Understanding personality traits during the pandemic can help smooth out relations.
What started with a whisper is now mainstream in news outlets. Introverts seem to be faring better during lockdowns and social distancing restrictions than extroverts. As an extrovert, I can see why. The personality trait of extroversion vs. introversion may seem easy to distinguish but in many ways, it really isn’t. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, and extroverts aren’t necessarily charismatic.
The key difference between the two types seems to be where the person recharges. Introverts recharge alone or with minimal people around, and extroverts recharge with people. If you’re an extrovert, you may be able to interact with people all day long at work and then come home and want more social interaction. Introverts who experience a lot of interaction during the day might need to come home and read, watch TV alone, tinker with a project, or otherwise be quiet to recharge. Our society praises traits more common to extroverts, which may be a key reason why introverts are quietly smiling on the sidelines during the pandemic and breathing a sigh of relief. While they don’t wish for a pandemic, suddenly they notice the pressure to be social or pretend they are extroverted is magically gone. Meanwhile, extroverts aren’t recharging enough on Zoom and other platforms. They might crave social gatherings and action that is all but a distant memory as we trudge along into the 10th month of the pandemic.
Maybe a silver lining in all of this is a more balanced world for introverts when this is all over. With Zoom meetings becoming the norm, and many industries shifting to work-from-home arrangements, introverts might be able to have their cake and eat it too. This isn’t to say they aren’t struggling, but it’s important to understand the key differences in the personality styles. If you’re an extrovert, you might be wondering why you are more depressed, anxious, or restless, while you see your introverted friends happily diving into novels or taking up a new hobby while you are gripped with the idea that you might not be able to go to a concert or throw a party for who knows how long. And introverts might not be so thrilled, either, to have a full-house around 24/7 during lock down when they covet their precious alone time. Here are some tips for partners and parents of different types to navigate your differences.
For partnerships with one introvert and one extrovert:
The extrovert can give the introvert space and alone time. Carve out some time for the introvert to truly recharge in ways that are meaningful. Don’t take it personally if he/she/they want to be alone. The introvert can empathize with the extrovert’s need to process by talking through things. With fewer people to discuss things with, the introvert might be the natural go-to for the extrovert. The extrovert can be encouraged to spread the love and reach out to other people if the introvert needs some down time. Set boundaries for personal time and space. The introvert can encourage the extrovert to find safe activities out of the house or join groups online that he/she/they can be a part of.
For partnerships with two introverts:
Make sure you are both not retreating too much and take time for open communication. Since introverts tend to process information in their minds rather than speaking it out loud before contemplating it, make sure you and your partner have a safe space to communicate any difficulties or stresses. Since extroverts may be more likely to pull for information, you might be missing some important issues that need to be fixed or may have a hard time reading your partner’s distress if something is bothering them. Writing seems to work well for introverts who can then identify if there are any things that should be brought up in the relationship.
For partnerships with two extroverts:
If you’ve stopped chatting for long enough to read this, good for you! If you’re both open with each other you probably already have a verbal outlet to discuss what is going on. Pay attention if your partner is stressed out or overwhelmed and make it a goal to only communicate the key points of your day, things that deserve some celebration, or things you might need help with. Sometimes two extroverts can talk for hours just re-hashing their day. Be mindful during this time that your partner (and you) may not have a lot of energy and communicating thoughfully might be a way to conserve some of whatever is left for more meaningful experiences.
If you are a parent, notice which type your child might be and do your best to honor their type. I have two sons. One is introverted and one is extroverted. Once lightning struck the flagpole at school and my introverted son got home first and didn’t say a word. My extroverted son got home and told me all about it as soon as he walked in the door. They have very, very different communication styles. Neither one is right.
If you have an introverted child, look for signs that they might process information without being verbal about it. It may feel like pulling teeth to get basic information out of them and it’s important to teach them they aren’t flawed for not wanting to be chatty or for not wanting to be gregarious. If you have an extroverted child, make sure they have outlets for their extraversion. Allow them to socialize online in safe environments, be patient when they tell the same story over and over again, and understand their need to process information before they’ve completed logical thinking about it. Expect your introverted kids to come to you with ideas more fully flushed out. Try not to pressure your introverted child into too many social activities or restrict your extroverted child from being able to reach out.
Each of us can honor our invisible differences and create new ways to understanding our loved ones. The result will be more compassionate, thoughtful relationships that just might be another silver lining to emerge from the ashes of this absolutely crazy time.