as it was 2000 years ago. They are probably best known for refusing all blood transfusions, including those that might be life-saving, because “the Bible prohibits health treatments or procedures that include occult practices” (ref jw.org).

I, like most people who don’t subscribe to the JW’s very special brand of stupidity, am pro-pornography. So I think to myself “pornography is harmless“. But I’m wrong, because I can immediately think of examples where pornography is harmful. And so I wonder if the JW’s might be on to something. (Spoiler: they are not.)

I’ve been caught into a logical bind because I’ve tacitly accepted the premise of their question. They have cleverly phrased their title, drawing on a trick used by salesmen and interviewers everywhere: by offering up two competing categories, people are drawn towards one or the other.

And so it is with the title of this article: Are You An Introvert or an Extrovert? You, dear reader, almost definitely chose “introvert”. You did that because I wanted you to. In reality, the label of “introvert” can be a harmful one, and it is probably a label you should reject. Let me explain why.

Labels are useful things because they help us understand ourselves, and help us explain ourselves to other people. On the downside, they do not always allow for nuance or change.

We furries like to label ourselves. We often do so in an online profile, perhaps in a Twitter bio or Fur Affinity userpage. I encourage you to take a look at your own labels before you continue.

Here’s my profile, which I wrote, from the [a][s] About page:

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

 

I’ve labelled myself three times. I am a horse-of-all-trades, commonly spotted holding a pint, and commonly spotted … talking nonsense.

I know that labels are important, and so I’ve refrained from being too direct. “A horse of all-trades” is pretty vague, and my other two labels are qualified with “commonly spotted“; they are things that I do, not things that I am.

Now let’s look at Kyell Gold’s [a][s] profile:

Kyell is a fox, a writer, and a California resident. He likes to write stories of varying lengths, often (but not always) dealing with gay relationships and foxes.

 

Kyell is much more direct. He has applied three strong labels to himself: fox, writer, and California resident. I suspect that these terms are internalized, which means that Kyell considers them to be part of his identity.

A “fox” is a good label, because Kyell is free to make and remake himself in that image. A few weeks ago, Makyo and Klisoura did some datamining and published the results here on [a][s], exploring the words that people use when describing their fursona. As you might expect, they vary considerably, although there are some trends. When foxes describe themselves, the most common terms include cunning, sly, and cute. And so we can guess that Kyell might use such terms to describe himself, but in the end he will have a unique relationship with his foxly self.

I’m not sure that “writer” is a good label for Kyell. It’s certainly accurate, but this might change in the future. If Kyell were to, say, experience an extended bout of writer’s block, he might find this label—this identity—to be problematic. How often does Kyell have to write for him to identify as a writer?

The same goes for “California resident“. Again, it’s mostly accurate, but what if circumstance sees Kyell spend an extended period of time out-of-state? This label may be a mere statement of fact rather than important to Kyell’s identity, although I wonder if Kyell the Oregonian would feel quite right.

When a label becomes part of your identity, it can be limiting. Kyell, for example, might be inclined to turn down an otherwise positive relocation to Oregon, because it could force him to rethink his own identity. A bad label can be self-limiting, and it can provoke an identity crisis.

To use an example that isn’t Kyell, consider a brand new furry who considers himself to be straight. Let’s call him Straightfox. Straightfox finds furry to be an environment that doesn’t have society’s stigma on homosexuality, and he—like so many of us before—is interested. But Straightfox, because of his identity as heterosexual, has a problem. He can either:

1. Refuse to participate in any homosexual activity, or;
2. Rethink his identity.

Neither of these options are easy for Straightfox. Those many, many furries who re-evaluated their sexual preference after discovering furry (a group which includes me) know how difficult it can be. Straightfox, like all before him, would have been better off if he never considered his sexual orientation to be important to his identity.

There are similar problems if you identify as an “introvert”. It’s an attractive label, but it’s self-limiting.

“Introvert” is an attractive label because it’s in opposition to the unattractive label “extrovert”. If asked to conjure a mental image of an extrovert, most people will think of someone acting like a Dallas Cowboy in the 1990s: hyper-social, overbearing, and lacking any sort of introspection or internal narrative.

Furries are especially prone to this because we tend to be analytical, with lively inner lives. Furries are thoughtful, creative, and often a touch depressive. It’s easy to look at other people, especially other people in a social environment, and wonder if they have any personal doubts and fears. It’s easy to conclude “I’m not an extrovert like all these people”.

Extroversion, then is about actions, especially social actions. And introversion becomes a label about inner thoughts. We, each of us, know that social actions make us anxious and uncomfortable and scared. Everyone else, even a coked-up Dallas Cowboy in the 1990s, is also anxious and uncomfortable and scared. But we aren’t privy to anyone inner world except our own.

(As an aside, I think that there is a clue to the furry condition here. We are a group of individuals who are prone to feeling alienated from society. This doesn’t mean that we are necessarily rejected by the world, it means that we are made to feel as if we are different from those around us; as if we were a different species.)

Someone who identifies as an introvert is tacitly accepting the premise that they derive limited enjoyment from social activity. They may decide that the stress of socializing always overwhelms the positive aspects, or that they simply do not have the social knack. Both of these may be true, but such an identity doesn’t allow for nuance or personal growth.

In reality, social skills improve with practice. Nobody enjoys small talk; nobody finds small talk natural. But we engage in it because it provides a non-aggressive entry to conversation, and we get better at it with time. Someone who thinks they are introverted might assume that they will always fail at small talk, and so they stop trying, and never learn the skill.

The marketing world has picked up the popularity of “introvert” as a label. It’s now a sales pitch, along the lines of “if you are introverted then you must read these three tips on how to improve relationships with your workmates”. It’s the same marketing premise as diet books, except that it’s aimed to the socially anxious rather than the body-conscious.

Here are a few examples, all books marketed towards people who label themselves as an introvert. Notice how the titles encourage you to identify as an introvert, by suggesting that “everyone else” is an extrovert:

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength
The Introvert Advantage (How To Thrive In An Extrovert World)
Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World
Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference
Energized: An Introvert’s Guide to Effective Communication

And the books marketed towards extroverts? There aren’t any. Nobody identifies as an extrovert. Not even a Dallas Cowboy in the 1990s.

The supposed dichotomy between introversion and extroversion is false. They are not mutually exclusive; you do not need to “choose one”. In my Jehovah’s Witness example, pornography is not always harmful or always toxic; there are elements of both. Similarly w≠e are all introspective to some degree; we are all social beings to some degree.

Labels are important, but “introvert” is a bad one. You can be introspective without undermining your ability to socialize.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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42 thoughts on “Are You An Introvert or an Extrovert?

  1. I really, REALLY wish that [A][S] had a magazine- it would be nice if it had a printed publication, but an e-magazine of the site or an app would be excellent too; that way, the site could have a larger & wider reader-base (which it deserves and needs for further discussion)

    I love this article on labels- in fact, the only thing that I can see wrong with this article is that the title might be somewhat misleading for those who don’t read the whole article entirely since it looks like this composition might only be about introversion…

    (Off-topic: what happened to being able to log in with Twitter? I liked that feature lots… D: )

    1. Fey, thanks for the kind comments. Your suggestion about printed publications is the sort of thing that gives Makyo grand ideas…

      And I can still see the log-in-with-twitter option. So I don’t know why that’s not happening on your end. I’ll mention it to the Technical Fox.

  2. Oh, JM, I think you oversimplify here. I don’t necessarily label myself as “introvert” but Myers-Briggs personality inventories and other obnoxious “tools” of business and society invariably do it for me. I always come out as “IN” though the “FP” and “TJ” parts of that label fluctuate a lot.

    I don’t avoid socializing, but I’m very selective about the environment. HIgh noise levels, for instance, are far more repellent than the social factors. Large groups likewise, so I prefer more intimate numbers such as groups of six or eight.

    The thing about pornography is that it is invariably toxic to someone. Perhaps specific examples are not poisonous to you or to me, but they are to someone else. Like literature or visual media that create negative self-images or value statements, pornography can be extremely bad for some of us. I don’t favor censorship particularly, but social disapprobation is sometimes an appropriate thing.

    1. I think it’s a matter that Pornography, like everything else, has good and bad things about it. Beneficial things and harmful things.

      But discussing that is too often difficult because of all the problems that discussing anything sexual-related brings up. Religion, first amendment rights, gender politics, body shame, and so on. Those are hairy issues and are rarely discussed in the public square very sanely. (Not saying that adults can’t discuss these things nicely, but as far as talking about it in mixed company, or on TV, it rarely ends well).

  3. I disagree that Introvert is a bad label. While there may be some socially negative associations with it – the belief that introverts are broken, that’s wrong.

    Among other things, you’re making the mistake of assuming that because self-help books and advice exist suggesting that people should overcome it, that it is in fact a problem to begin with. There are self-help books on every topic and they are trying to Sell Books. The problem here is assuming Introversion is something to fix. But some introverts do have social issues – I for example lack certain social skills due to not having practiced them enough, I lack a finesse of determining what’s appropriate to do or say in the company of others; I’m tone deaf, in a sense. A book on socializing might help (or more accurately, practice would). This isn’t due to being an introvert, but being asocial.

    This little comic addresses what an introvert means nicely, and how others can understand the introvert: http://halfblog.net/2012/12/30/how-to-live-with-introverts/

    But simply put, it’s a personality trait that reflects behavior. It also reflects basically how someone feels after socializing. An introvert doesn’t necessarily DISlike socializing, or that they are asocial. But that the introvert often enjoys being alone, and that alone time is necessary for the introvert to relax. If you do not accept the idea that you’re an introvert, then knowing this – that you Need your alone time – may be lost.

    I would wager that books for extroverts could exist, if it was seen as a problem. But I Do see a problem for extroverts. Just like the Introvert needs time alone, the extrovert needs time with people. If for whatever reason, an extrovert is in a situation where they are isolated (a job ends up putting them in a place by themselves), then they are going to be cut off from being social. Just like the Introvert who needs time alone, the extrovert needs time with people. So a book focusing on helping extroverts who can’t be social due to circumstances Coping with that fact would be useful, but its application wouldn’t be too common a need.

    1. Hi Rechan, thanks for the comment. I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with introversion, or that it is something that needs fixing. My article is about why it’s a (potentially) self-limiting label.

      Honestly, that webcomic is a great example. Firstly, it’s based on the ideas of someone trying to sell something – Susan Cain is the author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.

      Secondly, that example of an extrovert is completely fictional. Nobody—nobody—is like that extrovert. The webcomic shows a normal person (that’s the one in the bubble, demonstrating an internal life, the stress of socializing, personal space, and those other things we can only personally experience) who is hanging about with a sociopath. My advice: if you know someone like that, stop hanging around with them.

      The fact is, we all sometimes intrude into other people’s worlds in a way which is unwelcome. But we’re only aware when it happens to us, and we assume that we never do it to anyone else.

      Everyone is introverted (to an extent), and that’s cool. But “introvert” as a label come with the inherent suggestion that it’s a permanent condition. You’ll notice how that webcomic puts all the onus for action on the outside world (how to interact with an introvert) and leaves no room for personal growth.

      I hope that’s not too negative. I certainly don’t want to suggest that being introspective or personal or quiet is anything but positive. Those are certainly the people that I enjoy spending time with. My comments about that label, not the personality trait.

      1. “Secondly, that example of an extrovert is completely fictional. Nobody—nobody—is like that extrovert. The webcomic shows a normal person (that’s the one in the bubble, demonstrating an internal life, the stress of socializing, personal space, and those other things we can only personally experience) who is hanging about with a sociopath. My advice: if you know someone like that, stop hanging around with them.”

        That panel was actually metaphorical. The thing is that there are extroverts (I’ve met them) who, when talking to us, do suck the energy right out of us because they don’t know when to stop talking. Extroverts often need to talk out loud to solve problems or form ideas, and often do it on the fly. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s just how they think things through (in contrast, introverts actually need to be alone and reflect silently to solve a problem). So when an extreme extrovert is thinking out loud to an introvert, it takes so much energy just to keep up with them, let alone talk to them. And after a while, we (or at least I), don’t want to be around that person anymore.

        However, if you’re going to take that panel literally, I have actually met an extrovert like that. She was the type that if she didn’t socialize or wasn’t doing something for even a little while, she would go a little crazy. At one point she was in charge of an introvert dorm and basically drove all the introverts crazy because they wouldn’t socialize as much as her, and she would try to force them to. An no, she wasn’t a sociopath, she was just on the extreme end of the spectrum and didn’t understand why introverts were the way they are.

        1. Scape, thanks for the comment, and especially the story. Your former dormmate sounds like an immensely annoying person. But please keep in mind that you are not privy to her internal life, and that many people act hyper-social as a way of avoiding time in their own company. It’s common for people who have a bad relationship with themselves to act this way, just like it is common for them to abuse alcohol, or other drugs. Sometimes these things come together.

          People who dominate conversations, or don’t stop talking, are rarely aware that they are doing so. It’s common for such people to walk away feeling like they’ve tried hard to make a social connection, and failed (again). Such people might decide that they are unusually introverted, when in reality they simply haven’t yet developed good empathic skills, skills that only mature at around age 30 in many people (most commonly, in men).

          I am very confident when I guess that your former dormmate would identify as an introvert, if presented with Susan Cain’s taxonomy. That, of course, doesn’t make her a nice person to hang around. She sounds like she’s horribly lacking empathy.

  4. It’s okay to call yourself an introvert. Just don’t think that it means you can’t be an extrovert too.
    Use your labels as walking sticks, not as crutches.

  5. I reluctantly agree with JM that labels have to be carefully thought out. I myself have thought long and hard about settling on both a fandom name: Livefox96 and a fursona: Samuel Voulpe. Identity and labels are both concepts to which I’ve given much thought and would like to share with you my thoughts on the matter.

    First Labels: Labels are things to be very cautious with. I myself would label myself as “Intelligent, Rational, and Furry” within the furry fandom, Identity is built upon labels and identifications. We are reluctant to reevaluate our assumptions because they are so comforting, they provide us with a base camp from which to strike out. Identity is a thing that takes time to build, while I would be comfortable in calling myself a introvert I would be quick to point out that I am one in the classical sense: one who gains energy from solitude and expends energy in group settings. This definition aids in the construct of identity rather than trapping me behind the ironclad perceptions of introversion and extroversion.

    1. And I see my point about classical definitions has already been made. Ah well, It’s something that is necessary in ones understanding of labels.

    2. Thanks for the comment, and congratulations on your new furry identity. I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of fun exploring our community through your new eyes.

      It sounds like you’re doing a good job on the identity front too, although I want to make one comment: by your definition, _everyone_ is an introvert. Your definition is a common internet definition, the definition used by people who are hoping to sell books. Everyone expends energy in social situations, and regains that in solitude. To different degrees of course.

      You’ve made me realise that I failed to actually discuss actual the definition in my article. Perhaps an idea for a follow-up…

  6. Interesting but I personally find “introvert” a useful label. I don’t see it as saying I do not like social interactions, but rather recognizing that I need a fair amount of time to myself to re-charge even after enjoyable social activities. Recognizing this helps me to reduce stress and lessen the likelihood of panic attacks, which I used to have on a > daily basis, but at this point I have not had one in years. Prior to recognizing my need for time alone, there was a time when I tried forcing myself too hard and ended up having severe panic attacks and bouts of agoraphobia. It got to the point where I stopped eating for weeks because I could not force myself to go to the cafeteria).

    Identifying myself as introverted, help me to recognize certain needs. This does not mean I did not try to grow and stretch, simply that I was able to identify where my strengths were and where I was having difficulty. Since then I have gone from not being able to leave my dorm room to traveling internationally and speaking in front of large crowds,

    I would also disagree with the idea that there is anything wrong with being extroverted. It simply means that one feels recharged in the presence of others. It does not mean one is loud or aggressive or has no inner life. It does mean that extended periods of time alone can be draining.

    As to your more general point, I strongly agree that labels can be very limiting, but I guess I tend to use labels very lightly and willing to modify them and stretch their boundaries. Part of that probably has to do with scientific training, but I think it is important to realize that while labels (and generalizations) can often be useful, they are usually a simplification, and are not necessarily describing something that is inherent or immutable.

    1. Keito, thanks for the comment, and I think it might be time for you to reconsider whether “introvert” is an accurate label for you. You are clearly doing really well, and you’ve shown an awful lot of improvement over the years. I think that this is something you can very proud about.

      You say that extroverts become “recharged in the presence of others”, but this is not true. Everyone finds socializing stressful and draining, although the amount varies from person to person. We all need time alone to recharge sometimes, and we all need to be social sometimes.

      Perhaps you could drop the “introvert” label and replace it with something that recognizes your strength, your growth, and the balance that you require between social and asocial activities. Words like “introspective”, “moderate”, and “intelligent” come to mind.

      1. JM, as I mentioned in a reply to a previous comment, there is a distinction between being in the presence of others and interacting socially. In that post I noted my grandmother who did state she “recharged in the presence of others” but she was not talking about socializing. (the comment is up in the bundle responding to Kyell)

        1. Yea, being around people, especially really active people, drains me like crazy, and I don’t even have to do anything. I think a better metaphor I should have used in my comment was, for extroverts, the people around them, especially large crowds, lend them their energy and recharge them, while for introverts it drains them.

      2. And I think introvert is a completely appropriate label for myself. I don’t see it as a box or anything that hinders my interactions–it simply reminds me that I am happier if I make sure to set aside for time for myself.

  7. No offense, but do you know what introversion is? I don’t mean to sound accusatory, but this article is rather confusing. It sounds like you think introversion is just being shy, anxious, and lacking social skills, but at other times you sound like you understand what it is. What do you think introversion is?

    1. Scape, thanks for the comment, and no offence taken. After posting this article I realised that I never actually went on to define intoversion (or extroversion). I was focussed on the introvert label, which is something that people often associate with being shy, anxious, or finding social situations to be overly stressful.

      Introversion (or extroversion) doesn’t have anything to do with those traits, because those traits apply to every single person on the planet, with the exception of the odd sociopath. An introvert is simply someone who tends to look inwards; extroverts tend to look outwards. We all do both so some extent. I think it’s probably worth a follow-up to go into a bit more detail.

      1. You have one part of the idea (we do look inward), but the other important part you’re missing is that while extroverts gain energy from interaction, introverts actually lose energy from interaction, and we have to recharge when we’re alone. This one fact pretty much defines everything we do. It’s the reason why introverts tend to not be as social, don’t speak unless we need to, or only have a few good friends. While some may have social anxiety, more often it’s they don’t have the energy to socialize as much and have to pace themselves, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad at it or don’t want to. It just takes a considerable effort to do so. Of course introversion and extroversion are just ends of a spectrum, and there are ambiverts in there too. But with pretty much all of the introverts I’ve talked too, they’ve all said they were introverted not because they were shy or anxious, but because they just had limited energy.

        I’d suggest you do a little more research into the topic, especially the affects of energy gain and loss. That tends to define introversion and extroversion more that methods of reflection.

        1. Scape, thanks agin for your comments. I always appreciate criticism – praise is nice but not always as valuable as being presented with an intelligent and friendly diverging perspective.

          The idea that introversion “lose energy from interaction”, while extroverts gain energy, is a very recent invention. It’s an idea supported by no real evidence, and it’s the premise of the books I listed in my article. I don’t like this new appropriation of the term “introvert”, because I think it can be damaging for the reasons I discuss in my article.

          I accept that the idea of energy loss & gain in social & personal situations is compelling, and it obviously makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. And I think it’s always helpful to think about ourselves and create mental models of our own behaviour. It helps us learn about ourselves, and helps us improve. A good example would be the idea of “extrovert points” laid out by Kyell in his response to this article.

          I wonder if you can think about your own life, and look at the way your social experiences have changed over time. Typically, people become less self-conscious and happier in social situations as they age, up to around 30 years old or so. As you age, there may come a point where it makes less sense to think of yourself as an introvert. If “introvert” is part of your self-identity, this might stymie your own growth.

          Thanks again. Rest assured that I always have my ears perked, and often a book to my nose. It’s people like yourself that help drive me to keep learning.

          1. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, then. I am on the extreme end of the introvert spectrum, and I can attest the losing energy from just being around people is true. And it has nothing to do with self-confidence. There’s a very clear, different feeling between “I’m kind of shy around these people” and “I’m so exhausted I can’t interact anymore”. I should also clarify that it’s not really a physical fatigue, but a mental one. When I’m exhausted physically, I’m exhausted physically no matter how much time I spend alone. But for mentally I remove myself from that interaction and I recover without nap time. I’ve also compared and contrasted this with my cousin frequently, who is an extrovert, and she has said that she does need to be around other people to get energized. If she goes about two weeks without major interacting she starts to go a little stir crazy. I can go months without any major interaction and still be happy.

            I guess it’s just kind of frustrating to have people go “this is not really what your experiencing” when this is clearly what I’m experiencing.

            So yea, don’t discount that energy theory yet, because they’re on to something.

  8. -kinda surprised that no one seems to have mentioned the term, “ambivert” yet…

    (Also, the Twitter log in is broken for me in my Linux mint laptop in chromium & in iOS with the same browser too?)

  9. The trouble with “introvert” — the word, not the state of being — is that it’s come to carry so much negative baggage since it went from a specialist term used in psychology to being bandied about by every bar-room philosopher (which is not to say that you are one of those — quite the contrary). I hesitate to recommend changing the language in order to change the mindset — I’ve read my Orwell — but “self-contained” always strikes me as sounding much more positive and less laden with baggage than “introvert” while covering the same ground.

    As an addendum, and I freely admit I have no scientific proof or citation for this, in my experience a lot of people who call themselves extroverts, if you question them in the right way at the right time, will admit to having been introverts who trained themselves out of it, often by simply pretending to be extroverts until the role-play became second nature.

    1. Hi Klepsydra, thanks for the comment and I couldn’t agree more. I like “introspective” as a term because it suggests that people are curious about themselves, and open to learning new things. And I totally agree with your comments about those so-called extroverts.

  10. Finally got around to this on my reading list. Insightful and well-reasoned as usual!

    I agree with you that “introvert” and “extrovert” are widely accepted as polar opposites while in fact few identify as the latter (and in the comments you rightly, I think, point out that many people who are labelled extroverted by others would consider themselves highly introverted). This is a problem.

    While it’s occasionally helpful, the label of “introvert” has been pathologised. People self-diagnose with (let’s go overboard here) “introversion disorder”, and then exploit all the tropes of unfortunate medical conditions: introverts can’t help being who they are; the big uncaring world needs to change to tolerate, encourage and nurture introverts; introverts are rare and deserve special recognition and careful treatment by wider society. These are responses that have been incredibly beneficial. They widen the circle of empathy, they prevent sufferers from being demonised and outcast by both society and themselves. They turn disgust into (initially) pity, and later tolerance, understanding, and support. These external responses are unarguably beneficial and you can see their effects on everything from Leprosy to Down Syndrome, Autism, and HIV.

    But as you point out, being an introvert is not a medical condition and self-identifying with “introversion disorder” risks invoking some of the downsides of medicalising: feeling that there’s something innately wrong with you can limit personal growth, and worse, cultivate a victim mentality that can leave you feeling apart from society (unhelpful irony or self-fulfilling prophecy, you decide).

    Another way in which medicalising introversion has gone wrong is that, perversely, because the needle has moved so far in support of introverts, we’re now starting to demonise extroverts. Wait wait, don’t flip out! Remember that “extrovert” is a label imposed by others – very few actually self-identify as extroverts. This means that many people who in fact identify as introverts are being treated like oppressors and vampires who feed upon the social energies of others, which further ostracises them. Their sometimes desperate attempts to be friendly and sociable, to break out of their unhappy inner lives, are rebuffed and they fail to receive the recognition and attention from others that in fact all humans need.

    So labelling yourself as introverted can be a damaging self-diagnosis that doesn’t just harm you, but also fails other people who are perhaps even more conflicted and socially awkward than you are, who’ve had the misfortune to have been judged to be extroverts (to be fair, in some cases they may just be arseholes). On the other hand it *can* be helpful, and though the preceding paragraphs may suggest otherwise, I do truly think that it can be. Introspection is vital as a tool for personal growth. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to be alone (in fact it’s absolutely essential to everyone sometimes). Similarly our desire to engage socially on our own terms without feeling threatened or imposed-upon is arguably universal. And finally, the concept of having a limited amount of social energy also rings true. Some fascinating experiments have shown that willpower is an exhaustible resource, and that stress and prolonged concentration can weaken it. It seems completely obvious to me that our sociability varies similarly. The good news is that the experiments on willpower showed that like a muscle, it can be trained and strengthened, and I see no reason why the same is not true of our sociability.

    I think it would be helpful to break open the “introvert” label and treat each “symptom” separately.

    First is direction of focus: are you inwardly focused or outwardly focused? We’re genetically hardwired to be ego-centric (look at any child under the age of about 7), but this changes over time and is also affected by changes in responsibility and social standing (for example becoming a parent or a community leader). You rightly point out that (contrary to popular assumption?) we don’t cross a finish line at 18 and suddenly turn into fully matured, socially adept adults, but instead continue maturing well into our 30s and beyond. Some people who get labelled as “extroverts” are in fact people who are actively avoiding introspection because they have insecurities or problems that they’re trying to avoid dealing with. In those cases, people seek attention from groups to validate them and to distract them. These are not extroverts, they’re people with issues that need help. Other so-called extroverts may appear to be self-obsessed because they have nothing to talk about except their own experiences; e.g. they’re young or have few friends, or both. Ask either of these groups of people if they think they’re extroverts and they’ll likely look at you as if you’ve grown another head.

    Second is social aptitude; whether you feel drained or energised by crowds, or perhaps more specifically, whether you feel a part of or apart from social groups. One problem with medicalising introversion is that this symptom is seen as absolute, when quite obviously this varies dramatically with the kind of group and social setting you find yourself in, what’s on your mind at the time, and how much booze you’ve had. You feel very different being with 10 friends than you do with 5 strangers, and you’ll feel very different going to a conference on your own than you do if you have even a single friend or colleague with you. Some say that social aptitude is a skill that can be learned, but perhaps it’s better to say that social awkwardness is a feeling that can be overcome with practice. You can work on your ability to overcome social awkwardness in general, but it will occur to a greater or lesser extent in each new social situation. You may notice that good friends can often sit in silence together and not feel awkward about it. Familiarity breeds contentment.

    Third, gaining and losing energy through social interaction. There’s no question that some people are an absolute chore to be around, while others are a joy. I think this has little to do with whether you or they are introverts or extroverts. Two factors affect this enormously: the conversational skills of both parties, and how well the participants know each other (or their social awkwardness). You’ll notice groups of people together at social gatherings who are smiling, laughing, and seemingly completely at ease. It’s vanishingly unlikely that they’re all extroverts; there’s simply a core of people who know each other well (and perhaps a shell of hangers-on) whose familiarity or curiosity (or intoxication) have overcome their social awkwardness.

    Next time you feel like you’re being assaulted by an extrovert, notice what they’re talking about. If they’re talking only about themselves, they’re probably inwardly focussed too. Consider that they may be feeling socially awkward and worrying that if the conversation stops, that they’ve failed (yet again) to engage socially. Despite their self-regarding talk, it’s very likely they’ve approached you because they like you or something about you, or you look sympathetic or in a similar situation to them. In all these cases and more, they care what you think about them. If you find a common interest to talk about, the dynamic of the conversation (the flow of energy if you like) can level out or completely reverse, and *both* of you will relax into it (though you may feel that you’re the one who’s been set-upon). Also look at *why* you feel set-upon. Do you feel tired and stressed? Do you simply want to be somewhere else, or doing something else? Don’t assume that this is because there’s anything wrong with you; you might simply be surrounded by loud, needy, socially awkward introverts.

    1. Brilliant stuff, and I completely agree with all your points. In fact, so much so that I repeat them in the article that follows this one. It gets published very soon—about now, in fact—and I promise that I wrote it before reading this comment. So I’m in agreement with you, and it’s not plagiarism. Honest!

      I like the way you’ve broken down the idea of introversion, using it as a starting point for introspection rather than a conclusion. I guess that was the idea for my article in the first place, after seeing loads of furries sharing “I am an introvert” meme that (1) is misleading about what introversion actually is and (2) asks for the world to change its behaviour, with no requirement for further thought or introspection on the part of the so-called introvert. Identifying ones self as something separate from “other people” (like self-diagnosis with Asperger’s) sets off alarm bells with me: I think it’s dangerous and a but juvenile.

      But it’s a lot better than not thinking about yourself at all.

      I was chatting with a fur the other day, who is looking to commission a ref sheet. He looked at a lot of ref sheets as part of his research, and got thinking about the “likes” (ice cream; hugs) and “dislikes” (hot weather; rude people) that people list. It’s not a common exercise to distil one’s personality to a fixed pros-and-cons list, not least because these things tend to change over time. But using a furry representative to stand in for our real selves makes this a positive process, I think, because there is less requirement for our furry characters to be self-consistent. In this way, I think that furry provides a low-risk way for us to be introspective, and maybe change our self-perceptions.

      Anyway, thanks for the food for thought. It’s a mighty comment, and frankly not miles away from being a complete [a][s] article in its own right: perhaps with a bit more context so it could stand alone and a few references… and maybe a few more paragraph breaks :P.

      1. That’s an interesting point – that crafting a furry persona is an introspective process. I think I’d go a little further than it being positive merely because the character doesn’t need to be self-consistent (who is?); I think that because they’re idealised versions of ourselves, they combine our aspirations and ambitions into an embodied entity that can be visualised and thought about as a whole person, rather than as separate abstract desires. Sort of a roll-your-own role-model. I’m sure there’re plenty of self-help books that talk about visualising yourself as the person you want to be and acting as that person would. Furries actually get to have *fun* doing that!

        If your next article bears more than a passing resemblance to my wittering, then I’ll be glad we’re like-minded rather than sore that my thoughts aren’t original; I’m too old to have any illusions about that :D

        As for paragraphs, that’s what editors are for, right? ;)

  11. As soon as I read that first paragraph, I recalled a magazine mom has. “Pornografia: inofensiva ou mortífera?” Yup, mom is Jehova witness. She proudly showed me that pamphlet they carry to show doctors that they don’t want to receive or donate blood, even if they are in risk of dying, but anyways.
    I used to be torn about labels, specially concerning sexuality. I believe that not only furries, of course, but all people have faced the need to be labelled at least once. It’s usually a self-assumed label, since we tend to fear being labelled by others, but find necessary to hold a generic term to describe ourselves so we can find a place to belong. It’s a thing we do to protect ourselves, cause we are insecure. As time passes by, I let go of a lot of my labels, as I feel safer to face the world alone… or at least with a group of dear friends around.
    A label I found very hard to keep for long was sexuality. I dropped it completely. I don’t know “what” I am and decided that it’s an useless effort for me to continue digging for it. But I still hold necessary labels I really think are necessary to hold. “Philosophy student” and “furry”. And that’s it.
    Funny that a lot of furries label themselves as introverts right away. Some introverts I have talked to as very outgoing and talkative, which I find confusing. But I guess it’s because a lot of furries, being also artists (and artists also being rather sensitive), say they are introverts as soon as the question pops up. I used to do the same, but I confess it’s because it’s more “poetic” to say introvert. When I was faced with that question, I never thought about the good times I got from going out with friends and talking about stuff, but only the times I spent in my room drawing.
    I digress when I say that I once wrote in my blog that I felt like the “drama” in the fandom (people feeling depressed and such) is “high” because art is big part of the fandom and artists can be easily hurt because of their sensitiveness.

    1. Hi Yure, thanks for the interesting comment.

      Your final comment about artists is an interesting one. You suggest that sensitiveness is (often) a precondition for being artistic. I had never thought of it that way, but I can see how that might lead to artistic types to be prone to feeling overwhelmed in the impersonal world of the internet.

      On a personal note, it sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job. Labels are compelling, as you say, and it’s not easy to retain a bit of nuance and flexibility when it comes to personal identity. I think this is especially true when it come to sexuality.

      And if you would like to share a link or two from your blog, please do: I’d love to have a read, even if it means struggling with Google Translate.

  12. To be honest, I have friends who identify as introverted and some who identify as extroverted. While I absoluetly agree that people in this day and age do indeed look at labels a bit too critically, I do not find them particularly harmful to one’s self without the positive or negative connotations that are often attached to them. “Furry” is a good example. Some outside of the fandom who have heard of it instantly take to the negative and largely misunderstood side while others who may have seen furries before or have spent sometime doing research on the subculture itself. But no matter which side, it is key to remember that such a label or title in itself is a spectrum. There are, and will always be people who take preference to one side or portion of the fandom to another. Does that make them incorrect in any sense? I personally do not think so, nor should they be told not to identify as furries if they wish to call themselves as such. It may indeed be more difficult for some to fit in than everybody else, but that should not demand change if they do not wish it. People are social creatures, and some simply need or desire more than others. Yes people do tend to apply the impressions of whoever introduced the label to them, however this is not a garentee that they will follow these impressions. If someone dislikes how a title has changed them, they will either keep the label and change into a part of it that they can be comfortable with, or they can drop it. To say with, what comes off as, complete certainty that,”Labels are important, but “introvert” is a bad one. You can be introspective without undermining your ability to socialize.” is almost inconsiderite when the unspoken numbers of people currently living and passed on, as well as those yet to learn of the label at all are left uncounted. The majority does not always define the entirety. In my personal opinion -and I do make it a point to specify for the very same reason- is that we all are some degree of ambiverted, but with some more to the inverted or extroverted spectum than others. If I am asked whether I am introverted or extroverted, I answer that I am in short, and extrovert or an extrovert with introverted tendancies simply because I am often more willing to speak out and perfer to be around others. Labels are neither “good” nor “bad”, it is how we apply them to ourselves and let them show for others that will determine whether they are positive or negative influences to our person and our personality.

    1. Hi Shards, thanks for your astute comment. I think you’ve picked up on a deliberate technique I used when writing this article, and you’re correct. You are clearly a bright and skeptical person, and I suspect that people find it difficult to pull the wool over your eyes, so to speak.

      You’ve spotted the point in my article where I switch from opinion and fact, to presenting my own opinion as fact. It’s a technique that I often use when I’m making a contrarian opinion (like An Argument For Conformity) or presenting information that is counterintuitive (like Only 22% Of Furries Are Gay). I’m not trying to fool the readers (I don’t think I could if I wanted to), I am just aware that people need to be eased into the argument, otherwise they tend to immediately reject it. So I’m applying a bit of cognitive psychology or, to put it another way, salesmanship.

      In this article I start with a couple of things that are easy to agree with. I want to suggest that labels can be harmful, and I know that furries are very unlikely to have anything positive to say about the JW’s. So they provide a starting point. And from there my examples become more personal – Kyell and Straightfox – before I make my main point. Hopefully by that stage, the reader is engaged and open to my ideas and logical stance.

      But I still make an absolute statement at the end, which you’ve quite correctly picked up on: Labels are important, but “introvert” is a bad one. This statement is wrong, I got a bit carried away: it should read Labels are important, but “introvert” can be a bad one. It’s a small but important difference.

      I completely agree that there is plenty of nuance, and labels will mean different things to different people, and that it is always a matter of degrees rather than black-or-white. So thanks for the comment. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think, and challenges me to improve my writing.

      1. While it is a little late, I would like to firstly thank you for your response and feedback. I do indeed have a habit of plucking at minor details before realizing how much they may actually apply; so receiving a well written and elongated answer is usually unheard of. Secondly, I do agree with your reasoning for using JWs as a place to attract attention and find a common ground, but I am extremely opposed to the methods you took to create that ground. Everyone is entitled to thier own opinions, I for one disagree with using someone’s affiliations in order to berate or belittle them. it is indeed very unlikely that most furries are not of that particular religion, and many may not have much good to speak of them; that does not give permission treat them with any less respect. Be it simply a hook to catch readers or not, certainly there are much easier ways to grab someone’s attention without it being a turn off to others. I am not a part of the Jehovah Witness faith, but on a writing directed towards a subculture which is sometimes put in the same position, it is in ill taste to dismiss something that may be exteremly important to someone by calling it a ” special brand of stupidity”. it has the potential to come of as narrowminded and a tad shallow. I am not a particularly religious person at all, but I do feel that it is key to at least show some respect to the opinions and beliefs of others. By doing so, it can show a sense of understanding and willingness to listen, even if the viewpoints at hand are opposing. Knowledge has the potential to come from anywhere, and by saying that a certain group as a whole, has not one shred of useful information to any one other person, inside that group or not, is quite a challenge to prove true.

        1. Shards, you’d make a superb editor. Your comments echo those of my own editor, and you (both) make a compelling case.

          I left the glib, unfair, reductive comment in there because I felt it kept the prose snappy, and because I judged the chances of any JWs reading to be pretty slim. In hindsight, I should have spent some time finding a better synonym for ‘dunderheadedness’: something more focussed on the beliefs rather than the JWs themselves. (I’ll add that I’m not anti-religious by any stretch of the imagination, but that the JWs have a particularly bizarre and uncharitable set of beliefs that I’m happy enough to poke fun at,)

          Anyway, thanks again. You can poke holes in my articles any time you like.

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