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notes from a pandemic

introversion

A couple of Christmases ago, I was at a bar back home, and because I hang out with nerds, they convinced me to take a Meyers-Briggs personality test on 16personalities.com. You know, the usual thing one does after a gig. According to my results, I was an ENTP-T, which is to say, for the purposes of this post, that I was mostly extroverted.

Five months later, I was speaking to another friend, and I ended up taking the test again (because I clearly need a hobby, and so does my friend), and this time, the result said I was an INFP.

I hadn’t done much with this information, and I’m certainly much too proud to confine myself to a label a random website has given me (although it’s still better than identifying with your star sign). There is also a risk of these sort of analyses turning into prescriptions or self-fulfilling prophecies, whereby we consciously behave according to what our Meyers-Briggs type or our star sign said we’d behave like. That caveat aside, however, these tools help us know ourselves – and our needs, triggers, strengths and weak points – better, a worthy response to the Delphic maxim to “know thyself”.

Although in general people tend to equate introversion with shyness, this isn’t always necessarily the case. Rather, it’s more a question on where a person draws their energy from, whether it’s from interactions with other people, or whether it’s through time spent alone. I love being in good company, ideally with a friend or in a small group, but I have realised that prolonged exposure to people exhausts me and I need alone time to recharge.

Prior to the confinement, I had a relatively active social life. I travelled, went to the gym, took language classes, went to concerts, made dinner plans, and even hosted a few gatherings at my place. Since my job is solitary, requiring very little human interaction, a reasonably sized chunk of my time was spent around other people, and I enjoyed that.

That was Before. And while in the Before, being around other people was a good thing, it became the one thing that was largely frowned upon, second only to licking doorknobs and toilet seats and coughing enthusiastically on the people around you.

When I went into social distancing, i.e. spending my whole day alone at home, I actually felt relieved. All of a sudden, my fear of missing out was gone, mostly because there was nothing much to miss out on. I felt I had time for my hobbies, my thoughts, and my projects, and was looking forward to this period of retreat.

Meanwhile, extroverts had no idea what hit them. Shortly into lockdown, the internet was awash with people embarrassing themselves on TikTok as extroverts the world over (but mostly in Italy, which had been in lockdown for a few weeks already) had no idea what to do with their own company except – and I’m being sympathetic here – reach out to others in whatever way they could.

And I can hardly blame them for feeling disoriented. A lot of our social structures seem to be more geared towards extraversion than introversion, but with everything suspended, a fair few lost their bearings.

Many of us, or even parts of us, on the other hand, breathed a sigh of relief, if only for a brief while. I’m not sure what the lesson here is. I have been in situations in which my introversion felt like a handicap. For the first time in a long while, I saw it for the strength it really is.

Of course, this isn’t a competition. These two different personalities can bring out different sides in one another, and it is our duty to learn how our psychological makeup affects ourselves and those around us. But let’s just say that if it were, this time round, the introverts would be winning.

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