Can an Extravert Do My Job? Then Why is Introversion Considered Unhealthy?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Donna writes:

    I remember thinking in my youth that other people were a drag. Being by myself was a lot more fun! I could make music, art, poetry and be happy all day; whereas, with other people, I felt drained. Drained and bored and irritated that I couldn't be alone.

    Donna was responding to my last week’s post, Introversion: Why Does Psychiatry Think This is a Bad Thing? In my piece I noted that “introverts are the outsiders, struggling to fit into a world set up for the numerical majority. Maybe that’s why we’re so depressed.”

    Please note, I am a card-carrying introvert.

    If anything, psychiatry is collaborating with our oppressors. Personality tests based on the five factor model (FFM) measure for positive traits, including extraversion. The new version of the DSM, due out in 2013, incorporates the FFM into its new criteria for personality disorders, focusing on what it sees as the negative trait of introversion. This might be forgivable if extraversion/introversion were only a small piece in the personality puzzle, but that is hardly the case. The FFM, for instance, also tests for “openness” and “agreeability.” An “agreeable” personality to an introvert is hardly going to be an agreeable personality to an extravert, and guess who is likely to be doing the assessing? Tabby comments:

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    Where it was once, some years back, considered quaint and "tolerable," it is now considered snobbish, offensive, and completely not accepted, at least in my circle of the world I live within. I am refusing to inner relate and communicate with my peers, I am repeatedly informed and I must be trained and taught and given "coping skills" to master.

    It gets worse. The FFM fails to measure for traits that play into our strengths, such as introspection, insight, imagination, and creativity. In other words, psychiatry - reflecting the world-at-large - values sociability over personal reflection, superficial social connections over deep thinking, pat answers over nuanced problem-solving, and conformity over breaking the mold.

    Off the top of my head, George W Bush would be psychiatry’s ideal poster boy. Is something very wrong with this picture?

    What psychiatry fails to recognize is that we would still be shivering in caves were it not for introverts. Someone needs to be generating ideas and new ways of looking at the world, and these tend to come from the type of people who enjoy being alone over long stretches of time, or at least know how to function in solitary settings. A musician, for instance, may perform in public, but masters his or her craft and takes it to the next level within the lonely confines of a practice room. Writers need to be alone, or at least know how to tune out the world around them. Same with those in science and technology and a host of other disciplines.

    How does an extravert handle these situations? Not too well. As Donna reports on her younger sister:

    She dies a thousand deaths each night she is alone. She lives for companionship and would almost rather be with the wrong person than to be alone. She is either on the phone or with someone or planning her next outing - all the time. ... And when she is alone, she feels abandoned.

  • Ironically, when we introverts do surface, we are often mistaken for extraverts, precisely because we’re bubbling with fresh thoughts and ideas, much to the amusement (or consternation) of the extraverts in our company. But if they are fascinated (or appalled) by us, we quickly become bored with them, unless they, too, can feed us new insights. We don’t want to talk, simply for the sake of talking. As Cathryne explains:

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    If we aren't gladhanding and backslapping everyone we are missing out.  On what, what are we missing out on? Another sale, another banal conversation that neither party will remember 10 minutes from now.

    Extraverts thrive in these situations. We suffocate. The air we breathe is in our nourishing and stimulating private world. Donna’s sister can’t hack it in this environment, yet she is considered the normal one, well-adjusted, an FFM-DSM model of psychological perfectitude (like the new word?).

    To each his own, you may say. If only that were the case. As Tabby points out:

    The longer I live and the older I become and the more I am surrounded by "extraverts" that demand and judge me - yes demand and literally judge me at times - that I become like them, the more introverted I am actually becoming - and the more I dislike people at large.

    Personal note: I’m writing this in the privacy of my own home. My next ten days are pretty much blocked out with a major website overhaul, which means near-total immersion in my own world, free from the distractions of the hub-bub outside my door. This involves a number of creative tasks, from page design to editing to solving complex technical issues such as figuring out why my CSS and HTML are so oppositionally defiant.

    There will be moments when I want to put a fist through my computer screen. But mostly, I will be in a meditative state, yin-yanging my way from task to task, delighting in my grown-up version of coloring with crayons. I will be taking various exercise and walk breaks, plus get in some practice on my didgeridoo. I will also be whipping up my own meals from scratch and anticipate rolling out some fresh pasta. At the end of my stretch, I look forward to the satisfaction of an accomplishment that will be on display to the world.

    Am I supposed to be doing something else? Could an extravert do my job?

    Much more to come ...  

Published On: January 01, 2011