Introvert vs Extrovert after Complex Trauma and PTSD

Keywords: Introvert vs Extrovert.

The experiences you go through and the subsequent choices you make define you. Actions that are repeated strengthen neural pathways, and they can become habits that you then default to.

It is left to debate whether someone is inclined to be an introvert or an extrovert at birth. The culture and the society you grow up in, and the character of your parents and siblings, certainly play a role.

Apart from those influences mentioned above, I think our particular traumatic experiences “cement” our pathway towards becoming an introvert vs extrovert.

The experiences you go through and the subsequent choices you make define you. Actions that are repeated strengthen neural pathways, and they can become habits that you then default to.

I will go into HOW that happens a bit later.

The Introvert vs Extrovert and The Combinations of the Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Please Responses

You adapt to your environment as best as you can in order to survive. Adaptation is both a human strength, as it secures survival, and a weakness, as it can keep you stuck in survival mode, which prevents you from thriving.

A default survival pattern is almost always built up by a combination of either fight, flight, freeze or please.

You might be someone who, when under stress, chooses to escape (flight) the situation first and when that doesn’t work you will try to please the person involved in the situation in order to avoid further stress or possible conflict. When flight followed by pleasing still doesn’t work for you, you might go into a shutdown response (freeze) and hope to wait out the danger.

Someone else, when challenged, might first respond by being aggressive or argumentative (fight), followed by trying to get away from the situation (flight) and further on, when the stress continues, go into a freeze response. Becoming indifferent, apathetic, or depressed can be part of a freeze response.

You will have a primary default pattern you reenact in stressful situations. That very pattern was perfected in childhood when you dealt with a traumatic environment because it seemingly worked at the time.

Think adaptation and survival once more.

Survival Strategies of Fight, Flight, Freeze or Please and How They Contribute to Formation of the Introvert vs Extrovert

How you respond--in terms of fight, flight, freeze or please--will contribute to either becoming an introvert or an extrovert.

The best way to illustrate this is with the following three examples. Keep in mind that there are many possible variations, but for the sake of the length of this article, I have described only a few.

Jim is an extrovert. He gets his energy and self-validation from being around others and is always actively participating in social events. Jim grew up in a large family of seven siblings where, if you wanted something, you needed to raise your voice or fight for it. His family discouraged the children from spending too much time alone as doing so was seen as failing to contribute to the family household in any beneficial way, which made one more reason for Jim to always be around others. When raising his voice or fighting didn’t work, Jim would resort to pleasing his parents or siblings to get what he wanted.

Joe is more of an introvert. He recharges his energy when he is by himself and feels that he can keep his boundaries more intact. Being around others too long fatigues him, and he gets bored by others quickly. Joe’s parents wanted him to be a model son with high grades at school, a good job, marriage, and children. To deal with his parent’s pressure, he tried avoiding (flight) them as much as he could by locking himself up in his room. When that didn’t work, he would pretend to do what his parents wished of him (pleasing).

Child Abuse, Isolation, and The Introvert

Jane is an introvert. Severely physically, psychologically and sexually abused in childhood, she prefers the safety of her own company. People and places trigger her easily. Isolating herself seem to be her way of dealing with her pain and surviving emotionally. Jane defaulted to flight where she could as a child, followed by fight, before going into shutdown (freeze) response when possible.

You can see from these three examples how the introvert vs extrovert can come into being.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert and what is your main fight, flight, freeze or please pattern? Leave your comments below.

  • Roxana says:

    Wow, great article! Thank you!

  • Ani says:

    It depends… as a child I was an introvert, hiding and pleasing a lot to try and keep the peace. Sometimes I did fight back, but ended hurt and in tears, just pulling back into my room. Not really friends…
    After studying and starting to work, my work made that I had to learn to be more verbal… so I learned the ability to put on another hat, that of an extrovert. Yet in my own time, I am an introvert and prefer my own company above that of other people, busy places etc.

  • Sonya Hitchner says:

    I like the word cement as opposed to illness. I don’t see myself as ill. I do see patterns which have become cemented over time. I am also a two hat person, but of late my outgoing hat does not save me. I still hide. I try not to speak.

  • Julia says:

    This article has come at an interesting time for me. For over 20 years I have worked in a profession (in the addiction/mental health field) where there has been a lot of group work, with me as facilitator. I can outwardly present as confident and professional, and I’ve been good at my job – to the level of recently being promoted to clinical management. However the toll this work has taken on me has been tremendous, as – unbeknown to anyone else – I experience severe social anxiety. Probably stemming from traumatic childhood experiences, abusive marriage etc etc. Anyway to my shame I have only last week just walked out of my job – there one day, quit the next. I just couldn’t handle the anxiety for another day, it was as though my whole body just wanted to run (flight!). A friend suggested that for over 20 years I have been an introvert trying to fit myself into the job of an extrovert. I found this comforting, to know that maybe I quit for a good reason, rather than just being a failure. I was so ashamed that after 20-odd years I had never been able to get over this crippling feeling of anxiety when working with more than two or three people in a room. Now I want to design a life that fits who I am. Is that just escaping from my problems? I’m not sure, but I know I couldn’t carry on as I was.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Julia. Everything has an expiry date, and this one seemed to be passed it for quite some time. It takes courage to move on and am happy to hear you made a choice here. Design that life!

  • Hele says:

    Wow, I really don’t know. Most people who know me would probably say extrovert. I don’t mind crowds (easy to hide) better off with acquaintances and strangers, people that are close often feel unsafe (not my kids, though) I prefer my own company, quite often (life is just easier), not a sit and chat sort of person but I work in 2 different jobs at a welcome center and like the jobs, I was always flight, then dissociated if I couldn’t get away… so that would be freeze I guess. Huh, good question.

  • Hele says:

    …o and they say I was a chatty kid

  • Michelle says:

    I’m an extrovert. After my auto accident I have been forced to be an introvert and it is driving me crazy. In childhood I dealt with physical and emotional abuse. I grew up in a household with lots of yelling. I felt a strong need to stand up for myself which led to fighting. Now I am stuck in a child-like role because I am dependent on others. My TBI & PTSD make it difficult not to fall into old childhood patterns of arguing & yelling when I think I am not being heard.

  • Marlene says:

    Introvert and I tend to freeze before fighting.

  • natalie says:

    I would say that Im all of the above, if thats possible, i strongly feel I am introverted and extroverted and my reactions to childhood trauma were varied aswel, whatever it takes, haha.

    • Roland says:

      Certainly possible. We create various patterns with different people and circumstances. One usually stands out though as most dominant.

  • Dixie Clayton says:

    This article has come at an amazing time, I am currently a patient in a trauma unit getting treatment . Your article makes a great deal of sense to me. I have been working on my trauma issues for over 20 years and it is only since I have been receiveing treatment at this facility that I have experienced any relief from my symptoms. I have always been an introvert and when I am overwhelmed I disassociate and find myself outside myself until things are safer for me . Thank for raising the awareness of this disorder.

  • ILANN says:

    Excellent article! I am a mental health professional and introvert. My work involves a great deal of crisis management. I grew up in a chaotic and abusive environment where I frequently intervened to reduce the chaos. As a child l longed for quiet and spent as much time alone as possible. As an adult I feel safety in solitude. I’m beginning to recognize how my work dynamics mirror my childhood environment. Thank you for this article!!

  • Rhonda says:

    Hi all. I can identify as being a introvert child from both mental and emotional abuse of my alcoholic parents. I alone decided to be a good girl going to mass a lot studying hard at school never getting into trouble in other words the perfect daughter. I tried to be as different to them as possible this was my fight or freeze as I couldn’t flee. Years of trauma has taken its toll on me now I find myself suffering with severe mental issues…depression bipolar etc and on medication to cope. So I’m an extreme extrovert when in manic mode and extreme introvert when I switch to deep depression. I want to and am trying to heal. I wonder if I can stop self sabotaging??? Thanks for your amazing insight and wisdom.

  • Mandi says:

    As you’ve mentioned, it’s a highly complex thing. I consider myself to be an extroverted introvert. My best guess is because while I wanted to be social as a child, either I wasn’t allowed (over protective mother), or unwelcome (other kids didn’t like me, which included my cousins). So I was trained early on that I couldn’t be this person I wanted to be.

    Over time, with the multitude of a variety of traumas I expetienced, I developed anxiety. My go-to reaction to stress is to run. I’m highly susceptible to the emotions and energies of people around me and can become easily overwhelmed by higher energy people. It’s not often I find someone who doesn’t drain me.

    Even now, as much as I try to be social, it’s utterly exhausting. And it even affects my ability to work. If I’m working all the time, my energy goes into that and I don’t have enough left to be social. So I end up not doing anything and as a result become depressed because all my life is about is work. If I’m not working, I have time to be social, but end up worrying about finances. And I also get bored easily so I’m more social than I should be and end up crashing emotionally and being exhausted and almost in a depressed state for a week, sometimes more.

    The most frustrating thing is I can’t figure out how to find a balance.

  • Vanessa says:

    I’m a Introvert I love being alone and. Being around people tires me out a two hour outing will have me unable to do anything the next day I also have hypervigilant going and I switch I to different alters so being alone is way better I stay I side but going out a couple times a month

  • Tina says:

    Great article, thanks Roland. I always thought that being introvert defined how we are and cope yet this puts a completely different perspective on how I am now vs how this became. I consider myself an introvert. I defaulted to flight with freeze and please secondary to that. This has been very helpful to read this.

  • spike says:

    I’m ready to throw down at the drop of a hat. I’m always swinging at fences.

  • Suki says:

    I used to be very introverted as a child due to childhood trauma emotional abuse and a disfigurement but now I’m an adult who has healed physically and emotionally after alot of inner work and time I feel confident to be myself as an extrovert. I am just one who chooses my friends carefully these days after learning boundaries but I’m still extroverted x

  • EL says:

    Just finding this article now, and it’s very interesting! I have cPTSD and for a majority of my life I have leaned toward the introverted label. I have terrible social anxiety, working through agoraphobia, and so on. So I assumed this meant I liked being around less people, I preferred quieter spaces, and needed less interaction. And yet I always dreamed of going out, confidently socializing, and I constantly crave that interaction with others. My sequence throughout life has been fight, then flight, fawn, and landed on freeze when nothing else seemed to keep me safe.

    I feel our introversion or extroversion is more innate and that our environmental experiences may shift, warp, and/or influence how we perceive and express ourselves (which is completely valid!).

    I have recently come to realize that I am someone who has been forced into a frozen, apathetic, terrified state of being but craves and flourishes with community, conversation, and networks. My girlfriend pointed out I wander off at our dog sport events for 30 minutes at a time, and she finds me talking to someone I’ve never met before. Or how I naturally fell into an assistant management position and glowed when surrounded by my coworkers. It’s strange to realize these things, but at the same time very enlightening. The trauma absolutely feels like a tarp tied down over me mostly, which it may not for others, but my identity was smothered by my family… it’s a lot of work to rediscover yourself as we all know. It’s all incredibly interesting 🙂

  • Linda says:

    I have been anxious introvert as young as I can remember, I was born premie , critically I’ll, foster care 8 months , adopted …not feeling safe bonded my entire childhood w my adoptive mom ….. hv Cptsd , numerous traumas to now am in therapy for .

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