The Theater of the Brain

The play of consciousness.

An Extrovert and an Introvert Were on a Plane

The Play of Consciousness is oriented from the point of view of self or other.

This post will continue to address the contributions of ‘nature’ in the Nature-Nurture question. We have seen the contribution of ‘nurture’ in “The Nature-Nurture Question – Nurture” where the limbic system processes the survival maternal environment in the service of the organism. Likewise, we have seen in “The Nature-Nurture Question – Nature.” that the influence of ‘nature’ is not defined by genetic physiological brain mechanisms, as is commonly believed. Rather, the role of ‘nature’ is defined by our genetic temperament, which is composed of four pairs of elements that field and digest the impacts of ‘nurture’ into the cortex. Since consciousness is a biologically organized drama in the brain, all four temperamental pairs work in concert to write the final form of our internal dramas and our character. We have already addressed ‘Internalizer/Externalizer’. We will now consider the second element of our genetic temperament - ‘Introversion/Extroversion’.

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Introversion means that the scenario of the play is oriented from the point of view of oneself, while an extrovert operates from the point of view of other people. Introversion literally means to turn inward. The primary reference of an introvert is his own self, not other people. He is self-oriented. In the context of good-enough loving, the introvert is naturally oriented to his own internal endeavors and creative imagination, which come out of his self. The literal meaning of extroversion is to turn outwards. An extrovert’s primary reference is with the self of the other person, not his own self. The extrovert is other-oriented. He is naturally tuned into what is going on inside the other person. In the context of good-enough loving, the extrovert’s primary orientation naturally generates responsiveness, thoughtfulness, and consideration toward other people. (I am not using these terms in the conventional sense, where extroversion means outgoing, and introversion means shy.)

An introvert who has been subject to abuse tends toward narcissism. As such, his “me” orientation focuses on himself as the injured party. He is furious and outraged at slights and injuries directed at him from others. He leads with an exposed nerve and indignantly feels, “How dare you treat me this way?” An extrovert, in the context of abuse, tends toward echoism. (In the Narcissus-Echo myth, Echo is a nymph who longs for Narcissus’s love and attention. Unfortunately for her, he is completely self-absorbed, admiring his reflection in a pool of water. Echo desperately hopes and yearns for Narcissus to love her, but to no avail. In his pure self-involvement, he doesn’t notice her at all. Eventually, as she waits and waits and pines for him, she loses all form. She remains only as an echo, an echo of other people, reflecting their voices back to them.) When blamed and attacked, an echoist will be located over there, at one with the other person’s view of him. An echoist’s default frame of reference is the attacker’s view of him, rather than inhabiting his own view of himself. He agrees with the injured narcissist and understands that he deserves to be attacked. He takes in the other person’s projection of him as lacking and defective, and identifies with it. The echoist tends toward pleasing behavior to ward off and ameliorate attacks.

To illuminate these two opposite orientations, I’ll give an example of a byplay between an extrovert, Mrs. Claire Carter, and an introvert-narcissist, Mr. John Miller. When Mr. and Mrs. Carter made airplane reservations, they reserved two seats together on the same row in order to sit next to each other. Mr. Miller tried to do the same thing, but he made his reservation too late, and there weren’t any contiguous seats left for his wife and him. The best he could do was to have his wife sit in one row (which happened to be next to Mrs. Carter) while he was to sit in the row in front of his wife. When the Carters boarded the plane, Mr. Miller was sitting in Mrs. Carter’s seat. Mrs. Carter said, “Excuse me, but I believe you are sitting in my seat, 22B.” Mr. Miller replied, “I have seat 21B in the row in front of me. But I want to sit next to my wife. So I’ll sit here, and you take that one. It’s the same center seat.” Mrs. Carter felt his pain at not being able to sit next to his wife and would have felt guilty if she’d deprived him of his wishes. Her inclination was to give him her seat without reference to herself, her own wishes, or her legitimacy. Her extroverted position was to inhabit Mr. Miller’s frame of reference, not her own. She wasn’t even thinking about not sitting next to her own husband. Mr. Miller, on the other hand, operated purely from the introverted “me” position. He wanted to sit next to his wife. Mrs. Carter didn’t figure into his frame of reference at all. There simply was no consideration for her. What we have here is that the introverted Mr. Miller was located in Mr. Miller, while the extroverted Mrs. Carter also was located in Mr. Miller. Neither one of them was inhabiting Mrs. Carter.

On this occasion, however, Mrs. Carter went against her extroverted grain. She didn’t like the fact that he hadn’t even asked her, and had been so pushy. “No, actually, this is my seat,” she explained. “I’m sitting here next my husband.” Since Mrs. Carter had the gall to actually think of herself, Mr. Miller became furious. Despite the fact that he was 100 percent in the wrong, he viewed himself as the injured, aggrieved party. In his view, he was the victim of selfish Mrs. Carter. He demanded more vociferously to sit next to his wife. He raised his voice and argued with her all the more. As far as he was concerned, she deserved his attacks. Mrs. Carter held her ground and called for the flight attendant, who told Mr. Miller to get out of Mrs. Carter’s seat and go to his own. He got up, visibly angry and indignant at the injustice. We can see here the opposite orientations of extroversion and introversion. It was hard for Mrs. Carter to hold her ground because, as an extrovert, she “understood” Mr. Miller’s wish to sit next to his wife. By not capitulating to his demands, she felt bad, as if she were hurting him. When he attacked her, she felt guilty, as if it was deserved for being so cruel to him. And she felt hurt that Mr. Miller didn’t like her.

How did Mrs. Carter’s echoism get established? Let’s say that Mrs. Carter’s formative nurture was considerably abusive from a sadistic narcissistic mother. Mother saw little Claire as bad. As such Mother’s attacks were properly directed at her daughter and Mother was just the person to dish them out. Consequently young Claire’s extroversion was converted to echoism. She joined her mother’s view that she was “bad,” echoed it, identified with it, and operated as if it were so. She was in agreement with Mother’s view. and agreed that she deserved to be the recipient of attacks. It was her fault. She was the source of badness, and she deserved to be punished. Her default position was one of guilt. This contributed to Mrs. Carter’s masochistic orientation.

Thus we see the contribution of Introversion/Echoism, which is genetic, to the play of consciousness. Like all the elements of temperament Introversion/Extroversion is on an axis. One may be a 90% Introvert and a 10% Extrovert, or 70-30 or 50-50.

Next we will consider the third element of temperament – ‘Active/Passive’.

Robert A. Berezin, MD is the author of “Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain”

www.robertberezin.com

Robert Berezin, M.D., is the author of Psychotherapy of Character. He taught psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Medical School for thirty years.

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