Personality changes are common after brain injury. We often hear the terms emotional liability, anger and depression, but the personality trait that I’d like to address in this blog is around where people receive their energy from…or in other words introvert/extrovert.
Introvert and extrovert in a nutshell
I’ve personally always thought of myself as of a real extrovert. I thrive best and I love busy places and being surrounded by people. I’m outgoing, I tend to make friends easily, I like to keep myself busy and I feel the most productive in group settings. Take the busyness away, and my motivation levels can drop and to be perfectly honest, I'll tend to get bored.
Now on another hand, an introvert would typically get their energy from within. Some of the characteristics of an introvert that I have observed over the years include seeing these individuals being good listeners, thinking over decisions carefully, they can be quiet at times, perhaps more on the creative side and the characteristics that were the most obvious to me were that they need time to themselves, that they enjoy quiet downtime and will recharge their batteries best in a quiet setting.
However, between the color black and white, there are many shades of grey and this applies to the introvert and extrovert concept too. Some individuals will be somewhere in between or even move along the introvert/extrovert spectrum depending on situations.
So how does this relate back to brain injury you will say?
Well as brain injury recovery began, I found that all my newly acquired limitations made being an extrovert, or me trying to sustain being an extrovert, really hard to pull off. I simply couldn't keep on pace, my bubbly self felt like a distant memory, my aphasia was making it hard to communicate and too many people or stimuli in one room would cause the brain to crash at lightening speed. To manage this sort of situation, I found myself dipping more and more into the introvert bucket.
This was my personal experience as a typical extrovert, but I was curious to find out if similar shifts could occur in self professed introverts too. After listening to a podcast on brain injury, I got in touch with Eryn from the "Making Headway Podcast". What drove me to get in touch with her was that she mentioned going from being a reserved and introverted individual to having no filter and acting much more like an extrovert. This led us to sharing a few private messages on Instagram where we deepened the conversation on how being a typical introvert now feels for her. It was actually a very interesting conversation which made me re-think how I was approaching my own dilemma between extrovert and introvert.
I noticed that many of the identity challenges that we were experiencing were actually very similar. Whether you find yourself acting more like an introvert or an extrovert after brain injury, it is a transition that does not feel natural. It felt foreign to both of us as we had to figure out a different way to get our energy. Our go-to way wasn't quite working for us anymore so we had to adapt...yet transitioning to a different set of behaviors did not happen overnight and definitely took a little getting used to.
In my case, I had to learn to let go of my love and need to be in busy environments, I had to learn to SLOW DOWN, to discover new ways for me to be happy and thrive by myself and to look for hobbies or activities that were better suited for where I was at during my recovery as none of my previous ones were doing the trick. In Eryn's case, she's had to get used to being more open with others, she's found holding her tongue to be challenging, she no longer found herself to be a people pleaser and she's had to learn to cope with the additional energy drain that acting like an extrovert represented for a typical introvert...I think most would agree in saying that this would have been a double whammy for her given the fact that she was also recovering from a brain injury.
Has this impacted friendships?
I personally found that it has impacted friendships in several ways. First of all, I find myself to be interacting with people and places quite differently compared to before my brain injury. If this has been an adjustment for me, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have resulted in an adjustment for friends around me too. Some might like my new slower paced approach, others might be missing the bubbly Vero. I would assume that the same would apply if you are a typical introvert finding themselves acting more like an extrovert...some might like it, others not so much as you end up filling a different role in their lives.
In trying to cope with my brain injury symptoms, I had to lessen any sort of stimulations. As a result, I found myself to be gravitating more towards quieter individuals and places as it is less taxing on my brain. In developing new hobbies and discovering other types of activities, I have also met new individuals which also resulted in changes amongst by circle of friends.
I'm not sure whether the following is solely due to the shift between my extrovert and introvert nature, but some people I have had to let go of. With the brain injury survivor title came a set of limitations, a bunch of self-preserving mechanism and also a new set of boundaries. I cannot pour from an empty cup nor can I keep trying to fill other individual's cups to my own detriment. Gosh have I tried to keep this up and too many times, it resulted in brain set-backs where my partner and I end up being the only ones picking the pieces of a very complex puzzle that needed reassembling piece by piece. Luckily, I eventually realised that I should stop carrying so much guilt for trying to do the best thing by me and my family.
Final thoughts on introvert and extrovert
The chat I had with Eryn made me realise that I am still very much an extrovert whereas before our discussion, it felt as though I had shifted from being an extrovert to being an introvert. I reflected some more once we got offline and I noticed that on a good brain day, my natural "go-to" is still very much leaning towards the extrovert end of the scale. I still love and adore busy settings, however, following my brain injury I have learnt, slowly may I add, to behave more like an introvert. Initially, this may have been to preserve brain energy, but in time, I have learnt to truly appreciate what used to feel so uncomfortable from the introvert end of the scale. I have grown to love many aspects of acting like an introvert, it has opened up new opportunities and perhaps made me more rounded. I now know what it feels like to walk in an introvert's shoes and I see so many benefits in being able to walk along the introvert/extrovert scale. It can still feel foreign at times, but it isn't so scary anymore. I've discovered facettes of myself that I didn't know even existed and it's added a string to my bow.
Have you negotiated similar changes in personality? If so, how have you adapted to them? Or perhaps you haven't noticed any changes on that front and that's a valid story to tell in itself too. I would love to hear more about how things were for you so please leave a comment, I always read them in delight.
Making Headway Website & Podcast: https://www.makingheadwaypodcast.com/
Eryn on Instagram: @eryn_makingheadwaypodcast