I don’t remember where I first heard the term “functional extrovert,” but as soon as I did, I knew it defined me. I’ve always known I was an introvert, but due to the highly social nature of all of my jobs, it has been necessary to learn how to function as an extrovert – and most of the time, I genuinely enjoy all of that “people interaction” that they require (this might be more commonly referred to as an ambivert, but I like the connotations of functional extrovert better).
Yet as the definition of an introvert tells us, I need alone time to recharge my brain. And I find this is even more true when I’ve been functioning as an extrovert all day – or all week. Many times, though, I end up feeling guilty because I’m not spending time with people or I feel like I’m being selfish in just focusing on myself. And oftentimes, other people might not understand that need to recharge the brain alone, especially if they are more of an extrovert.
So tonight, just a few quick reasons why a functional extrovert needs to rest – in case you’ve never thought about it or need to be reminded that it’s okay.
- Social Energy Needs to Be Renewed
Like I said, I truly enjoy being around people – people that I know fairly well. But in order to completely enjoy it, I have to have adequate time to replenish my stores of giving that energy away. Being out with people night after night physically and mentally exhausts me, and I need the quietness of home to center me and ground me before I can give to others again.
I often tell people that I can’t go out on a week night (I do make exceptions from time to time), because when it comes to the end of a long day teaching, my brain can’t handle much more stimulation.
In fact, teaching adds another layer on top of having to be an extrovert all day. Imagine parenting – only parenting not just one or two children, but 20-25 children all at the same time for six hours straight every day. This involves hundreds of minute-by-minute decisions that have to be made in regard to conflict resolution, discipline, encouragement, correction, teaching, explaining, adjusting due to rate of student understanding, and planning for the next step.
If there are any special needs on top of that – learning disabilities, English language learners, trauma backgrounds, ADHD, extreme behaviors – and there always are – the amount of decisions only grows exponentially.
Suffice it to say that when the bell rings at 3:00, I have used up almost every ounce of energy and ability to give to another person. The evening is absolutely necessary to recharge before going back to school the next day to do it all over again.
- Processing Life Requires Quiet and Introspection
Some people process life out loud – to other people – all the time. As an introvert, I have to process to myself through my own thoughts, usually in writing. This means that alone time and rest is necessary to let life filter through my brain, and for me to remember that everything is not actually spinning out of control.
Alone time for me is not boring or scary – it’s the precious calm that settles my soul and makes me appreciate life. It allows me to return to the realm of other people with joy and enthusiasm, instead of becoming cranky and snappish with them.
If I am always around other people, I start to lose myself in the chatter and the noise (literally and figuratively). I start to adapt to their behaviors instead of holding solidly to my own self, and it’s when I have some down time alone that I remember who I am and how I should be acting.
- Social Situations Can Actually Be Mentally Taxing Themselves
Building upon that last point, I have found that navigating social situations takes more mental energy than I sometimes realize. On the outside, I might appear to be comfortably talking and laughing with everyone around me. But on the inside, my awkward elephant hasn’t left. I’m constantly afraid that there will be a lull in the conversation, that I won’t know what to say, that people will start to think I’m a freak, that I’ll be by myself, that I’m not doing it right.
I may have learned great social skills, but it takes a lot of mental energy to put them into play. Sometimes it comes more naturally than others. But believe me when I say that there isn’t a moment when I’m not analyzing the situation and how to best be acting in it. And it’s crazy to me to think that some people do that effortlessly without ever giving it a thought! (Those happy-go-lucky extroverts!)
So while I do enjoy meeting new people, making new friends, and talking with the old ones, it’s not without a cost to my mental energy. This is what requires that I spend some time to myself where my brain can relax and not have to constantly be on-guard about what’s appropriate, what’s required, what’s acceptable.
The bottom line is that if functional extroverts don’t take time to rest, then they can’t function at all, especially with other people. In order to love spending time with others, I have to take time to myself – so in the end, it turns out much better for others if that alone time is taken.
That could easily turn into selfishness if I start justifying alone time all the time. But in more ambivert leanings, I like being with people enough that I do start to feel lonely after too many “alone” days. Thus I don’t think that will be the problem in the end. Usually I feel guilty about needing alone time, but it truly is the best way to feel refreshed in serving other people.
So if you have an introvert or functional extrovert in your life, hug them and remind them that it’s okay to take an evening (or two or three) to themselves. Remind them that their energy won’t be renewed unless they spend that time alone – and that their love to be given away is a gift that needs to be guarded and taken care of.
It will be a gift that keeps on giving – if that functional extrovert simply learns to rest and recharge on their own.