You’re not introverted, you just have problems

Based on Eysenck's personality theory (I didn't make this up) -- click for larger view.

Based on Eysenck’s personality theory (I didn’t make this up) — click for larger view.

I don’t think I took much issue with the idea of a person calling themselves introverted until an infamous comic told me that (as an extrovert) I’m basically a predator trying to steal energy juice and don’t take it personally, it’s just that interaction is expensive and introverts don’t want to spend it on something wasteful. Excuse me, but sorry for annoying you with my friendship.

A few of my introvert-identified friends also took offense to this comic, so it isn’t just obnoxious-extrovert-me who doesn’t get it.

I strongly identified as an introvert when I was young (years 5-19). I had the “running monologue” in my head at all times. I needed copious amounts of alone time to “recharge.” My bedroom door was always closed, and I taught my brother to knock so I could be alone with my books, drawings, and thoughts. Of course, during most of this time I also “hated humans,” suffered severe major depression, and had general anxiety disorder.

Now that I identify as an extrovert, I find that I’m not sure if I love myself or people better. I default to a sense of contentment or even happiness. Alone time is not painful or anything, but no longer all that necessary. Oh and that running monologue goes away when I’m around people.

It has been my belief that I was a “false introvert” and that aligning myself with that personality type was a source of unhappiness for me (or just indicative of my crippled emotional state), and that is why being an extrovert feels more natural and comfortable.

So, for personal reasons, when I meet an unhappy introvert, I suspect that they are not introverted. They just need therapy. Happy introverts (and it seems like they do exist: study 2001) can carry on, this isn’t about you.

Introversion/extroversion is frequently tested on the Eysenck personality questionnaire, which just seems to allow a lot of people to self-select for social anxiety disorder if you ask me.  You’re asked to rate how well you identify with personality statements, which are testing for both introversion/extroversion and emotional stability.

If you’re emotionally stable, you can be on the more sociable/carefree/easygoing side of things, or you can be on the more thoughtful/calm/peaceful side of things. There’s not really a huge difference in the “introversion/extroversion” personality traits, except that extroverts are “more social.”

Non-emotionally stable people are divided into two groups, which seem to be overly-social verging-on-being-a-sociopath for the extroverts (“I would like other people to be afraid of me”) and severe anxiety for the introverts (“I fear for the worst” and “I am very moody”).

Extroverts, of course, are the strong majority.  So much so that introversion was considered for inclusion in the DSM-5 (Psychology Today 2010). In other words, for a hot minute we were going to call introversion a personality disorder. There’s definitely a trope of “I am an introvert, therefore I have a social disadvantage.” In an extroverted, highly social world, this feeling makes a lot of sense.

However, humans are and always have been social beings. It doesn’t make sense to me why this commonly accepted test focuses so much on sociability. You have to admit that even introverts are decidedly social, suffering when there is a lack of human interaction, otherwise the world would have a lot more hermits.

While I don’t doubt that introversion/extroversion are legitimate ways to describe a personality, the fact that there is not a reliable standard to measure, and that the accepted standards center too much on “being social,” you end up with a strong dividing line in the types of people who consider themselves an introvert. Some focus on their inability to be comfortable in social situations (Eysenck introverts). Others prefer a more nuanced understanding of introversion (focusing on communication and relationships styles, preferences for certain types of activities and ways of relating with the world).

Further muddying the conversation about introvert v. extrovert personality types is the idea that it is a spectrum, and fluid. This of course has to be considered, because most human attributes work this way. Still, what this means is that people can self-define their own style of introversion, and I have seen so many custom definitions that the dichotomy frequently fails to be relevant.

What I am seeing is a lot of self-proclaimed introverts excusing their anxious behavior on a tenuous label. “Big crowds are just too much for me, because I’m an introvert,” or, “I just can’t keep up in conversations because it takes me longer to process in social situations…and extroverts have no filters.” I’m seeing people I care about diverting attention from overcoming their social anxiety by excusing it due to introversion.

If you are terrified by a crowded party, overcome with worries and insecurities, frozen by your inability to talk to people…. you can’t ask me to respect that as just a part of who you are. No one should be expected to cope with that lifelong. I will give space and I will assist people who are struggling with anxiety, but I’m not doing it because I accept the anxiety. You’re not introverted, you just have problems.

Yes, the Eysenck test divides emotional instability by introversion/extroversion. But I won’t accept cherry-picking the emotional problems you identify with as a valid “diagnosis” of introversion. Perhaps, like I did, you have a secret extrovert inside of you who is trapped by feelings of moodiness and pessimism.

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7 thoughts on “You’re not introverted, you just have problems

  1. The definition of introversion that I’ve been running across frequently these days, which is a bit more nuanced than just “not social”, is similar to what the Roman Jones comic tries to get at, but misses the mark (imo): extroverts tend to derive energy or feel replenished from social interactions, whereas introverts typically need to recharge afterward.

    I can see where you would correlate this to mental health issues (social anxiety, depression, etc.), but the thing is, for an introvert this dynamic would hold true even in/after a positive social experience (i.e. “I went out, that was a fun party, met some awesome people…but let’s not do that for at least another week”). While I agree that for some people “introvert” is a normalizing cover for mental health issues (with stigmas around mental health, it’s understandable), for others, there’s nothing remotely pathological about it. I can see how it could be a blend of both for many people, as well.

    Anyway, I apologize if that was a bit of a derail, but as someone with a professional and academic psych background, mental health issues, and a self-identified toward-introvert on the spectrum, I wanted to chime in. And btw, I like your comic/graphic at the top there :)

    • Thanks for chiming in with your professional background! I completely agree with you. I only mean to say that some people (my past self included) recognize that social interactions cause them stress/anxiety/etc. and are too quick to assume they are introverted rather than experiencing something like social anxiety or depression (or don’t want to admit it b/c stigma etc. etc.). I think what you said about even positive interactions being draining is key — a lot of my friends will behave as though *all* social interactions are negative and then claim that’s introversion.

      Maybe instead of making us (extroverts) out to be vampires, Roman Jones could have designed a comic explaining that while “everyone” loves Disneyland, there’s only so much Disneyland you can take before your feet fall off. And for very introverted, all social activities = Disneyland.

      • This I like. Maybe this is what I need to use to explain to people. All social activities = Disneyland.

        Although… Some social activities are distinctly DMV, to be fair. Expensive, and lacking the Disney Magic that makes it worth it.

  2. While to some degree, I think people use “introversion” as an excuse to be rude, I don’t think it’s fair to say all people that are worn out by too much socializing are unhealthy. Introversion and extroversion is a spectrum and not a dichotomy. Most people fall more in the middle, leaning more to one side or another. But as with any spectrum, there will be a few people at any extreme.

    Personally, when I’ve had sufficient alone time, I can be cheerful and friendly, and I can enjoy spending time with people. It tires me before too long though, especially in certain formats. And if this goes on, I start getting to a point of fight or flight every time people try to chat with me or even approach in a social situation, and it takes my entire willpower not to scream at them to leave me alone. I feel cornered. I start viewing these people as predators– people I normally like. Because for me, small talk takes effort. And there comes a point where I have nothing left, and a lot of these people don’t get it, and would be offended if I asked them to leave me alone, because small talk is the default friendly thing to do in our culture. Do I feel guilty? Absolutely. Can I just magically conjure social energy out of the air to fix it right that moment? No. I have to take some alone time. Your claims in this article really don’t help. It’s honestly things like this that make those introvert memes more popular. Because you clearly don’t get it, and sometimes, it would be nice if people did.

  3. Excellent counterpoint. This article is intentionally controversial to stimulate conversation. It sounds like you have a good understanding of your introversion, and I would not question your strategies for managing it.

  4. You aren’t a predator. And vampires aren’t predators, either. They’re glorified, prettied up parasites with delusions of grandeur. It’s incredibly important to understand the difference between a predator and a parasite. An extravert is less like the sexy tigers they want to be, and more like a phage virus.

    They invade a space, much as any virus does, and through the use of force and numbers take away resources that others need. Why do I call extraverts parasites? Their lack of comprehension of affirmative consent. An extravert will vainly demand the attention of an introvert, if this attention is refused they can (and regularly do) turn downright nasty and soicopathic. They’ll spread nasty rumours, act passive-aggressive, and may even attempt to destroy that person’s life.

    It’s not a good place for extraverts to be. This slimy, spindoctor who’s pestering you for your attention to recharge them at the introvert’s expense? Well, you either recharge them, or tomorrow you’re a suspected pedophile. It’s like that. It’s a really shitty state of affairs.

    Internet trolls are all sadistic extraverts. Don’t buy it? Here:

    “In the first of the two studies done by the researchers, only 5.6 percent of the survey population actively enjoyed trolling others online. As expected, “Dark Tetrad scores were highest among those who selected trolling as the most enjoyable activity” when commenting. Trolls turn out to be extroverts—but extroverts with “disagreeable” personality traits.”

    Source: http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/02/science-confirms-online-trolls-are-horrible-people-also-sadists/

    So, no. Extraverts aren’t predators. Just as vampires aren’t predators. Extraverts are just parasites and they’ll continue to be parasites until affirmative consent is a part of every extravert’s dictionary.

    IT’S IMPORTANT TO ACTUALLY ASK FOR CONSENT.

    “Hi. Can I invade your space, and then in an egocentric and narcissistic way can I have you recharge my energies for me since I’m able to recharge them myself?”

    “No, you may not use me for the purpose of recharging yourself.”

    “Okay! I’ll ask another introvert to see if they’re game. No worries, I won’t go psycho nutjob on you or anything. It’s all good!”

    That’d be nice.

    Sadly, that never happens.

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