So it turns out that I was never an extrovert after all…

In the early days of this blog – just one day, in fact, before I was assessed for, and received, my official diagnosis – I wrote a post about how I considered myself to be not an introvert but an “autistic extrovert“. I now realise that I was mistaken.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but other topics have either piqued my interest more keenly, or simply got in the way and hassled me for their attention. There are times when I simply have to write about a thing, even if it means veering completely off-track from my original blogging plans (believe me, I have a list as long as my own arm of potential posts I’ll get around to writing at some point…).

About a month ago, I decided to undertake some online Myers-Briggs personality type tests. These seem to be a bit of a ‘thing’ amongst the #actuallyautistic community, especially on Twitter, and having communicated with a few fellow autistics who’d identified their “personality types”, I was intrigued to do the same.

I set about searching for some free tests to take. The first one that attracted my attention was the 16 Personalities quiz. I liked the format of it – the fact the questions involved Likert-type scales rather than selecting black-or-white, either/or answers. I struggle with decision-making, and am very rarely absolute.

But I had a problem. I couldn’t help but over-analyse every single question. I got lost in thinking far too deeply, and for far too long, on everything that was asked of me. For certain questions – particularly those relating to interactions with others – I really couldn’t tell whether I was being truly honest with myself or not.

The result came back: ENFJ. “The Protagonist“. An extrovert if ever there was one.

And yeah, sure; some of it seemed to make sense. I mean, really make sense. For instance, this personality type has:

a tremendous capacity for reflecting on and analyzing their own feelings, but if they get too caught up in another person’s plight, they can develop a sort of emotional hypochondria, seeing other people’s problems in themselves, trying to fix something in themselves that isn’t wrong.

But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it wasn’t quite correct. I like to think of myself as a “passionate altruist”, and I do find it “natural and easy to communicate with others” in certain contexts. But something didn’t quite sit right.

And so I did what any social media addict does when they’re puzzled by something. I posted about it on Twitter. I got a few more recommendations back from fellow users, and this time decided to go with gut instinct, and to complete the tests more quickly, with less conscious thought. And the results?

25 questions? INFJ.

Quistic? INFJ, once again.

My scores breakdowns told me I wasn’t quite as introverted as some; nevertheless, it appeared I was not the extrovert I thought myself to be. I decided to ignore the tests for a bit, and simply look at some descriptions for the INFJ personality type. And this particular description seemed to fit me like a glove.

They tend to feel happiest and most fulfilled when helping and enlightening others through their insights.

This is me. On the internet. All the time. Often it becomes a mission to research someone’s problem, find answers, and provide my own insights and experience. There are times when I can’t rest until I’ve provided my input to someone, if I can see that it will help them. It can become something of an obsession. And often, having promised to help someone, I don’t have the time, energy, to capacity to do so.

The guilt I feel at such times is truly immense.

I often focus on helping others at the expense of my own need for self-care. I’m learning, these days, that sometimes I must let things go.

INFJs also enjoy listening to music, watching movies and television, and engaging with people. Perhaps more than anything, they love spending time engrossed in meaningful conversation[…]

Me as well.

Yes, I am chatty. I’m often loud. I’m certainly not shy. I like to dance. Often. In the middle of the dance floor. I’m completely at ease when giving presentations and teaching sessions to sometimes very large groups of people.

But none of these things makes me a true extrovert. Introversion isn’t shyness. It doesn’t necessarily mean being always as meek and quiet as a mouse. It turns out, I was confusing my outward behaviours with the true definitions of introverts and extroverts – I was ignoring what goes on within.

Like every true introvert, my energy levels are depleted from too much social interaction. I draw energy and life force, recharging my batteries, from time spent alone.

So why had I got it so wrong? I seemed to have such a shaky sense of who I was. And I think this had come about from years, and years, and years, of trying to be someone I was not. Of not knowing quite how to be, and so adopting the traits of those around me; observing, absorbing, and imitating. Of being the person I felt other people wanted me to be, because I had no idea how to be myself. Yes, I am pretty sociable. I’ve done my fair share of partying in my time. I’ve enjoyed performing so often in my life. But I’ve so often forced myself to do far more of all this than was ever healthy for me. I’ve done things that felt unnatural to me because I didn’t know anything different.

Because a key part of me was not visible until this year.

A short while after my exploration of the Myers-Briggs type indicators, a fellow blogger and Twitter user (who writes a rather fantastic blog), conducted a Twitter survey of fellow #actuallyautistic users, asking them their personality types. The suggested quiz to use was the 16 Personalities test I’d tried before; the one that had yielded my dubious ENFJ result.

And so I re-visited it, this time giving my answers according to gut instinct; to “what felt right”, rather than what I’d been doing for years because I felt it was expected of me and because it was that I was accustomed to doing, regardless of my inner convictions.

The result? An emphatic INFJ. “The Advocate“. This, at last, made sense.

There aren’t many INFJs around in the world. I quite like that. I’m not into the idea of being a “special snowflake”, but I’m something of a non-conformist, and being a little different from the norm is something that comes naturally. It is my norm.

Of course, these are just online quizzes. They’re subjective. Your answers might be different on any given day, depending on circumstances, how you’re feeling, and so on. But – as with my autism self-discovery – the more I found out about the INFJ personality type, the more I realised it fit.

Personality types aren’t the absolute end of who we are. Humans are complicated. I’ve written before – exploring our relationships with information, and the (as I see it) misuse of the word “symptoms” – about how our behaviour is merely an outward manifestation of the internal.

My autism manifests itself in a manner specific only to me; the same is also true for my introversion. As it is for my femaleness, my whiteness, my living-in-the-North-of-England-ness, and so on. All of these things are elements of who I am, they are influenced by the particular circumstances in which I was born and have lived my life, and they are all interconnected.

But I feel a lot closer now to understanding who I am.

As introverts go, I’m a pretty loud one. And I’m certainly not at the extreme, introverted end of any introvert-extrovert spectrum. But that’s just me. Whether that makes me an “atypical introvert” or not, I now feel that it, and I, make far more sense.

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