Trauma: The Introvert and the Extrovert

Trauma: The Introvert and the 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 or extrovert.

I will go into HOW that happens a bit later.

Childhood Trauma, Child Abuse 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, and 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 or the Extrovert

How you respond, in terms of fight, flight, freeze or please, will contribute to your 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, and when that didn’t work, he would pretend to do what his parents wished of him (pleasing).

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, and 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 or 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.

Dive deeper into this topic by reading

The Trauma Essential Series

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  1. Roxana  July 15, 2018

    Wow, great article! Thank you!

  2. Ani  July 15, 2018

    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.

    • Roland  July 15, 2018

      Great comment. Patterns can indeed become more flexible and we can learn other tools on top of that.

  3. Sonya Hitchner  July 15, 2018

    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.

    • Roland  July 16, 2018

      Thanks for your comment. I think we acquire many ‘hats’ over time and use them in different situation and people.

  4. Julia  July 15, 2018

    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  July 16, 2018

      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!

  5. Hele  July 16, 2018

    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.

  6. Hele  July 16, 2018

    …o and they say I was a chatty kid

  7. Michelle  July 16, 2018

    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.

  8. Marlene  July 16, 2018

    Introvert and I tend to freeze before fighting.

  9. natalie  July 16, 2018

    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  July 18, 2018

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

  10. Dixie Clayton  July 17, 2018

    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.

    • Roland  July 18, 2018

      Hi Dixie. Good to have you here and great to hear you have some relief from your symptoms. Keep moving.

  11. ILANN  July 29, 2018

    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!!

  12. Rhonda  August 5, 2018

    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.

  13. Mandi  August 10, 2018

    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.


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