The paranoid extrovert

Human personality theories tend to divide people into two categories; extrovert and introvert. Whereas once it was accepted that for an individual to rank highly on one scale they must automatically rank lower on the other, later theories such as those of Carl Jung claimed that it was quite possible for an individual to exhibit characteristics of both, though one would be more dominant than the other.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, extroversion is “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” Introversion, therefore, is “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” It follows, therefore, that extroverts are generally more talkative, outgoing and gregarious, and their introvert counterparts quieter, more withdrawn and less at ease in social situations.

What category, then, would the world’s writers and artists predominantly fall into? Is the spectrum as wide for this sub-category of the human race, or do the lines blur into one another a little more, like watercolour paint bleeding onto canvas? I only ask because I am (or at least I like to think I am) one of these strange creatures, and because whilst I would put myself firmly in the extrovert camp if asked the question, on further thought I wonder to what extent this is really true. Or rather, whether it’s possible to be an extrovert on the surface, but an introvert deep down inside, where insecurities breed like cancer and one thought spirals into a tornado of many.

Sometimes, for example, I’ll be mid-conversation with someone and my brain will put the brakes on and whisper like a bully in the school playground, “They aren’t remotely interested in what you’re saying, you know, it’s only through politeness that they’re pretending to be.” Even if the person with whom I’m conversing does seem genuinely interested in what I have to say, the voice in my head eats away at my confidence, making every word seem – to me at least – more laboured, less relevant, or just plain wrong. It’s a type of paralysis – thought paralysis, if you will – that makes me want to stop talking and run away and hide. And it’s really rather odd, because if you asked any one of the people closest to me they’d laugh and say that isn’t me at all.

Perhaps it’s wrong to link introversion with insecurity and a general lack of confidence. Many introverts may be supremely confident in themselves and their abilities but simply have no interest in hogging the limelight in social situations. It’s quite possible that makes them more rather than less confident, because they don’t feel the need to seek praise and affirmation in the way the extroverts do.

The part of the definition of being an extrovert that both grates on me and resonates with me is the “obtaining gratification from what is outside the self” part. Why do we extroverts feel the need to seek approval and reassurance to validate our place in the world? Why can’t we accept what is and be happy with our achievements irrespective of praise? All questions that my inner introvert is just dying to answer…

Not sure this picture – taken on my Raleigh expedition in 2011 during filming of a ‘music video’ – quite illustrates my point about being an introvert….

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What makes you tick?

Recent “research” from the folk over at Facebook posits more people see our posts than we might think. I put the word research in speech marks because this comes at a time when Facebook is being criticised for limiting the reach of peoples’ posts to force them to pay for promoted posts. The research in question, therefore, could be taken to be a poorly disguised and somewhat unscrupulous attempt to generate positive PR in response to the media backlash.

But whatever the reason, the research has got me thinking about the reach and impact of my own posts on social media, and indeed my blog. I must confess to feeling a sense of deflation when I see the number of views on my posts declining, and a rush of excitement when they begin to climb again. When someone new follows my blog I beam from ear to ear. Why? Because it means there are people out there who actually like what I write and who, rather than briefly scanning posts before deleting them, want to read them with some degree of regularity.

But who are my followers, and those who like to read my musings frequently? What drives them? What makes them tick? And what is it about my writing that keeps them coming back for more? It strikes me now I think about it that thus far in my writing experiment it’s been almost entirely one-sided. What I’d love to know is what my readers would like more of, what they’d like less of, and generally how I can write in a way that’s more agreeable to them.

It’s fair to say we writers crave acknowledgement, and the best form of acknowledgement – to my mind, at least – is feedback. But the online world operates in a similar way to the real world when it comes to levels of active involvement. Humans fall roughly into two categories; introverts and extroverts. I say roughly fall into, because it’s rare to find someone who would claim to be entirely introvert or entirely extrovert – we usually all exhibit both persuasions from time to time.

This brings me back to the Facebook research. I think it’s probably true that we engage more people than we think when we post things on the internet – because a lot of those who read it aren’t inclined to comment or to actively engage with the content. They are passive observers, perhaps because they’re introverts whose nature isn’t to wade in and shout about their thoughts and feelings but rather to consider them and process them privately. Them not engaging may not, therefore, mean they aren’t enjoying the content, but rather that they prefer to enjoy it from afar.

This rationale (irrational as it may well be) makes me feel better about not having lots of feedback on my writing. What it fails to do is make me any less curious about who my readers are and what they most like to read.

So if you’re reading this and feel inclined to drop me a line about what makes you tick, I’d really love to hear from you…

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