At times, it can feel like there’s a war inside me — I want to be with people! No, wait, I want to be alone!
Feeling warm and a bit fuzzy, I waved goodbye to my friends at the bar and started walking home. It’s early, but I was feeling overwhelmed, tired, and very ready to put on some sweats and eat comfort food. At this point in college, my friends were used to it. Even though I’d make big plans for all-night bar hopping each weekend, I’d more typically be found going home by myself after half an hour.
At the time I assumed I must be an introvert. But after a while I realized that I wasn’t burned out from all the people — I actually loved hanging out with my friends and wished they would come home with me for movies and late-night talks. Instead, it turns out I’m an extrovert who also happens to be a highly sensitive person — someone who processes information very deeply, and can get exhausted in overstimulating situations.
It was my sensitivity, not introversion, that made the bar scene too much to handle. And learning that explained two opposite forces in my life.
The Two Sides of a Highly Sensitive Extrovert
Extroversion and introversion are important personality factors that signify how a person gets their energy. Introverts feel energized when they’re alone, and typically feel drained if they spend too much time with other people. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to gain energy with others and may be very lethargic if left alone for too long.
Because the highly sensitive person (HSP) tends to need a lot of time alone to recharge from a world that we find very overwhelming, it’s tempting to believe that we’re all introverts. However, the psychologist who discovered the highly sensitive trait, Dr. Elaine Aron, estimates that about 30 percent of HSPs are actually extroverts.
So what happens when your brain is hardwired to crave interaction with others — but also to process all incoming information with the intensity of a supercomputer? In many ways we are left with two very different sides of ourselves: one that needs connection, and one that needs space.
If you’ve ever felt trapped between these two needs yourself, or you can’t quite tell if you’re an introvert, or an extrovert, here are six seeming contradictions you might relate to — that may mean you’re a highly sensitive extrovert like me.
6 Inner Contradictions of a Highly Sensitive Extrovert
1. You find yourself trapped in a cycle of over- and under-stimulation.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: On the weekends, you have 57 separate engagements and you are determined to make it to them all. It’s no big deal, you think. It’ll be fine.
By Sunday evening, you’re exhausted — perhaps even to the point of crying — and cannot fathom going to work the next morning, or doing anything at all ever again. You cancel all of your plans for the following weekend and instead intend to spend that time alone, finding your inner peace. But by mid-week you’re bored out of your mind, so you immediately start making plans for the weekend. Maybe too many plans.
This is the cycle of over- and under-stimulation that many highly sensitive extroverts fall prey to. As extroverts, we need contact with people in order to feel energized and fulfilled, but as HSPs, we need adequate time to process our interactions with the world. When we’re in one mode, we may start craving the other, so we make all kinds of plans to fulfill the opposite need, whether that means scheduling eight parties in two days, or canceling all of our plans and buying an array of meditation journals and adult coloring books.
2. You love parties, but you tend to bail out early.
Not all extroverts love going to parties — but a lot of us do. Even HSPs can enjoy a good party, as long as we know most of the people there and we’ve been to the location before. If you’re a highly sensitive extrovert, odds are good that you really look forward to going to parties. You might spend hours getting ready or pre-gaming, and when you finally head out the door you feel confident that tonight is going to be So Much Fun.
Then, about two hours in, you find yourself quietly slipping out the door, going home, putting on your softest PJs, and re-watching your favorite Disney movie. It’s not that you weren’t having fun, it’s just that your highly sensitive brain can only take an hour or two of that environment before all the information bombarding your brain starts to outweigh the fun stimulation your extroverted brain needs.
3. People like to open up to you — maybe a little too much.
If you’re a highly sensitive extrovert, you’ve probably had an experience a lot like this one: You’re grocery shopping, minding your own business, when someone comes up to you and asks you a simple question, or pays you a small compliment. You respond politely, and before you know it, they’re telling you all about their recent divorce or their kid’s recent trouble in school or their cousin’s friend’s mom who just got out of jail. You do your best to give the person the support they so clearly need, but you’re always left a little confused about how the conversation got there.
Honestly, this can be very draining for sensitive extroverts. Even though we love deep conversations, we don’t love having others dump their stories on us without giving us an opportunity to share as well. It’s really less of a conversation and more of a monologue that we feel obligated to listen to. Many highly sensitive people struggle with boundaries, and this is one area where learning to guard our energy could help us enforce those boundaries necessary to keep us healthy and happy.
4. You might get along with kids even better than adults.
I believe that HSPs are naturally inclined to get along with children very well due to our naturally intuitive nature, and extroverts tend to love kids because they’re so high energy. Kids run on pure intuition and energy, making them a highly sensitive extrovert’s best friend.
Time flies when you’re playing race cars or princesses or super secret ninja unicorns, and highly sensitive extroverts will find their energy recharged in no time at all. Best of all, kids’ verbal communication skills are typically still developing, so they tend to communicate through nuance and nonverbal gestures. Since HSPs are already absorbing all of this information all the time, it’s nice to hang out with someone who doesn’t add to all the stimulation with extra words.
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5. Your favorite activity might be quiet down-time with a loved one.
Believe it or not, it is possible to be extroverted and enjoy things that are low-key. One of the best ways to satisfy your extroversion and your high sensitivity is to hang out with a loved one, quietly doing nothing important together. Thanks to your high sensitivity, you’ll be able to enjoy their energy even without actively interacting, and since you’re both being quiet and doing your own thing, you won’t get overwhelmed by excess stimuli.
My husband and I love to sit in our living room together as he plays video games and I work on this blog or scroll through TikTok, occasionally showing him the ones that make me snort. When we go to bed, I feel like I got my extroversion energy for the day, but my brain isn’t short-circuiting as it tries to process several hours of conversation and activity.
6. You take frequent social media breaks — but when you’re on, you’re on.
In many ways, social media is an HSP’s worst nightmare. The lack of nuance, the constant updating (and consequently, the constant falling behind and missing out), and, ugh, the aggression. But for the extrovert, social media is also an amazing way to reach out and create connections with others even if you can’t see them in person.
So how does this work when you’re a highly sensitive extrovert? For starters, you tend to take a lot of breaks from social media. Your extroverted heart wants to connect, but your sensitivity quickly starts drowning in all the miscommunication and raw emotion, and you can easily feel like the only way to protect yourself is to get rid of social media entirely. (You might be relieved to know there are alternatives to deleting your profiles.)
At other times, you are your friends’ favorite social media personality. Your sensitivity allows you to imbue your posts with a certain nuance that is typically lacking on social media. You’re funny, insightful, and people like seeing your posts. I often wonder how many social media influencers are actually highly sensitive people!
How to Find Balance as a Sensitive Extrovert
For sensitive extroverts, this “hot and cold” tendency runs through much of what we do. At times, it can feel like there is a war inside of us — we want to be with people! No, we want to be alone! But that doesn’t mean we can’t find balance.
For me, the first step to striking that balance was to learn about myself as a highly sensitive person. It involved recognizing that it’s stimulation, not people, that wears me out — and that I can often get all the social time I want, if I choose to do it in a quieter setting. These days, I spend a lot less time at crowded bars — and a lot more time with my friends.
A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Megan Writes Everything.
You might like:
- 13 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Extrovert
- 9 Things I Wish People Knew About Me as a Highly Sensitive Extrovert
- 13 Problems Only Highly Sensitive People Will Understand
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