Being an introvert doesn’t have to look like shying away from social contact. As more and more women are discovering post-pandemic, being an “extroverted introvert” means faking it at least a little bit.
Ever since comedy legend Dawn French described herself as a “functional introvert” in an interview last year, her words have struck a chord with many women who have spent the past 18 months re-assessing everything they thought they knew about themselves before the global pandemic.
Known for her outgoing personality, energetic confidence and hilarious double-act performances, the actor admitted: “People are very surprised by that, but I know a lot of extroverts are not really.”
And if a straw-poll of the Stylist team is anything to go on, it turns out that, while most of us come across as confident, sociable and loud, we’re actually mostly faking it to get by. However, instead of the term functional introvert (which is in danger of wrongly suggesting that introverts can’t function), the description we find ourselves reaching for is “extroverted introvert”.
“I never thought about whether I was an extrovert or an introvert until I went to university. The move from hanging out with life-long ‘school friends’ to new-found university mates shone a light on parts of my personality that I’d never recognised before,” says Poppy*, who always comes across so confident and energetic at work.
“I love spending time by myself, but I never want to feel left out (read: also love a banging night out). Meeting my friends’ friends fills me with dread, but I force myself to do it. I don’t like small talk, but if needed I can pull something out of the bag. And I much, much prefer listening to other people than talking about myself.
“When I Googled ‘what is an extroverted introvert?’ I felt like I found my tribe.”
“I actually wrote a piece about being an introvert for Stylist and I got so many messages asking ‘Wait… you’re an introvert?’. Because I’m loud, I’m confident, I love people, I love parties, I love crowds and cities and business,” says our fitness writer Chloe. “But the key thing is that they use my energy rather than recharge it. In order to be around lots of people doing lots of things, I need time alone to rest and recoup.”
And it was a no-brainer for contributor Anna: “I’m an extroverted introvert, for sure. I like hanging out with other people but I also need time alone to recoup – and if I don’t get that enough, I can definitely feel it. I also get anxious about big social stuff like office Christmas parties or events where you need to move around and chat to groups of people at once, or in some way be funny or perform.”
She adds: “I feel much more at home in smaller groups and having in-depth conversations with people I know really well (or even having in-depth conversations with strangers too, when that happens, but not with any pressure to impress). It’s almost like the extrovert side of me can play the part of public speaking or being very sociable but I have to push myself and often feel self-conscious about it. The more natural side of me is definitely a bit more reserved and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting of that
“I also sometimes feel pressure and envy when I’m around other very extroverted people – I used to think this was the ultimate and only way to be.”
Asked if the “extroverted introvert” is a recognised personality type, relationship counsellor and founder of My Trauma Therapy, Emma Davey, explains to Stylist: “An extrovert gains energy from being around people. An introvert is drained of energy by being around people. Being an extroverted introvert means you have personality traits from both ends of the spectrum.
“You may find that you need alone time, but too much of it may actually drain you of energy. By contrast, someone who is completely introverted doesn’t need people for energy at all. Many people are being tested on this at the moment with home working. It is interesting that surveys on LinkedIn are showing that most people would prefer a combination of some home working with some office-based working. This suggests that most of us are extroverted introverts. We need people for energy, but too much is draining.
“An extroverted introvert is recognised by experts but can be referred to by different names. Not everyone will fit every personality type, it’s not one type fits all, some people only match to some of the personality traits and meet in the middle, whereas others will fit every trait of being an introvert or an extrovert.”
Confidence coach and founder of Shy and Mighty, Nadia Finer, offers the term “ambivert”, saying: “Some people swing between being an extrovert and an introvert, which is what we call an ambivert. That’s someone who’s a bit of both; and we’re all a bit of both, really. That’s why I wouldn’t say ‘introverted extravert’ – I’d say you’re an ambivert.”
Finer also offers another perspective for people: “I do think you can be a shy extrovert, which is somebody who wants to be around other people, socialising, chatting away and being in the limelight, but because they’re shy they find it really difficult. It’s like you’re wrapped in a resistance band and you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You might be anxious, afraid or worried about what other people think about you. There’s a kind of conflict and tension inside of you there.”
Whether you identify with being an extroverted introvert, an ambivert or a shy extrovert, Finer says there’s a lot of “masking” going on in each situation, explaining: “For example, referring to Dawn French’s idea of ‘functioning’, people wouldn’t necessarily know that I’m shy because I’ve figured out ways to mask it. I can give a talk to people because I’ve learned to overcome fears in situations and be ‘functioning’.”
With both experts saying that most people have both introvert and extrovert traits, it’s perhaps reassuring to know that we’re not alone in feeling the opposite in how we come across in social or work situations. However, it’s important to try remember to stay true to ourselves, as Davey concludes: “Many people act introvert and extrovert at times. Don’t try and be something you’re not to fit in with the crowd and for other people’s benefit.
“The important thing is to recognise who you are and what you need. It’s about self-care and self-love.”
*name changed at request of contributor