Over the past year or so, all of us have had to deal with the problems of living through a pandemic and adapting to life in lockdowns.
While we have all faced a common challenge in COVID-19, our specific issues and our experience of coping will be unique to each of us. The expression ‘we’re all in the same storm but not the same boat’, certainly rings true for this strange period of our lives.
One of the things that will have affected someone’s experience is how introverted or extroverted they are. Before we look at this in more detail, let’s first look more closely at what it means to be an introvert and extravert – it’s not as black and white as you might think.
The introvert/extravert scale
The idea of introverts and extraverts is not a new one. It’s been around for more than 100 years with a lot of the early work being carried out by psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
During these first years of research, it was thought that introverts and extraverts were completely opposite types of personality. Jung himself described them as being mutually exclusive attitudes.
Now, after many more years of studies, we know that most people have characteristics of both and there is a scale of introversion and extraversion that most people sit somewhere along. There are also ambiverts who sit right in the middle.
This means it’s not as simple as saying all extraverts are loud and love to party and all introverts are anti-social.
There are general characteristics of each and people tend to be more or less introverted or extraverted, but it’s worth remembering that it’s not as straightforward as being one or the other.
Let’s take a look at these characteristics, how they may have impacted someone’s experience of lockdown and their return to normal life afterwards.
Introverts in and out of lockdown
The characteristics of introverts include:
- They make themselves laugh
- They need to be alone to recharge
- Loyalty is important to them
- Attention seeking behaviours annoy them
- They don’t like unexpected visitors
- Enjoy one on one conversations
- Like to listen more than talk
- Think through decisions before acting
Introversion is generally characterised by being introspective and enjoying time spent alone. This doesn’t mean, however, that lockdown will have been a piece of cake for them.
While they may find their energy drained by attending a big party, introverts still enjoy socialising. They just prefer to do it in smaller groups with people they know well.
But even that has been hard to do during lockdown.
Human connection is vital for our wellbeing – whether you get that through a big party or a coffee with a close friend.
If your partner/best friend/colleague is an introvert, don’t assume their lockdown was completely fine and dismiss their experience just because they aren’t a social butterfly or generally enjoy time spent alone anyway. Acknowledge that they may also have faced struggles.
For example, many introverts find their downtime at home, as a place where they can re-energise by being alone. However, due to the huge change in lifestyle the pandemic brought, for many people home may no longer just be home. It might also now be your office, your partner’s office, your children’s school, etc. For introverts this loss of sanctuary can be hard to adjust to.
While many people will be desperate to return to socialising and big parties, especially if they had special occasions that went uncelebrated throughout 2020, accept that the introvert might not want or feel able to.
This doesn’t mean they haven’t missed you or don’t want to see you, they may just prefer to meet up on a smaller scale.
Social events with big groups can be overwhelming for an introvert, and it may feel even more so after so many months of relative solitude. While they might not want to attend your big post-lockdown bash or a night out with the entire work team, they are likely to be more receptive to meeting up one-on-one or in a small group.
If you have introverts in your team at work, recognise that, for similar reasons, they might find a return to the office difficult if they’ve spent months working at home.
Give them time to readjust to being around a team of people again. They’re not necessarily unhappy to be back at work, but it may feel like a new shock to the system.
Extroverts in lockdown
The characteristics of extroverts include:
- They have learning styles that promote group activities
- They recharge by socialising but also need some alone time
- They are stimulated by their environment
- Enjoy being the centre of attention
- They are more likely to enjoy social leisure activities
- They are more likely to prefer immediate rewards
- Like to talk and are expressive
- Make decisions quickly and are action-orientated
Extroverts are gregarious people who find their energy renewed by being around others. They thrive by socialising in large groups and enjoy human interaction.
This doesn’t mean that an extrovert can’t also enjoy time on their own, but it’s obvious how the restrictions on our social life during lockdowns may be having a particularly adverse effect on people with this kind of personality.
During lockdown, extroverts may have been more likely to embrace the digital world of socialising by attending online quiz nights and virtual meet-ups with everyone from friends to acquaintances and strangers.
Unlike introverts, extroverts tend to enjoy interacting with people they don’t know and the spontaneity of such activities.
But as fun as these online sessions are, even extroverts will admit they’re no substitute for face-to-face events. Once lockdown is over, they are likely to want to rush back to filling up their social calendar and meeting up in person with everyone they’ve been unable to spend time with since the pandemic broke out.
The enforced hibernation of lockdown which may have felt nourishing to introverts will have been more draining for extroverts. Returning to their social circles with full force will feel like a release and a joy, and the best thing to pep them back up.
Allow them to embrace their social side once more, it may feel like too much for an introvert, but it is what the extrovert in your life needs.
If you’re an introvert living with an extrovert throughout the lockdown, realise that this return to spending time with others isn’t a sign that you are not enough for them or they didn’t enjoy this quality time with you.
In a work setting, you might find the extroverts in your team rushing back with an enthusiasm that might be overwhelming and distracting for others.
You may need to accept that they are going to want to talk and chat with their colleagues, at least in the early days of returning to work. But you can also try to channel some of that energy into group learning activities and meetings or social workplace activities.
It may be tricky to manage the needs of a team of people who will all be somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale, especially if you have colleagues at either extreme. But remember that creating a quiet space for your colleagues or subordinates will be helpful for both your introverts and extroverts, who, despite their outgoing attitude, also need some down-time.
The path back to normality
Lockdown was a huge change for all of us and everyone had to find their own way to navigate through it.
The same can be said for how we will each find our way out of lockdown and back to normality.
Just as how extrovert, or not, we are will have affected how we experienced lockdown, it will also impact how we navigate our way out of it.
It is no better or worse to be introvert or extrovert, and the way we react and behave based on that are no more right or wrong.
But being able to recognise your own introvert/extrovert tendencies, and those of others, will help us all to find our own way out and support those around us.