A Link Between Introversion and Depression?
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m an introvert.”
Last night I went to a course on event planning held by UC Berkeley extension. Although it didn’t dawn on me at the time, it was apparently the perfect opportunity to network. Even the course presenter encouraged us to network during the break. At break time, I made a beeline for the ladies’ room, where I stayed until the break was about over.
And sure enough, this morning my husband, who would hold the Olympic gold medal for networking if there were such a sport asked me, “So, did you do any networking?”
“No, I don’t network. You know that. I’m not going to give just anyone my email and telephone number. I don’t want to get to know someone until I know if I want to get to know them.”
He looked blank.
“Okay, I know, that doesn’t make sense. But I just can’t do it. It’s not me.”
It’s not me because I am an introvert. You might not know it if you were standing next to me in a line somewhere, because I have no problem chatting. I’m animated and talkative and you’ll probably learn a lot about me in five minutes. Just don’t ask for my email address or phone number unless we discover we’re long-lost relatives.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a misanthrope. I like people and I like meeting new people — in controlled situations where we have something in common. At every job I’ve ever had, I had several “work” friends. One has been one of my closest friends for almost twenty years. But that’s rare for me.
On my last day on the job, I never said to everyone I worked with, “Let’s keep in touch. Here’s my number.” I enjoyed talking with them on a daily basis and, with some people, having lunch. But I rarely took the relationship farther than that.
My husband is an extrovert. His address book has over 500 names. Every time he goes on a trip he ends up exchanging business cards with the person sitting next to him on the plane. (I’m always hoping that the person next to me will be satisfied with a few minutes of chat and then leave me to my book.) My husband has about twenty close friends. I have two. He’s still in touch with people he went to college with. I’m intermittently in touch with one, who was my roommate our senior year.
Extroverts are drained by being alone and introverts are drained by being with other people. We each recharge our batteries in a different way. I recharge byspending time alone, preferably in complete quiet or perhaps with some soft classical or new age music. My husband recharges by talking to people, and he likes to have the television on to “fill the quiet.”
We went to a cocktail party a few months ago to network for our public housing consulting firm. My husband suggested that we split up to cover more territory. In less than a minute, he was introducing himself to a group and beginning an animated conversation. I started a conversation with one man and talked to him for about fifteen minutes. After that, I was done. I sat watching people and sipping my wine until the party was over.
My first husband was introverted, and the marriage obviously didn’t work out. The two of us never went anywhere or socialized with anyone other than our families. My second husband pushes me to meet new people and sets up social engagements for us. As much as I grumble sometimes about fulfilling the engagements, I think it’s much healthier to be with someone who gets me out of the house once in a while and puts me in touch with new people.
Oddly enough, our son seems to be a mix of the two of us. Ever since he could talk, he had no problem going up to other children and saying, 'Hi. What’s your name?" He never had the “phone shyness” that most children do and he says goodbye to his classmates at preschool by booming, “Goodbye, everyone.” However, he prefers to have one “best friend” and just play casually with other children.
He, and I, might be what Marti Olsen Laney refers to in her book “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World” as a “lively introvert.” Carl Jung believed that we all fall somewhere on a continuum between very extroverted and very introverted, so we will have aspects of both personalities in us.
Now, shyness and introversion are not the same thing. For instance, introverts, in general, simply prefer staying home to attending a large party, but the thought of a large party will make a shy person break into a sweat. They will actually fear that type of situation, whereas the introverted person would just rather be home with a good book.
I’ve noticed that depression and introversion seems to go hand in hand fairly often. John McManamy conducted a survey that seems to bear that out. But the question is, does being in a state of depression bring on the inclination toward introversion, or are more introverts born with a tendency towards depression? Since only one study explored the relationship between depression/bipolar disorder and introversion, for the most part the answer is still unknown.
By the way, guess what I went to college to study? Yes, I chose my college based on its Library Science program. If the professor (an extrovert) whose Shakespeare class I took hadn’t persuaded me to follow an English Literature major, I’d probably be a librarian somewhere, happily surrounded by books and quiet.
For more information on introversion and extroversion, check out Extroversion, Introversion and the Brain.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.