Am I an introvert?

introvert mbti personality self-knowledge Nov 07, 2018
autumn trees

Despite the stereotypes, being an introvert isn’t all about how quiet or shy you are.  There’s actually a lot more to it!  And while some people are like me and never have any doubts about our introversion, for other people it can be harder to identify where they fall on the spectrum of introversion and extroversion. It’s therefore not at all surprising that one of the questions I frequently get asked is ‘Am I an introvert?  How can I tell?’

If you’ve ever felt unsure about whether you are an introvert, then today’s blog post is for you!  The true wisdom of self-knowledge is more of an art than a science, so I probably won’t be able to give you a definitive answer – but I hope to give you some pointers that you will find helpful.

What is introversion?

Before we go any further, it’s important to make sure that we’re on the same page about what it means to be an introvert because there are a whole lot of different definitions out there!  Personally I tend to rely most heavily on the definitions used by Myers-Briggs type theory and I highly recommend that you check out my earlier blog post What is Introversion? but if you don’t have time for that here’s a super quick recap:

  • An introvert is someone who recharges their energy by spending time alone
  • For introverts the inner world is the ‘real’ world
  • Introverts are people whose dominant cognitive function is introverted

These are therefore the main characteristics that I am looking for when trying to determine whether or not someone is introverted or extroverted.

Am I an ambivert?

Ambiversion is the name given to people who fall somewhere in the middle on the continuum of introversion and extroversion.  For the many people who struggle to identify whether they are an introvert or an extrovert, ambiversion may seem like it describes them perfectly.  However, there are two main reasons why I am not actually convinced that this is usually a helpful concept.

We’re all ambiverts

Introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum and so, yes, there are some people who are more to the further edges of that spectrum and some people who are closer to the middle.  But the point is that there is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert.  Carl Jung himself once apparently said, ‘such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.’  Even the most introverted of us has times when they have to engage in the external world (i.e. behave in an extroverted fashion) and vice versa.  In Myers-Briggs theory we all have two cognitive functions which are natural strengths for us and, regardless of whether we are an introvert or an extrovert – one of these cognitive functions will be introverted and one will be extroverted.  Therefore, to some extent, all of us can be said to be ambiverts.

It doesn’t identify personal growth areas

I believe that the most useful reason for knowing your personality type is so that you can use it for personal growth.  The exact personal growth recommendations vary from personality type to personality type (and if you want to learn more about this check out my free course Effortless Energy), but in general for introverts the personal growth recommendation is to get more comfortable operating in the external world and for extroverts it is to get more comfortable engaging with the inner world.  It seems to me that ‘ambivert’ is a label that many people could apply to themselves, but it doesn’t encourage one to do anything differently as a result of this self-knowledge – and so what is the value of it?

Am I an introvert?

If you google ‘am I an introvert?’ you will find lots of tests that purport to give you an answer.  But that’s not what I am going to do here!  One of the services that I offer is an MBTI profiling session, but this is a conversational opportunity rather than a forced choice test because I believe that having the opportunity to explore the nuances of how we show up to the world is a much more accurate way of identifying personality type.

Since this is exactly the philosophy I want to bring to this blog post too, in this section I will be focussing on some of the questions I ask in a profiling session when I am trying to identify whether someone is an introvert.

When I am profiling someone, the most important thing that I look for is which cognitive functions they are using.  If someone is an introvert, their dominant cognitive function will be either introverted sensing, introverted intuition, introverted feeling or introverted thinking.

Identifying their cognitive functions is very often all that I need to determine whether someone is an introvert.  However, other times it is just not that simple.  The following questions are ones that I find help me to identify whether someone is an introvert without having to look for which specific cognitive functions they are using.

How much alone time do you need to feel like yourself?

Just because someone needs alone time every day doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an introvert – even extroverts need alone time sometimes!  But, by definition, introverts obviously do need more alone time more than extroverts.

Although I often ask people to quantify how much alone time they need in terms of hours or minutes, really what I am looking for with this question is how they talk about their need for alone time.  Is it something they yearn for and have positive associations with or is just something that is necessary every now and then?  If they didn’t get that alone time, how long would it take them to start to really struggle?

I also like to explore whether their answer to this question has changed throughout their lifetime.  For example, a parent with young children may have very positive associations with alone time, they may long for it and say that they really struggle without it – but this may be because their current life situation isn’t giving them even as much alone time as an extrovert would need.  If this person also told me that they never had a problem with getting enough alone time before they became a parent, then I might lean towards deciding that they were an extrovert (depending on the answers to their other questions).

When you are alone, what types of activities do you choose to do?

I find that responses to this question will vary a lot by age and life experience (which is why, if you ever purchase a profiling session, I will ask you about both), but, in general, extroverts are far more likely to try and distract themselves when they are alone – they may need alone time, but they will watch TV, play video games, make sure there is background noise etc.  In comparison, introverts usually seek out lower levels of stimulation when they find themselves alone.

How comfortable are you with being the centre of attention?

There are introverts who are excellent performers and public speakers and there are extroverts who have social anxiety which makes them uncomfortable with being the centre of attention.  This is therefore a question that requires nuanced interpretation, but despite this I do find that exploring the ways and contexts in which someone may or may not be comfortable with being the centre of attention does very frequently offer clues as to their personality type.  The reasons why someone feels comfortable or uncomfortable in these types of situations usually tells me more about their personality type than just looking at the behaviour alone would.

What challenges have you felt the need to work on for your personal development?

This is a question that can tell me a lot about every aspect of personality type!  But when it comes to trying to determine whether someone is an introvert, I find that this can be a really helpful question for trying to understand whether someone sees their internal or external world as being more ‘real.’

I believe that the fundamental underlying difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts see their inner world as the real world and extroverts see their outer world as the real world – behaviourally this then means that introverts are more comfortable engaging with their inner world and extroverts are more comfortable engaging with the outer world.  But this is quite an abstract concept!  If I were to ask someone the question directly ‘does the inner or outer world feel more real to you?’ maybe some people would be able to answer the question easily, but there are probably more people who would get very confused and wonder what on earth I was talking about!

But if I ask about personal development and someone tells me that they’ve had to work on getting into action or putting themselves into situations of greater visibility or stopping themselves from overthinking everything – those are all traits that (in general!) may indicate that this is someone who is more comfortable with their inner world than the outer one.

Also, the more personal development work an extrovert has done, the more likely they are to need more time to themselves – but this doesn’t mean that they have turned into an introvert, just that they have become more comfortable with their introverted side while still retaining their primary preference for engaging with the external world.

What are your biggest challenges in the workplace (or another context relevant to your life situation)?

Similarly to the above question, this is a question that can tell me a lot about several facets of your personality type.  However, every introvert I’ve asked this question of has at some point in their answer spoken about struggling with noise and overstimulation in a workplace environment or of difficulty in finding the balance between getting on with colleagues versus actually getting work done.  Most of our workplace environments are set up to the advantage of extroverts and, even if they’ve never thought about it before, introverts will almost always indicate some awareness of this in their answer to this question.

So am I an introvert?

I describe my profiling sessions as collaborative opportunities for us to work together to find a personality type that feels like a good fit for you – I don’t see it as my role to ‘diagnose’ your type and impose it on you!  In the spirit of that client-centred approach, I also believe that at the end of the day it is completely up to you whether you choose to identify as an introvert or extrovert (or as an ambivert!).  But I hope that this post has at least given you the opportunity to think in a more nuanced way about what it might mean to be an introvert.

Let's keep in touch!

Join the mailing list to receive regular updates from Alice.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.