Social Flexibility: When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?

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.

27 thoughts on “Social Flexibility: When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?

  1. Joh says:

    This was fascinating! I’m a psych major and an introvert, but I hadn’t heard of the Free Trait Theory. I’m so glad you wrote about it. I love this kind of information!

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  2. Amy Young says:

    It’s so funny, my friend and I were just discussing this! She’s always mistaken for an extrovert, when really, she couldn’t be more of an introvert. The same thing happens to me a lot of the time. I think (and this is just my opinion) that there’s a spectrum, and at any given point in time your place on the spectrum changes depending on your mood.

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  3. Aldina El Halabi says:

    I never knew its a thing, but I act as an extrovert, but feel like an introvert. Its like an act I put on. Makes sense. Love your article ❤

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  4. Suburban Philosopher says:

    I spent years thinking I was an extravert because of my level of comfort in social situations, before I realised that I also required and enjoyed solitude. Being an ambivert confuses introverts and extraverts I think.

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  5. edelcurran says:

    As a fellow introvert who has often assumed the extrovert mask, this post really spoke to me! ❤️ Although I regularly played the pretend game, I never imagined that the other “extroverts” could be doing the same thing. Knowing this, I will feel less intimidated by them from now on. 😉 Thank you for sharing! 😊

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  6. lauriegannon1 says:

    I am a very outgoing, gregarious person in public, but absolutely need my alone time. I actually prefer to be alone a majority of the time. I call myself the extroverted introvert. All the time. 🙂

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  7. deimile says:

    You are my twin! For the most of my life I was a true introvert but with years I learned to enjoy people’s company, but just like you said, too much of it makes me exhausted and almost ill! I love hosting a party or going out now and again but can’t do too much of it. People would definitely describe me as in extrovert but it couldn’t be further from the truth…

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  8. jennybhatia says:

    You speak to me…I really love certain social situations. We always have a New Years Party hosted at our house. And big tailgate parties every weekend in the fall for football. But, it takes me months to get over all of it. I need time to regroup and be away from people. I love them, but they exhaust me ! I’m an ambivalent through and through. (My husband calls me a hermit, but I will soon come out of hiding)!!

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  9. Erika Lancaster says:

    Very interesting! As an introvert myself, I believe in stepping out of my comfort zone and turning on the “social switch” when I need to, especially in order to reach important goals that I have set for myself. I was able to make it through 6 years of teaching in a school environment, which is very intense and the breaks are short to non-existent. From 7:30 am to 3:30 p.m., I not only had to be on, but also project myself positively, and pretty much be the center of attention for 25 students at a time. It was exhausting, but I learned and grew so much from it.

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    • Evie Scott says:

      Firstly, thank you for reading! Secondly, I know exactly how you feel. I used to teach and was often described as very confident and at ease infront of a group of people. This wasn’t the case at all. I found it terrifying and had to take long breaks to recharge myself. It was a struggle but it taught me a lot. X

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