People have a variety of social selves that they choose to project to the world. I have encountered many extroverted people who are secretly introverts. They project a booming and energetic sense of self in certain social situations, but they retreat in private and seek more solitary pursuits. People often describe me as ‘extroverted,’ but they couldn’t be further from the truth. I might appear confident in public, and be able to talk to anyone at all, but it has always been a secret struggle of mine. I prefer one-on-one conversations and encounters, and I often disappear to share quiet dialogues at parties. When I’m forced to spend too much out in public, or at social events, I can literally feel myself becoming unwell, and I need days alone to recharge my batteries. Outwardly however, people assume that I love socialising and am never nervous of people. The truth couldn’t be any more different.
It is my belief that we are very capable of flexibility when it comes to our extroverted and introverted sides. Our projected selves shift depending on the social situation, and it could be argued that we are all a mix of both extrovert and introvert. There are a group of psychologists known as Situationists, and they believe that the words we use to describe one another – shy, aggressive, agreeable, conscientious – are incredibly misleading. They state that there is no ‘core’ self; there are only various selves. This idea was introduced by a man called Walter Mischel, who believed that situational factors predicted the behaviour of people. For example, a normally introverted lecturer could become extroverted when faced with a large auditorium of people. As a species, we must be flexible with our social selves. I would describe myself as flexible socially, because I can be both the life and soul of the party, but also desire to remain indoors in isolated locations and devote myself to the silent and solitary pursuit of writing. I also understand that being the confident talker means that I am exhausted afterwards, and need time to recharge before I’m able to socialise again. It is simply the way that I am.
Why can we turn certain personality traits on? How can an introvert behave as an extrovert at certain times, and not others? There is a theory amongst psychologists called the Free Trait Theory. These people believe that fixed traits and free traits almost certainly coexist. According to this theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits, but we can and do act out of character for situations such as work, or in the pursuit of something that we particularly enjoy. For example, an introverted athlete may display extreme aggression and passion when pursuing their sport. They have adapted their personality traits to achieve something that means a lot to them. This might seem slightly deceptive, but we are simply doing what we have been psychologically programed to do. Yes, we may pretend to be extroverts at times, and such inauthenticity can be morally ambiguous, but if it’s in pursuit of something that we love? Or something we are working towards? Social flexibility can indeed be the answer.