Ask any good psychologist or neuroscientist to explain the contrast between introversion and extroversion, and you’re likely to be told something akin to this: Introverts expend energy in social interaction and recharge by having solitary downtime, while extroverts recharge by being social and lose energy when left alone or with little to do.
But what is this “energy”? Sure, it’s easy enough to intuit. Clearly, extroverts are always so outgoing, very talkative, and need to be with other people. They excel at group situations and meeting new people, and become antsy and frustrated when left alone for any length of time. Introverts, on the other hand, function much better in one-on-one situations or with small groups of people they know, and tend to dislike smalltalk when it’s just to “network” with new people. In addition, introverts love having solitude for periods of time to recharge their internal batteries.
This analogy of charging/expending energy, while a bit oversimplified, is an accurate one. So then, why are large social situations so “costly” to an introvert? And why can they still “recharge” even when in large groups of close friends/family?
Let’s take a step back from this for a moment and look at how we interact in this society. We all wear our proverbial masks every time we step into the real world: hiding the reality of who we are and letting everyone see only the selves we wish to show.
As an introvert myself, I’ve come to theory that this “energy” cost in social situations is merely the necessity to ourselves of maintaining these masks. As we wear the masks and keep our internal filters and censors active, we expend more and more of our mental energy.
At least for me, this is why I “recharge” by spending lots of times with my close friends: Even though I’m being very social and involving myself with other people, it is with friends to whom I’d trust unfalteringly. I don’t have to keep any of my internal filters going or some such. I can just be me. I don’t have to hide who or what I am.
My theory isn’t very good at explaining the other side of this analogy, though. If this is the case, then why do extroverts lose energy by being alone and recharge by being so social and active? This is already beyond my understanding, and something I’d be mildly interested in researching further…But that’s a topic for another day!