Social Question

Jeruba's avatar

Can an extrovert learn to behave like an introvert?

Asked by Jeruba (50433points) March 25th, 2012

Can a person who’s naturally outgoing learn to quiet down and focus?

In this recent discussion we saw some agreement on the idea that an introverted person can learn to act in a more extroverted manner, even if not actually becoming an extrovert.

An even more interesting question, it seems to me, is whether a person who sits at the “extrovert” end of the continuum can voluntarily take on more typically introverted behaviors:
•  enjoying solitude
•  remaining quiet and reserved when with others
•  avoiding risks
•  sustaining concentration on a project or activity for prolonged periods
•  being more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated
•  thinking first and speaking or acting second

Recent findings have pointed to a number of strengths found among introverts and some advantages that they have in areas of both personal and public achievement. If an extrovert wanted to acquire those advantages, would it be possible?

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34 Answers

Coloma's avatar

I’m an extrovert, high energy, high mental energy, talkative and outgoing, but…yes, I have really mellowed in my middle age, love my solitude, can spend days just doing my own thing and while I like interacting with others I value my own company equally so. I will never, however, remain quiet and reserved when with others, moderately at times, but I’m a joiner and a talker and a leader.
I feel very well integrated and balanced these days, Infact I call myself the “extroverted hermit”. haha

I’m also a fan of the Enneagram personality profiling and test as a number 7 “The Enthusiast” with the 8 wing of “The Leader.” I can say that my desire to lead has fallen off markedly in my middle age, but my enthusiasm is still my strongest trait, I get very excited over new projects and ideas.
Yes, I’ve mellowed quite a bit but I’ll always be more of a firecracker than a flashlight.
My body will burn out long before my brain no doubt. ;-)

JustPlainBarb's avatar

That all depends on the extrovert. Some are very intelligent and adaptable .. and that’s why they’re comfortable and confident. They might be able to tone it down and sit back and be more a part of the “crowd” .. especially if they’re able to learn and acquire new information.

If they’re extroverted because they’re arrogant or “cocky”, they probably don’t have enough self-control or interest in ever being in the background .. so with them I would say it wouldn’t happen.

Nullo's avatar

Oh, certainly.

filmfann's avatar

I think it would be easier for an extrovert to behave like an introvert, than an introvert act like an extrovert, since many introverts are quiet and withdrawn out of fear.

augustlan's avatar

@filmfann I think you’re thinking of people who are shy, which is not the same as being an introvert. It’s not really a fear-based thing, just an innate personality trait.

It seems likely to me that people can learn to act like another personality type (whether they’re introverts or extroverts), but not for any length of time. Maybe for the duration of a party, or even a weekend, but not much longer. It’s exhausting to go against your nature! And whatever advantages come with the type probably don’t convey, since it’s not really a change, just an act.

DaphneT's avatar

I think extroverts would find it just as much of a challenge to act opposite their character as introverts do. We do have plenty of people interested in acting as a career, so they demonstrate that it can be done for some periods of time, so long as they know the motivation is introversion.

thorninmud's avatar

I’ve seen many extroverts put themselves through silent Zen retreats over and over again. Theoretically, sesshin should be hellish for extroverts—no talking for a week, no eye contact, no external stimulation (except for the guy hitting you with a stick every now and then). Somehow, they manage.

I think about one guy in particular, a psychotherapist, who is very extroverted. When he started doing sesshin, we had a hard time getting him to stop looking around at all the other participants. He just reflexively wants to make that connection with people. That’s a wonderful quality, and not at all out of harmony with Zen in general, but it’s just not the in the spirit of sesshin. But even he has found a way to contain that impulse when necessary.

marinelife's avatar

Not likely.

blueiiznh's avatar

We are who we are, but are made up of who we surround ourselves with.

Introverts who have often spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms that by the time they choose something it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences.
Conversely, when you spend too much time battling your own nature, the opposite happens – you deplete yourself. Too many people are living lives that don’t suit them – introverts with social schedules, extroverts with jobs that required them to sit in front of their computers for hours at a stretch. We all have to do things that don’t come naturally – some of the time. But it shouldn’t be all the time. It shouldn’t even be most of the time.

Once left to our own devices, we drift back to our authentic self.

linguaphile's avatar

When I was much younger, I loved-loved-loved being around people. I was genuinely and enthusiastically interested in others and was a high-energy social butterfly. I even made conversations with mannequins at the store :D However, I was an only child and didn’t have kids in the neighborhood to play with, so I would retreat into my bedroom where I’d read books, do arts and crafts and kept myself busy. I was extremely extroverted outside the home, extremely introverted at home and happy that way. Interestingly enough, on the MBTI—I tend to be around 48% the E-I continuum.

Because of trauma I experienced, I developed social anxiety as an adult. I still have a great amount of desire to be extroverted in social situations but it’s a struggle, so I currently come off as very introverted outside the home when it’s not my natural state—it became a defense mechanism, then a habit. I prefer to be extroverted but act introverted because I can only let my guard down with very few people.

I would love to be in a community where I felt safe enough to be myself completely, but right now, nope. Maybe soon, though!

dabbler's avatar

I think anybody can, and often do, learn to behave in all sorts of ways. For practical and social reasons.
What comes natural, and what we do in our free time, is another thing – I don’t think you can fundamentally change that.

There are the “strengths found among introverts” that are important to keep in mind when putting a team together – you need all kinds for most teams to be successful.

Coloma's avatar

@thorninmud Haha, love it!
I’ve spent the better part of this last decade working on my meditative and mind stilling skills….yes, it is challenging, an understatement to say the least. lol

Coloma's avatar

Funny too, I have always been interested in being a therapist of some sort but honestly, there is NO WAY I could sit for hours on end listening to someone drone on about their psychic stuff while offering calm and modulated one line replies such as ” and how does that make you feel?” lol

gailcalled's avatar

@thorninmud: Who gets to be the guy with the stick? I guess that volunteering wouldn’t work?

linguaphile's avatar

@Coloma I would much prefer a therapist that tells me to cut that shit out than someone that pacifies and mollifies my issues, you know… XD

Coloma's avatar

@linguaphile I agree, I’d only be able to go about 10 minutes before I took their bull by the horns. haha

janbb's avatar

I’m not sure at this point in my life if I am by nature more of an extrovert or an introvert but I think circumstances are forcing me to be more of each paradoxically. I have had to go out and make for myself almost a whole new life and group of friends and have made short work of it, but I have also had to learn to enrich myself in solitude for long periods of time. The Penguin is working hard!

josie's avatar

Speaking only for myself…
I am an extrovert. But I have learned that in some cases it is best to be quiet and listen, either as a matter of courtesy, or as a stategy in leadership or management situations. It is not that hard to do. It is simply a learned skill, like marksmenship or shooting a jump shot. Etc.

geeky_mama's avatar

This may just be my take on the whole introvert/extrovert equation.. but I see them as a sort of continuum. Where you are on the continuum makes it either more or less challenging to “perform” against your natural inclination.

I think the definition of whether one is an introvert or extrovert is most clearly seen in this question: In order to feel refreshed or energized do you require solitude or other people?

I personally crave alone time. I’m so introverted my husband and I have mused that I might be a not-yet-diagnosed Aspergers. I hate crowds, parties, phone calls – basically I’m a bit antisocial. Getting sufficient “alone time” to recharge is, for me, very difficult as I’m a busy mom and the primary bread winner for my family in a very extroverted (sales) line of work.

Clearly I CAN be extroverted when I have to’s just not my natural set point. I can be “on” for a long stretch—but there is a price for it. I crash. I get exhausted and crabby and need to crawl off to my cave to recover.

I imagine it’s the same for anyone else who is far enough along the other end of the spectrum. If you made a true extrovert go away to a retreat where they were expected to meditate and be alone (which, I must add I DREAM of doing. Days of “alone” time are what I fantasize about) ...sure they could do it..but after being secluded and away from conversation and companionship and social hubbub—I suspect they’d be painfully in need of a social interaction or to be around a lot of people.

lonelydragon's avatar

It is definitely possible for an extrovert to tone down a little bit and learn to reflect before speaking. But truth be told, I’m not sure why someone would want to. According to the writer Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, extroverted traits are generally valued more highly in the workpalce and in the social realm. As an introvert myself, I know I’ve felt pressure to conform to extroverted norms.

Coloma's avatar

@lonelydragon Yes, but us extroverts have our challenges, I am always monitoring my talking, and modulating my voice.
I am not loud and obnoxious, but, my voice rises in degree to my enthusiasm. I’d be a great announcer. lol
Gimme a few cups of coffee and I launch like a rocket. haha

Extroverts can be overwhelming to quieter people and I am self conscious about this at times. I rarely make social blunders, put my foot in my mouth and am a quick thinker and articulate speaker but, I sometimes do catch myself becoming aware that I am rambling on.
Actually my personality type states that my type DOES process information at a much faster rate than many and I need to aware of not overwhelming others.

Another annoying factor is that people EXPECT me to be “on” all the time and when I am quiet everyone is hovering around asking me if I am alright! lol
We all have our challenges. ;-)

thorninmud's avatar

@gailcalled It’s a bad idea to give the stick to someone who actually wants to be the guy with the stick. Better to pick the guy who’s not too keen on the idea

ninjacolin's avatar

Hey, guys.. just thought I’d share a recent video on The Power of Introverts from Susan Cain. It challenges the often accepted notion that Introversion is a thing to be treated or minimized in society.

lonelydragon's avatar

@Coloma This is true. Isn’t it ironic that both introverts and extroverts often hear the same comment (“You’re too quiet!”) when they feel like being silent and reflective for whatever reason?

Paradox25's avatar

Yes, but not all extroverts are the same just as not all introverts are the same. Of those qualities you’ve mentioned it might come down to which type of extrovert you are. You’ve asked a politically incorrect question since introverts are supposed to be more like extroverts, not vice versa :)

Akua's avatar

Like @linguaphile said. I’m an introvert that can fake being an extrovert when I need to be. But It’s a struggle. I think it’s easier for me to fake it than it would be for an extrovert to fake/change into an introvert. It seems to me that it would be like putting a tornado in a bottle. Eventually it would explode.

Coloma's avatar

@Akua Haha, love the analogy. I’ve joked over the years about being like a parrot kept in a closet, if I don’t get my need for stimulation met I’ll start plucking my own feathers and doing loops on my perch. ;-)

Akua's avatar

@Coloma exactly! It’s like sensory integration. The correct stimulation will keep you from inflicting self injurious behaviors. This same concept/therapy is used for people with autism.

linguaphile's avatar

@Akua, @Coloma – I saw a quote just yesterday, but can’t find it… something about… if you live your true and authentic self, you will succeed, and if you don’t, you will fail. (going off to look for the quote…)

Coloma's avatar

I agree! To thine own self be true! :-)

gailcalled's avatar

“Know thyself.”

CWOTUS's avatar

Piece of cake.

I was taught this from a young age in school: Sit down and shut up.

I’m here to tell you (quietly) that the lesson really took hold.

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