We ‘plug in’ to recharge ourselves in numerous ways. We eat food to give our bodies nutrients to serve a variety of critical functions and give us energy to operate as optimally as possible. We sleep at night to release hormones in the body that repair cells, which in turn restores intellectual and physical function. We plug our phones into their chargers to restore power. But what do we do for our social selves to recharge?
In Part 1, it was suggested that the word ‘energy’ is often used in a context that implies something that needs to be recharged. It was also mentioned that within a scientific context, energy is not something that can be created nor destroyed, but converted. So perhaps this could be indicative of something for our social selves and the way that we emotionally ‘recharge’ ourselves.
The way that the labels of introversion and extroversion get thrown around - introverts seeking alone time to recharge and extroverts preferring social settings - isn’t quite a complete way to look at how our personalities interact. The oversimplification of these terms does a disservice to how we view and treat ourselves. I believe there is more to us ‘recharging’ ourselves than just enjoying social settings or not.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung refers to introversion as being a focus and trust in one's ‘inner world’, being more trusting in their own personal experiences. Extroversion is about ideas being developed based on the ‘outer world’, seeming to be more easily oriented in social settings. While extroverted thinking may be viewed as being less complex or intellectual, it excels in practical matters that require team communication and decision making. Introversion, while more introspective and complex, is more subject to being misunderstood by others. These ‘inner worldly’ thoughts are based on personal processing, rather than the processing systems used by the rest of the world. When we look at introversion and extroversion this way, it has less to do with energy and more to do with how we process information. And that’s where these labels fall short.
I recently rediscovered an old journal entry of mine from several months ago:
“Being someone who has always strongly identified as an introvert, I surprised myself last Tuesday when I realised it was the first day I’d spent at home and alone in weeks. From previously being a person who could hardly go hours at a time without requiring alone time, I was shocked to discover how long I’d let myself go before taking a day for myself. Not only that, but I found it difficult to feel energised or inspired without people surrounding me.
Had I become... an extrovert?
Perhaps it was something I had come to grow into. Or perhaps I was getting better at knowing how to surround myself with people who best complement and support me, thus introducing a new and higher standard of socialising.
I would consider myself to have been an awkward kid, making sense as to why socialising was always draining for me. I always felt as if I thought differently than everybody else around me. And while I still consider myself to be an awkward adult, I can see how I’ve come to more confidently navigate my quirks. I embrace my differences now in ways that I’m not sure my child self would have known how to.
Perhaps terms like ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ and their fluidity are interfered with by initiative and the ability to make decisions rather than inherent, set personality traits. Or perhaps those inherent, set personality traits reveal themselves over time. Or perhaps we do blatantly change.”
This was a revolutionary discovery for me. In my adult years, I’ve come to enjoy socialising in ways that I never did in as an awkward teenager. But perhaps this was less about how I energise myself. More often than not, I pick going to parties and social dinners over staying in, and prefer working in groups with people. Or perhaps I should say, people I feel compatible with. Me as a kid feeling drained around people did not necessarily indicate that I was an introvert... it indicated I was surrounding myself with the wrong people. I isolated myself because I felt misunderstood, not because I was ‘recharging’. I still consider myself an introvert, but I do so for different reasons now.
Coming back to the idea of energy being something that is ‘transferred’ and not created or destroyed, I think we need to acknowledge that this does come into play with our social lives. I believe that even the most extroverted person in the world will feel drained around a person that they do not feel understands them. We pass on our energy to others when we interact with them, and under ideal circumstances, we receive energy in return.
Perhaps we should change the language around social stamina altogether. Perhaps we don’t need to ‘recharge’, but ‘stay charged’. When we are surrounded by people who make us feel included and feel as if we belong, rather than just fit in, we maintain a pre-existing energy that we have always had. I believe that in good company, we feel the flow of both our own energy and the exchange of it between ourselves and other people. Activities such as eating, sleeping and drinking water provide us with our initial energy that can then be exchanged with others.
Labels may be helpful for initial stages of self-exploration, but are only really interested in symptoms and behaviours. Ultimately, despite however we choose to label ourselves, we benefit from understanding how both science and personal experience affect the way we feel. It is important to acknowledge our own creative, personal experiences as much as it is to recognise that we all share the biological, human experience.