I’ve been reading a lot lately about introverts and extroverts, and some of the information is confusing or much more complicated than necessary. This subject interests me because I’m an introvert who grew up in a mostly extrovert family and a mostly extrovert world, so I’m fascinated by both sides of the equation. Extroversion and introversion are temperaments that we are born with, and there is little we can do to change them. They are the endpoints on a continuum that we all fall between, some of us more in one direction, some more in the other. The simple formula is that introverts get their energy from being away from others and extroverts get energized by spending time with other people. So just because that’s the simple formula doesn’t mean you can spot who is which.

I like to think of extroverts as dogs and introverts as more like cats. Dogs love to go out and meet people and other dogs. They may have gone out 5 minutes ago and were tired, but if you get ready to leave, they’re ready to go with you. They’re always up for an adventure, day or night. Dogs love to hang around in packs once they get to know each other, playing with each other at the dog park, and enjoying the whole process of hanging out from getting to know each other to running together. That’s a great description of an extrovert.

On the other hand, cats are territorial. They like their space, and they don’t like it if you move anything in their space because their home is their sanctuary. They spend lots of time alone, and will hide if they don’t feel like spending time with you. They may come out to greet guests, or they may not, it really depends on the guest and the mood of the day. Cats do their own thing unapologetically, and mostly, they do it solitarily. It’s a good general description of an introvert.

Why is it important to know about this? Think about your friends, co-workers, family members, or anyone else you know. The extroverts among them are happy to be out and about most of the day. They’ll spend their time in conversation, on social media, interacting with strangers, going out several times a week, and rarely spending time alone. Introverts, on the other hand, get grumpy or downright surly without a break. They’re the ones who disappear for a while or who have to go home between activities. The usually make plans based on the other things they are doing in a day and how tired they will be. Their idea of a great time is a quiet evening at home with a loved one, a good book, or a movie.

Statistically, it is believed that approximately 75% of people are extroverts, which makes the remaining 25% of people introverts. This is the same across all social, ethnic, and geographical boundaries. Introverts are the thinkers, the people who may not speak up in a meeting, but have really good ideas, or the ones who quietly do the things they enjoy and surprise you with their expertise in rock-climbing or other pursuits you’ve never heard them talk about. Extroverts tend be doers. They tell you about everything they do, and invite you to join them. They want you to have a good time and want to spend time with you.

There is a lot of misinformation about introverts (because they are the minority), for example that they’re anti-social and hate other people or that they are socially awkward and never want to be invited to a party. In reality, most introverts have had to learn to get along in an extroverted world and find ways to make their temperament work for themselves.

Extroverts often don’t understand why their introverted friends and family members don’t want to be with them all the time or need to isolate and take a break. Introverts wonder why people can’t just leave them alone for a little while. But we can learn a lot from each other. Extroverts can learn to slow down and take time to listen to their inner wisdom from introverts, and introverts can be encouraged to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things with their extroverted friends. Look around and notice who in your life is a cat person and who is dog person.