I always wondered whether I was an introvert or not. Compared to my life in school and university, it was a big difference. I was a total introvert in school while more of a partygoer in university. The fact that I had more freedom in university allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do — so I thought.
Looking back at it, it was quite regretful and the social environment didn’t feel that enjoyable. Many nights involved a toxic relationship with alcohol and friends and this happened because I gave in to answering the door that was knocking constantly almost every day. They would ask me if I wanted to hang out and I agreed with them knowingly that I had social pressure acting like a grim reaper, waiting to slash my neck off if I didn’t go out with them.
There were days where I just wanted to be alone and some people took a shock to this when I told them. They thought I was an outgoing person who loved to party with them.
This was so confusing to me. Why did people associate me as an extrovert? What made me do things that were not what an introvert would normally do?
A World Full Of Personality
In 2017, I took a personality test online called 16Personalities to check out whether I was an introvert or extrovert.
16Personalities is based on MBTI. If you aren’t aware of MBTI, it is a way of self-evaluating yourself through a series of questions in order to determine your personality type.
The results were in. The test told me I was ENFP.
Was this why people saw me as likable and friendly?
I guess so, I mean I did smile and tried to have the best time with my friends. So I shrugged it off, knowing that I was an extrovert.
In 2018, I still felt this strange feeling that I wasn’t an extrovert. There existed a thing called ambivert, but I was still unsure. I just knew I couldn’t settle down for having a balance of both. I took the test again. This time I got INFP; a one letter change that was between introvert and extrovert. It was heavily pointing towards the introversion spectrum as I saw it at around 70%. I had a lot of doubt about it and sort of grew skeptical of personality tests in general, due to the large sway between the tests I took. I quickly dismissed it again.
This year (2019), I’ve had a lot of moments where I felt really lost. I quit my job, knowing that I didn’t really belong there. One of the reasons being was that I found a struggle to fit in the social environment. Everyone seemed to like having small talk and there was always a constant distraction every few minutes across the room. Every morning there would always be a story about how that one guy cut them off in the motorway. I had enough of it, I just wanted to work on my own without anyone disturbing me all the time.
This time, I really wanted to find out what was happening here. I had to do a personality test again, and this time with full of honesty and full of self-reflection about everything that has happened to me in life.
I got the results from the test: INFP. Here’s the first paragraph from 16Personalities:
“Mediator personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better. While they may be perceived as calm, reserved, or even shy, Mediators have an inner flame and passion that can truly shine. Comprising just 4% of the population, the risk of feeling misunderstood is unfortunately high for the Mediator personality type – but when they find like-minded people to spend their time with, the harmony they feel will be a fountain of joy and inspiration.”
Somehow, I resonated with this description much more than the ENFPs. Though the descriptions from 16Personalities weren’t enough to satisfy my needs of how introverts and extroverts worked, and it didn’t feel like it was as simple as categorizing someone as shy and reserved, and someone else as social and more outgoing. I scanned through all over the internet to find out the fundamentals of introversion and extroversion and eventually came across this website: TypeInMind. I thought that this had the best explanation for how we reacted in the real world and our own world (our thoughts).
The Revelation of Introversion and Extroversion
A Swiss psychiatrist named Carl Jung came up with the concept of cognitive functions which was something I gravitated towards as it seemed much easier to deduce compared to the MBTI letters itself.
Cognitive functions are different in that it uses the four basic functions that all humans experience which are Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling. We use cognitive functions to do two things: Taking in new information and making decisions. Every human has two ways of perceiving the world (Sensing and Intuition) and two ways of making decisions (Thinking and Feeling).
Let’s compare the dichotomies of both MBTI and cognitive functions.
- Introversion – Extroversion
- Sensing – iNtuitive
- Feeling – Thinking
- Judging – Perceiving
- Introverted Sensing – Extroverted Sensing
- Introverted Intuition – Extroverted Intuition
- Introverted Thinking – Extroverted Thinking
- Introverted Feeling – Extroverted Feeling
See the difference? Judging and Perceiving aren’t included in cognitive functions because the four psychological types are part of the aforementioned. Unlike MBTI, introversion and extroversion are included as part of each of the four dichotomies.
The Way We Behave
There is also something called function stacks which are a way of understanding which functions we prefer using to handle certain situations.
INFP has a function stack that consists of these cognitive functions in the following order:
- Introverted Feeling (Fi)
- Extroverted iNtuition (Ne)
- Introverted Sensing (Si)
- Extraverted Thinking (Te)
The top of the list is our Dominant Function which is what we tend to use the most. As most of us reading are introverts, we don’t particularly use this function in the outside world, but rather, it remains in our innermost thoughts.
For my dominant function, it’s Introverted Feeling which is to express what values I care about the most and that tends to hide my emotions because they can take a lot of time to reflect on.
The second on the list is called Auxiliary Function, also known as second in command because for us introverts, we will typically use this one to project to the external world instead of our dominant one. Isabel Myers Briggs, the author of Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type best describes introverts as someone who has a “General” working “inside the tent” while “The Aide is outside fending off interruptions”.
In my case, my auxiliary function is Extroverted Intuition which is used to see all the possibilities of the world. It brings new ideas and theories that can sometimes be seen as “on the fly”. I find that ideas just come out of nowhere and I’ve got no idea how to explain it because it is not concrete like the Sensing function.
The third on the list is called Tertiary Function and it will always be the less developed function and the opposite perception/judging function (depending on which type of function the auxiliary has) compared to the auxiliary. This function is not used as much as our auxiliary but is essential towards how we take in new information or making a decision.
My Tertiary Function is Introverted Sensing which is a way of reflecting in my inner world of the past and sort of organizing and comparing the old and new information. This is a crucial part for me to learn new things because without knowing the facts (so to speak), I wouldn’t really gain anything out of the new information but instead just waddle around aimlessly in my imaginary world of Ne (Extroverted Intuition).
Last but not least, the final one is called the Inferior Function. This is also known as the Achilles heel out of all our functions because it is the least developed function that we don’t really use that often. Now, because we are introverts, this one flaw of ours will show the most because it is directly the opposite to our dominant function (the best one).
My flaw is Extroverted Thinking; the ability to think logically and reasoning towards ideas that are impersonal. The outward thinking makes it able to voice out our logical decision making. I’m able to utilize this function, but doing too much of it can be a real burden to my poor introverted feelings. It can be really exhausting because extrovert is not my specialty — as I have found out — therefore I will tend to be more indecisive overall.
No More Shame
At the time of discovering cognitive functions, I was blown away. The idea that we could produce some sort of extroversion with some of our behavioral functions was much more intuitive than going off by four letters in MBTI. Of course, MBTI is heavily inspired by cognitive functions but it was not immediately clear in discovering the information of human behavior from websites like 16Personalities, albeit a great way to discover more about yourself.
It is a relief to finally know that it’s normal to hide my feelings and to give me the time I need to explore my values and beliefs on my own. For the first time, I feel like being an introvert is one of the best things in life and that there is nothing wrong with embracing it.