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Can Your Personality Change Over Time? The Battle Between Introvert & Extrovert

By Amy Gonzales

I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of introverts and extroverts. About 9/10 times, people assume I am extroverted because I tend to facilitate conversations, or because I am the first one to introduce myself. When I worked in retail for 8 years, I interacted face-to-face with people on a daily basis. Now that I have experience working in digital marketing for the past 3 years, I am usually in a quiet office with my headphones plugged in.

In high school (I graduated in 2009, so for almost 10 years), I took the Myers-Briggs test and was categorized as INFJ. The INFJ personality type stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging and is also the most rare of the 16 personality types. What is the The Myers-Briggs 16 personalities test you ask? It is an introspective self-report questionnaire. Its purpose is to indicate opposing psychological/sociological preferences in how people perceive the world around them and make decisions. Two women created this test; Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers (women power at its finest). FYI at the end of this article you can see which personality type you are if you’ve never taken it before.

At an early age, I’d always ask myself “Why do people act the way they do?” I’m sure others have had this same thought at some point in their lives, whether it was at home, in the classroom or at work. Many of us instinctively gravitate toward explaining human behavior in terms of personality traits. “She is so shy.” “He is so outspoken.” “She needs to be more reserved.” There have been a few times in the past where I’ve said to myself “I wish I didn’t act so outgoing all the time.” According to NPR, “these characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving tend to be stable over time and consistent across situations.” Crazy, right?

This perception has been a topic of intense scientific debate since the early 1960s. Some psychologists argue that situations, NOT traits, are the most important causes of behavior. Several have even argued that personality traits are “figments of our imagination that don’t exist at all.” This concept to me is a double-edged sword because if you grow up and observe your father being a jokester, you may want to be more extroverted. If you grow up and observe your mother being very reserved, you may choose to go that route and be shy around strangers OR it could be the exact opposite. You might choose to be quiet if your father is a jokester and you may be very outgoing with a reserved mother. These examples are indeed situational.

Every personality type has its positives and negatives, strengths and weaknesses, whatever you want to call it. There is no ideal personality type, yet many of us have said to ourselves, “I wish I had a different personality.” I personally remember saying this around age 13 (when puberty was a lovely time in all of our lives). Some people may want to become more outgoing, more in touch with their senses, more organized or whatever it may be. One of the most frequent questions people interested in personal development ask is:

Can I change my personality type?

Sadly, the answer is not that simple. According to most personality type theories, the individual’s type is “inborn” and “does not change.” However, individuals can develop traits and habits that differ or even directly contradict the description of their type. How does that happen?

Let’s use this example I learned from an article on Psychology Today (2015) that defines this better: Imagine that lights in your house suddenly go off and you are in complete darkness. You may be able to navigate your way to the door, but what senses are you going to use? Your touch? Your hearing? Maybe smell? It would be anything but vision, your preferred sense. However, as soon as the lights come back on, you will switch back to using vision again as it makes it much easier to navigate around the house.

The way your personality works is comparable to this example. The environment you are in molds your personality in a certain way, forcing you to develop traits and habits that might be far-off to your type. For instance, if you are naturally spontaneous (or “prospecting”), but your work schedule and manager are very coordinated, your preferences are likely to change. However, you will probably switch back to your “prospecting” nature as soon as you leave that job. The same rule applies to other traits.

A common misconception is that sociability is synonymous with extraversion, just like shyness is confused with introversion. This is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to discussing personality types and the whole reason why I wanted to blog about this.

While extraverted individuals typically find it easier to talk to other people (they thrive off energy when they do this), there are many shy or solitary people among them. Introverted types lose energy when they communicate with others (they often find it mundane), but you would be able to find many expressive individuals within that group.

Certain introverted types such as an advocate (hey, that’s me) or mediators are often more sociable than extraverted types. In Western culture, extraverted individuals outnumber introverted people by a large margin and most people believe that everyone should strive to be outgoing and have a large social circle. This is a misguided belief as every personality type is unique and has different talents.

Your basic personality type cannot change, but you can (and should) change the aspects of your personality that you are unhappy with.

Now, it’s your turn to take the 16 Personalities test. Share your results! Do you agree with your outcome?

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