The introversion extroversion redux

April has been nominated as ‘space’ month on DPSN.  We’ve asked our bloggers to let us know what they think of in relation to the concept of ‘space’ – whether it’s the literal, physical space around them, mental space, emotional space, space in relationships or the space out there in the universe!  As always, we’re keen for you to be part of the conversation, so let us know your thoughts on change in the comments below, or jump over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.

For some reason, when I hear the term ‘space’ I always think of the way I relate to others.  The space I create for myself and for the relationships in my life.

I feel like lately I’ve been thinking a lot about introversion vs. extroversion and which category I fit into.  Which is funny, because I also think that it’s more of a spectrum than a black or white division, and that it’s context dependent too.  But for the sake of argument, let’s go with the assumption that people tend to be more down one end than the other.

I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert, because when I’m with a group of people that I feel comfortable with, I tend to be someone who naturally does most of the talking.  I like to engage in interesting, meaningful and in-depth conversation with others, and also I just like to talk crap and have a laugh!  When I spend time with the people I like and care about, I feel energised and fulfilled.  It feels like an important part of my life.

Many years ago, when I was very depressed, I didn’t have a whole lot of meaningful relationships in my life (which for me, was something contributing to my depression).  I had a job where I spent the majority of my work day completely alone.  I did have a few friends who I could hang out with for drinks at the weekend.  But when I decided to stop drinking for a period of time (because alcohol was also making my depression worse) I ended up barely seeing anyone at all.

Now, I’m not criticising my friends back then.  They were and are good people, and I’m pretty sure they cared about me.  But they didn’t really understand what I was experiencing, or why I couldn’t fix it.  Depression and mental health still weren’t talked about that openly, and I didn’t know how to explain it very well either.  I think too, that we just didn’t connect that well in terms of our values.  Perhaps they thought I was quite hard work and I again I don’t blame them – I probably was!

So I thought, I must be an extrovert, because I’m at my happiest when I’m with people (regardless of the quality of the relationship) and my most miserable when I’m alone.

Fast forward to me today and things couldn’t be more different.  As a therapist, I spend my days communicating with other people (either clients or colleagues).  Along the journey to get where I am, I’ve met many wonderful people who work as counsellors, social workers and psychologists, or who are otherwise invested in the areas of mental health, diversity and social change.  In other words, people who are very much on my wavelength.

Interestingly, I probably have a smaller circle of friends than I used to, but I feel that we connect far more in terms of our values and understanding of the world.  Personally, I also feel like I am far more emotionally honest and well-boundaried than I used to be – and that makes for healthier relationships too.

But I find, more often than not, that when I get home at the end of the day – I don’t really want to socialise.  It’s nice to spend a bit of time with my partner, but I also find that I really relish my personal space.  The time to do exactly what I want to do, whether that’s to relax or be productive.  But just a bit of time and space to myself, to recharge my batteries for the next day spent communicating and interacting with others.

So, which one am I?  Am I an extrovert – because I like spending time with those I care about, am energised by it and enjoy good conversation.  Because as a therapist, I literally talk with people for a living!  Or an introvert – because after a lot of time with others, I shy away from socialising and need that quiet time to myself?  Because I prefer fewer, good quality relationships – and richer, more invested conversations – over hanging out more frequently with large groups of people?

I think these days I lean far more towards the introverted end of the spectrum, and maybe I always did.  Because, after all, it’s not that introverts don’t enjoy spending time with others.  In my opinion, they just tend to enjoy time with fewer people at once and perhaps connecting at a deeper level.

In either case, I’m okay being whatever I am.  These days, I really like the way I relate to others, and the space that I make for the people I care about – and myself – in my life.

What end of the introversion/extroversion spectrum do you sit on?  Has it been different at different points in your life, or in different situations?

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