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The oxymoron of "introverted extroverts"

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OCTOBER 19, 2022

I have often described myself as an “introverted extrovert,” someone who is super extroverted around people they know, but shy around people they don’t. Frankly, I think it’s a myth, but there is so much more to the title than what it seems. 

My senior year of high school, I was voted “Most Talkative” in my class. To my friends and teachers, this was no surprise as I’d constantly whisper in class, raise my hand to answer questions and yell across the room to my friends. My parents, however, had quite a different reaction: “Most talkative? Really?” To them, I was extremely introverted and painfully self-conscious. While I could attribute this to being more confident around my peers at school than at home, this simply isn’t the case. 

My sense of self-worth in elementary school mostly stemmed from whether or not guys liked me. At the time, it felt like the most important thing in the world to be asked out at the school dance by a fellow 10-year-old classmate. My friends were getting asked out by their crushes left and right, but I was never even considered as an option to have a crush on, let alone actually be asked out. My whole world revolved around these 30 people in my elementary school class; none deemed me worthy of a crush. I became an introvert, engaging in less rambunctious games during recess and not talking much outside of class. I was horribly shy in dance class and would try to hide the dates my parents could watch me so they’d miss them.

 I had no confidence at all. 

Fast forward to the best years of my life – middle school. A controversial statement, I know, but in middle school I moved to an all-girls school. Suddenly, boys didn’t matter anymore, because they weren’t there to even form an opinion on me. All that mattered was school itself, and my self-confidence, and therefore my extroversion, soared due to excelling academically. My desire for male validation came to be replaced with something else: academic validation. In class, I was loud. I’d raise my hand, chat with the teachers and banter with my friends. Although at home I remained pretty reserved, with my friends I was my best self, definitely deserving of that “Most Talkative” title. 

But beneath all of this confidence externally, there was internal insecurity that I never voiced. With middle school comes puberty, and although everyone around me was experiencing the same things, while they seemed to grow into their bodies, I was spilling out of mine. This outward, extroverted personality was a shield for my inward insecurities. In school, I was excelling, academically and socially. But in my head, I was a failure. 

You know what definitely helps insecurities? Big life changes! In the middle of sophomore year, I moved from London to San Francisco, going from my nurturing all-girls environment to a sprawling co-ed public high school. Something shifted – I was surrounded by men every day, but unlike elementary school, they liked me now? My British accent apparently made me irresistible to the male population of my high school, and with this came a sense of confidence while at school, hence the “Most Talkative” superlative. I still had deep insecurities about my body, my friendships and my intelligence, but it was all suppressed under this hyper-extroverted persona. 

I was a late addition to my friend group, only becoming close with them my junior year. There were so many memories I didn’t share, music artists I didn’t listen to and middle school experiences I didn’t have. While I was “in” the friend group, I didn’t feel like I was truly a part of it because I didn’t have as much history with them. I projected this into being friends, in the most superficial sense of the word, with as many people as possible. Whoever sat next to me in class, I’d talk to; when I passed people in the hall I’d stop and say hi; I would be loud and sometimes obnoxious in class. This “extrovert” that people knew wasn’t because I had a total personality shift when I moved to the United States, but rather because I wanted to hide my more introverted self. 

So, personally, “introverted extroverts” are a myth. While one could argue that they fit this description, I think that it is impossible to have such a polarity in one’s personality. As someone who used to self-identify with this label, I’ve come to realize that being an “introverted extrovert” really just means that you’re one or the other. This doesn’t mean I was faking it every time I acted confident or loud, but rather that this extroverted persona was a part of my introverted personality – I wouldn’t act extroverted if I wasn’t, in reality, introverted. 

People can have nuances in their personalities while still fitting one label over another, and while it may seem oxymoronic, introverts can be loud, and confident, and sociable, without becoming extroverts. Embrace the introvert label! I wish I did earlier.

Aviva Binder writes the Thursday column on hidden insecurities. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

OCTOBER 19, 2022