Natural and Created Introverts

At the onset of COVID-19, those of us who naturally lean towards introversion celebrated the funny memes that detailed the differences in reactions. As the 14 days of isolation to slow the spread stretched into months of ever-developing guidelines for working, shopping, and public gatherings like church or family events, the memes didn’t seem so comical. One could theorize the labels in the attached Frozen meme could reverse at the end of social distancing as extroverts celebrate giving up zoom meetings for regathering in person.

Now, more than a year since they started lockdown phases, we are adjusting to what many call “the new normal.” Depending on your state or work status, things are returning to pre-pandemic similarities or remain somewhat different. Whatever your current situation, some may believe that “natural” introverts weathered this time better than extroverts.

It is a fallacy that introverts “hate” being around people and rejoiced in avoiding them because of social distancing guidelines. Many introverts have careers or engage in activities that require working with or around people and do well. I’m an introvert who enjoys public speaking. My years of women’s ministry and work as an RN required lots of interaction with people. When my role called for conversing and working with others, it was not a burden. However, because introversion is my natural tendency, my behavior differs depending on circumstances. One obvious comparison occurred in our local church. At a women’s ministry event, I happily and eagerly circulated the room and talked with everyone. For ten years, I enjoyed my role as the women’s ministry leader and loved working with my team and developing new leaders. These years stretched me out of my comfort zone and I am better for it. However, when I attended a youth event, I stayed glued to my spot and never mingled with the crowds. Our church hosted a large public Thanksgiving meal for our community. We would serve hundreds of people and I feared the request to “just mingle and talk.” My daughter-in-law (an extreme extrovert) coveted this role and I offered to babysit her young grandchildren so she could mingle for hours. This partnership benefited us both.

One of the fundamental differences between introverts and extroverts lies in how each “recharges.” Extroverts thrive on interaction with people and collaboration; too much time away causes them to feel restless. Before the pandemic, extroverts regularly planned time with others. Introverts, by comparison, need time alone to regroup because crowds and prolonged-time interacting with people drains their energy. Time alone prepares them for continued interaction with others. As a natural introvert, I joked with others that this time of quarantine would change nothing for us; we had “trained for it.”

But it did. COVID-19 produced widespread adjustments to routines and interactions with others. Some struggled more than others, but the pandemic affected everyone. Whether you were an extrovert or an introvert mattered little. I am certainly not an expert on personality profiles or the psychological effects of a worldwide pandemic. What I can offer are my own observations and experiences.

Masks. Initially unnecessary, then required; mandated, then optional (depending on vaccination status and state/business rules)–there seems to be no end to the controversy. As an OR nurse at the time the pandemic started, masks were already a part of my life. I wore one all day on the job and easily added one outside the hospital. Others, unused to masks, either adapted or floundered. Some refused completely or wore them incorrectly. Effective mask use required both the nose and mouth to be covered. Sometimes I would say something, but only if I knew the person. As an introvert trying to maintain social distance, I usually ignored it, knowing that at least my mask offered some protection for me.

Social Distance. Even though I’m a natural introvert, I miss the ease of gathering before the pandemic. Then, you could talk and laugh easily with a group of people and hug your friends and family without giving it a thought. Now that they are resuming, I sense a continuing hesitancy for proximity to others. People have gotten more comfortable communicating via technology. Work (for some) and school continued virtually. It became how we checked in with our doctors. Screen use increased for everyone, from the comfort (safety) of our homes.

The initial danger of the pandemic lessons as cases decrease and vaccinations increase. While we are seeing more faces as we wear masks less often, people still don’t seem to interact easily. When strangers pass each other, they still turn away and step aside to maintain social distance. It almost seems like magnets of the same poles getting close as they move into their personal safety zone. This may be wise health management as one doesn’t know if a stranger has been vaccinated or is rebelling. I am more concerned by the hermit tendencies showing up in extroverts and introverts. People seem less likely to talk to strangers than they used to. As an introvert, I sense it. I wonder if extroverts feel it more?

Like jewels, some occur naturally and others are lab-created versions. Will the pandemic produce introversion? By this I mean, are extroverts exhibiting more introvert tendencies and/or are introverts more introverted? Have pandemic fears persisted? I’m certain that professionals are studying these tendencies and reviewing the effects of a pandemic on personalities. I’ll wait for their assessments. In the meantime, I wonder if natural and created introverts will outnumber extroverts in the coming years.

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