Introverted Extraverts

I vant to be alone.
Greta Garbo

In the past three days I have met an equivalent number of extraverts claiming to be introverts -- and I was finally convinced that I'd better not step over this dimension, because my assumption that people would surely know this aspect of themselves isn't holding up.

Last year I coached two ENFJs who wondered whether they might be introverted, but both recognized fairly quickly that they couldn't possibly prefer introversion.  So I know confused ENFJs are out there wondering if they're INFJs, and their quandary does fit their interaction style.  This type experiences intermittent phases of introversion in order to re-charge -- a dramatic contrast to their normal extraversion.  This can cause them to wonder if they actually prefer introversion.  But they usually realize they don't care much for introversion overall when you work with them (I wish more of them would consider this possibility!).

I've also met INFJs who wonder whether they prefer extraversion.  After all, a social INFJ can look darned sociable!  (If they're honest with themselves, however, they're pretty quick to own those extended periods of introversion without too much resistance.  There's no getting past them.)

But what I seem to be coming across lately are ENFPs who believe they are INFPs or INFJs.  And they're quite convinced they're introverts!

I guess I'm not entirely surprised -- after all, in my experience the most introverted extraverts tend to be E__Ps.  I used to work with a manager at The Disney Channel, and I was uncertain as to whether or not he had ENTP or INTP preferences for a time.  It became settled in my mind at a social event when I watched him chatting up everybody in his vicinity.  He even initiated a conversation with me, whom he normally ignored.  So he came vibrantly alive in a social setting.  (The rest of the time he seemed to hide out inside his corner office.  Perhaps he was on the phone much of the time.)

In another example, I recently took an advanced coach training program.  One attendee always piped up with something to say.  She was reflexively jumping into conversations, as if she couldn't help herself.  And yet, in a triad once, when I suggested she had ENFP preferences, she insisted she was "split" on the E/I scale and was probably introverted.  (And I'm thinking, "What part of you is unaware of how much time you've spent dominating this program?  Perhaps because her delivery was so low-key in nature that it didn't register with her.  Maybe she equates extraversion with "obnoxious," and she isn't that.)

One Jungian I know claims that introverts never think they're extraverts, but extraverts often think they're introverts.  He also says that introverts always wonder, "How'm I doin'?"  The implication seems to be that extraverts are extremely aware of themselves in the external world, whereas introverts are so unfamiliar with the outer realm that they need reassurance they're doing okay there.  For introverts, the outer world is like a foreign country, and we're always half-terrified we're lost or blowing it in some unknown way.  We want reassurance that we haven't screwed it up in that realm.

These three ENFPs I recently encountered demonstrated various giveaways around their extraversion through a variety of clues.  In a couple of cases, it became apparent to me by the flood of email they generated, especially with rambling all over assorted topics and weaving together multiple contexts.  It's nothing I would call "focused."  (INFJs tend to have a laser focus -- see my page on "INFJ Directing" for examples of extreme focus.)

Some clues that I'm encountering an extravert show up around overtures they make about desiring to interact. For instance, they might casually say or write, "call me sometime."  They will initiate, initiate, initiate with me.  If invited to, they will readily pick up the phone and call me.  Usually folks with introverted preferences (especially INFJs) are unbelievably cautious and deliberate about creating or deepening relationships.  New friendships are not created lightly!

Oftentimes there is a speed that shows up -- things happen fast, relationships happen fast with extraverts.  Even via email, it feels like they are "talking fast."  One extravert betrayed herself on a teleclass when she did all the talking and displayed an "allergic reaction" to silence and always wanted to fill it.  I noticed there were no gaps -- whenever I finished speaking, she didn't take that signature introverted pause to digest what I said, but jumped in promptly with her response.  So there are plenty of little clues of that sort that extraversion is the preferred way of being in the world, in spite of how the person sees themselves.

Sometimes I'm left wondering how something so obvious to me couldn't be as obvious to them.  Then I realize what's going on.  Some of the failure is around the way this dimension is typically described.  So let's take a look at that.

First of all, let's take our culture.  In our culture, extraversion means someone is loud and gregarious.  Perhaps obnoxious.  Extraverts have loads of friends and party all the time.  It's a stereotype, and self-aware E__Ps know they don't fit that mold.

Then let's look at the way the MBTI sorts type.  It is designed so that people seem to fit neatly into one pigeonhole or the other.  You either ARE an extravert or you are NOT.  Either you ARE an introvert or you are NOT.  The two must not overlap.  Dr. John Beebe (ENTP) struggled with this very issue himself during his own early training as a Jungian.  In fact, he became so distressed by his inability to decide which he really was that he wondered if he ought to drop out of his program!  After all, how could any self-respecting Jungian not know his own type, and still provide worthwhile analysis to others?  He said there were people in his inner circle who believed he was the only TRUE introvert they had ever met, and yet others knew him as being very extraverted.  Whom should he trust?

Clearly this problem is confusing enough that even Dr. John Beebe can be ensnarled by it.

What is overlooked is how we don't just introvert or extravert -- we introvert or extravert a process.  "Introverting" and "extraverting" are adjectives which are circumstance-dependent.  

According to Beebe, when we engage an extraverted process, we are merging  -- merging with the external world, perhaps with another person or a group.  When we are introverting, we go inside ourselves and connect with an inner archetype.

We all do both.  Even if we spend 99% of our time in one realm or the other, extraverts have to sleep with themselves, and introverts usually have some topic that brings them to life in the external world.

So if we go by that rule of thumb and treat it as merely a behavioral distinction, then we must start looking at percentages, right?  So how much time do I spend extraverting and how much time introverting?  If more than 50% of one's time is spent extraverting (with others), then that pushes someone into the extravert definition.  If more than 50% of one's time is spent introverting (alone), then that pushes someone into the introvert definition.  Right?

...Uhhh.... wait!  so how do you classify an ENFP writer then?  (And I know many of those.)

So here are a few specific tools from the psychological type models to help you discern INFP from ENFP.  (Sorry, just ENFP and INFP for now.  Maybe later I'll add INFJ and ENFJ.)

The first tool I suggest is looking into a dimension from the Interaction Styles model.  This particular dimension is called "initiating" and "responding."  Basically, whenever we encounter someone, we have two choices.  We can either INITIATE (start a conversation, introduce ourselves, whatever), or we can RESPOND (decide whether or not to reply or to ignore them).  This is a simplistic aspect of the entire introversion/extraversion dimension, and usually it's a lot easier to recognize and take ownership of.

As with all of our *preferences*, everyone is capable of doing BOTH.  For instance, I have a preference for responding, but when I was in charge of an event recently, I positioned myself at the front door, greeting people warmly the instant they showed up and cordially ushering them inside.  It was a hostess-like ROLE I chose to play.  It looked vastly different from the role I usually played at The Disney Channel, where people said "Good morning!" to me before I *responded* with a "Good Morning" in reply.  (Usually.)

So you might want to start checking out this dimension to see whether you prefer initiating or responding in general.  Which are you more comfortable with?  If you enter an elevator with a stranger, do you initiate conversation?  Do you respond if they address you?

If that piques your interest, you might want to take a look at the Interaction Styles model overall.  ENFPs have a preference for the interaction style called "Get Things Going."  And boy, can they ever get them going!  

One of these introverted-looking ENFP writers I mentioned directed some short films at his college, and he Got Things Going so much that several alums completed their long-overdue films as well, and at semester's end they put on a mini film festival of all the movies completed that year.  People came back who hadn't touched celluloid for three years and got their projects completed.  It was amazing!  And yet this introverted-looking ENFP was just humbly going along doing his own thing.  He looked low-key, but somehow he made big ripples with very little effort.  I don't know how his Get Things Going energy transmitted so extensively, but it sure did.

And that's the thing to look at.  Is the impact you have one of Get Things Going?  Do you "stir the pot" and get people engaged, maybe without even working hard at it? 

The gal at that retreat I attended sure did.  Everybody got activated and pulled into the conversation.  It became challenging for the ENFJ leader to keep everyone on Time and Task due to this woman's influence.  Things certainly got lively!  But the ENFP didn't do all the work -- she got everyone else involved, and the interaction automatically spiked from her initiating.

It's helpful to understand that ENFPs want others to get involved in meetings and actively be part of the decision-making process.  They tend to feel disgruntled when other people hold back and don't seem involved.  

In contrast, INFPs tend to approach people either before or after meetings and "consult" privately with them about the best result possible.  They prefer to get their consensus "behind-the-scenes."  So you might consider how you prefer decisions to be made.  The one you are drawn to may be an indication of a... preference.

Click here for a description of the ENFP's interaction style for you to check out, in case this dimension is one you'd like to take another look at.  I believe it's particularly helpful for people to recognize how they prefer decisions to be made, especially if they happen to be a "shy extravert."  (It's beginning to look to me like ENFPs appear to fall into that category more often than I realized.)

The second tool of discernment comes from Beebe's archetype model.  We know that ENFPs and INFPs both use introverted Feeling and extraverted iNtuiting.  Both use both.  So!  Pay attention to the archetypal energy around those two processes.  One of the processes is being used in a "heroic" way, while the other is being used to "parent" others.  So which process is being used with which archetype?  Can you discern and sort that out?

The heroic process is typically a "solo" process -- John Beebe talks about Hans Solo in "Star Wars" as an example of the Heroic process.  He works SOLO, just like his name implies.  When he saves the day, it's all about his mastery, his brilliance.  He is the center of attention, the man of the hour.

In contrast, the parenting process is about supporting and guiding others, encouraging their mastery and brilliance.  A good example of this is Obi Wan-Kenobi.  He is the "parent" figure in "Star Wars."  And he is gently guiding Luke Skywalker.  Obi Wan-Kenobi is using his gifts to benefit another.  He is acting in service of another, unfolding his mastery and brilliance.  It is a dramatically different energy and focus from the Hero archetype.

Another way Beebe states this is that through the good parenting archetype we do things for others.  Even though they are adults, we treat them somewhat like children.  So Beebe says he does Thinking for others; I do Feeling for others; INFPs do iNtuiting for others, my CEO friend does Sensing for others.

One is not better than the other -- we all do both!  It's a form of energy I am describing.  Being a hero is energetically different from being a parent.  You can feel the difference from within you.

So pay attention to how you use these two particular processes (Ne and Fi), and what archetypal energy you are invoking.  This will help you determine which process is the so-called *dominant* and which is *auxiliary*. In turn, this will establish the pattern of whether you have preferences for ENFP or INFP.

I encourage you to open your mind about whether or not you have preferences for introversion or extraversion if you have any doubt -- and maybe even if you don't!  I recommend you thoroughly check this possibility out using the tools I list above.  Here's a blog entry from one ENFP who seems to have sorted herself out and shares some advice for others.  (Hmmm, parenting others from her introverted Feeling maybe?)

There's a interesting video at this site which explores the topic of introversion and extraversion.  If you sign up for the mailing list you'll get the extended version.

And here's a book that Dr. John Beebe recommends, in case you want to delve more deeply into this dimension:

The Experience of Introversion:
An Integration of Phenomenological, Empirical, and Jungian Approaches

Note:  it's for hard-core learners, because it's really difficult to read!

Last, here's an article about introversion & extraversion that got me yelling.  It seems to look at introversion from a strictly extraverted perspective.  You might want to yell about it too.  You can yell on my blog if you like.  (Click the button below.)

HA!  It's gone now.  I wonder whether it got shouted down.