The terms "introvert" and "extravert" (note the proper spelling with a
rather than o
) were originally introduced by Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung in his now classic text Psychological Types
(1921). People are sometimes surprised to learn that Jung's text is the basis for the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
(MBTI), and the less well known Gray-Wheelwright Test and Singer-Loomis Type Deployment Inventory (SL-TDI). While these Jungian systems of type testing can be interesting--formulating complex permutations of introversion, extraversion, feeling, thinking, sensation, intuition, judging and perceiving--as a practicing depth psychologist, I have always found Jung's primary notions of introversion
to be the most clinically and conceptually useful.
Traditionally, because we in western culture tend to take a more extraverted orientation to life (as compared, for instance, to India and Asia), introverts have long been prejudicially perceived as being selfish, narcissistic, pathologically shy or even psychotic. But this sometimes vicious negative bias toward introverts and introversion has started to change lately, due in part to the burgeoning interest in meditation and mindfulness (two forms of introverted activity), the gradually growing popularity of Jung's (introverted) psychology, as well as the publication of various recent books on the subject such as Marti Olsen Laney's The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World (2002) and PT blogger Susan Cain's currently bestselling Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, among others. (See Cain's post on whether extraverts or introverts are more happy.)
If, as pop author and relationship counselor John Gray (1992) suggests, men and women are seemingly from different planets, introverts and extraverts must be from different solar systems. While a man and woman who are both extraverted or introverted types tend, despite their psychobiological gender differences, to see eye to eye and share similar values, an extraverted man and introverted woman have not only their opposing sexual psychology to bridge, but their typology too. (See my prior post.) This polarizing combination or type and gender can present almost insurmountable differences. Even two individuals of the same sex, but opposing typology, have their work cut out for them.Opposites attract and can complement each other. But they commonly are also the cause of confusion, conflict and constant consternation.
For example, a wife might be an extraverted type, wanting constantly to go out into the world, have adventures, meet people, etc. Her husband, on the other hand, is an introvert, for whom none of that holds much fascination. He wants nothing more than to stay home and think, read, contemplate, dream. His introverted attitude values the inner life over the outer; hers the outer over the inner. His libidinal energy is directed inwardly, while hers is directed outwardly. You see how this can wreak serious havoc in relationships? Particularly when neither party comprehends where the other is coming from, typologically speaking.
Here is a quick, easy and, in my experience, fairly accurate way to determine your own typology: When you feel down, stressed, burnt-out, tired, overwhelmed, drained or exhausted, what do you do (or want to do) to feel better? What works best to recharge your psychological or spiritual battery? Typically, there are two kinds of responses to this question. What's yours? Note it now. We'll come back to this shortly.
, there were essentially two types of people: introverts
. (See my prior post
.) These were Jung's terms, for which he gives specific definitions. While his term introversion
is today widely used as a synonym for shyness, introversion is not necessarily shyness. But there is a close relationship between shyness and introversion, which Jung felt (and I fully agree) is largely an innate tendency. (This strongly contradicts a post here on shyness
claiming little or no congenital influence at all! ) Introversion is a turning inward toward the interior world of ideas, feelings, fantasies, intuitions, sensations, and other facets of subjective experience. The introverted type finds most of his or her meaning and satisfaction not in the outer world of people, objects, things, accomplishments, but rather in the interior life, the inner world. Extraverts, on the other hand, live almost exclusively in and for the exterior world, deriving fulfillment from regular interaction with outer reality.
Introverts tend to have difficulty dealing with the outer world in general. Extraverts have equal trouble attending to the inner world. And both resist doing so, in what frequently becomes a chronic, habitual pattern of avoidant behavior. Depth psychology, and Jungian analysis specifically, emphasize the importance of understanding, accepting and honoring one's own typology. It can also be helpful to consider the typology of significant others too: spouses, lovers, friends, parents, siblings, co-workers, etc. Jung's central point about typology is that our particular psychological type is a powerful lens through which we view life, and determines how we see, relate to, and interpret reality. What is so astounding is how fundamentally and diametrically different extraverted and introverted types truly are! By their very nature, these are radically divergent modes of being-in-the-world, antithetical attitudes toward life.
Of course, no person is totally introverted or extraverted. These are two extreme poles on a continuum which we all occupy. A majority of us lean toward the extraverted orientation, placing true introverted types in the statistical minority in most westernized cultures. Indeed, introversion tends to be stigmatized in our culture, pathologized, and deemed abnormal. When introversion is extremely one-sided, it can turn into pathological shyness, social phobia, schizoid personality, autism or even psychosis: a total detachment or dissociation from outer reality. Extreme extraversion can manifest in compulsive activity, workaholism, mania and addictive behaviors (e.g., sex addiction) serving the purpose of avoiding introversion or self-reflection at any cost. Some rhythmic balance between introversion and extraversion is essential for mental health. Introversion and extraversion appear to be innate temperaments or personality traits which can be and are, however, influenced by environment. For example, in a highly extraverted society like the United States, or strongly extraverted family, introversion is often discouraged beginning in childhood, with extraversion being encouraged as the acceptable social norm. As a result, many naturally introverted types strive to become extraverts, developing an extraverted persona, but inexplicably, feel chronically anxious, fatigued or depressed. This could also occur when an extraverted type is overly constrained by a socially or religiously imposed façade of introversion. Sometimes, extreme extraversion or introversion stem, paradoxically, from too much of its opposite, a compensatory reaction of the psyche to correct for excessive one-sidedness.
Now, to return to that little test you took earlier. If you responded that all you want to do to nurture yourself and recharge your battery is to stay at home, read a book, take a bath, meditate, listen to music, and to do so mainly solo, you probably tend toward the introverted pole. You are likely at least fifty-one percent an introvert. What do you think the extraverted type says? You are probably more extraverted if you gave this typical response: "I want to go out and be with people, go to a party, do something exciting." You see, this is what fills the extravert's tank when it's on empty. But for the introvert, this sort of extraverted activity, especially when feeling depleted, is a profoundly repugnant prospect. As is the prospect of introspection, silence and solitude for the extravert. Why? Because to rejuvenate themselves, to replenish their energy, the introvert must introvert. And the extravert must extravert. It's in their nature. But also because we all harbor a primal fear of and resistance to the unconscious, or what Jung called the shadow, which contains those underdeveloped aspects of ourselves we consider "inferior" and of no redeeming value. (See my prior post.)
What happens when someone either doesn't know what their own typology is, or rejects it? What if you weren't able to answer the aforementioned question because you don't yet know how to recharge your battery, haven't found what works for you? Or know what would renew you but never do it? When introverted types try to live like extraverts, they have problems, because they have lost connection to their true introverted selves, the re-energizing ground of their being. The same can be said about extraverted types who, wanting to be more "spiritual" or contemplative, cut themselves off from the material world. They have each lost their relationship to their touchstone. It is quite true that Jung's idea of individuation --the process of becoming more balanced and whole--requires introverted types to develop and integrate what he deemed their "inferior function," their extraversion; and for extraverted types to cultivate their capacity for introversion. For both types, this is exceedingly difficult work. What comes naturally to the extravert, requires enormous effort for the introvert. And vice-versa. But it cannot be accomplished by denying one's innate typology and attempting to replace it with its opposite. (Though during the individuation process, the pendulum may sometimes swing wildly from one extreme to the other before finding balance.) The introverted type must learn to extravert, honing his or her extraverted skills, but will always remain an introvert. Just as extraverted types need to learn to introvert but will always be extraverts. Balance is the key. As with much of psychotherapy, it's about learning to accept and take care of oneself, and recognizing that refusing to honor one's typology--and that of others--is ultimately self-defeating, futile and destructive.
Our typology profoundly influences the way we dress, style our hair, decorate our homes, spend our free time, eat, sleep (see my prior post
), the career we choose, the car we drive, which movies we prefer, our appreciation of art, our religious beliefs, and the way we see the world. When our choices in such fundamental matters, whether conscious or unconscious, closely coincide with our innate personality type, we are practicing what, in his book The Wisdom of Life
, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (following Aristotle) refers to as eudaemonology: "
ordering our lives so as to obtain the greatest possible amount of pleasure and success; an art the theory of which may be called Eudaemonology
, for it teaches us how to lead a happy existence." So recognizing, honoring and living in harmony with our congenital typology (eudaimonism
) can be said to be one of the essential secrets to human happiness.