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Introversion: What it is and what it ain't

[personal profile] graymalkin sent me an article about introversion. I think the article is OK and I think that articles debunking myths about introversion are generally a good idea. But there are some ways that this article ends up reinforcing some myths about introversion, and it has some other problems.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201008/revenge-the-introvert

Here is my understanding of introversion: Being drained by spending time in social environments (as opposed to gaining energy thereby). Needing alone-time to recharge.

Here are things commonly associated with introversion that I think are not inherently part of introversion: Shyness. Social phobia. Social awkwardness. Invariably being quiet in groups. Being unable to think on your feet. Disliking to perform.

Following are some quotes from the article and my comments.
[Introverts] do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments.
I'm not sure what is meant by "process more information" and "digest" information. I don't need a quiet environment per se to recharge my energy. What I need is an environment where no one expects anything of me. It's easy for me to filter out environment noise.

I would use this metaphor: At a social event, I feel like I'm trying to filter out excess sensory stimuli. Eventually the filter gets clogged, and I need a quiet environment to flush out the filter.
Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.
Could be. I don't know. It feels to me more like I prefer different external stimuli and rewards, compared to some people. A cool breeze makes me very happy.
As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal--they'd rather find meaning than bliss--making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture.
Ummmmmm. You know what, drawing a dichotomy "meaning vs. bliss" makes absolutely no sense to me. "Finding meaning" is a somewhat specific thinking-type activity. "Finding bliss" is, I don't know, it could be anything, depending on the person. But when I'm enjoying thinking, it feels pretty blissful. When I'm alone in a natural place, it feels pretty blissful. I seek those situations. So I don't think that I'm disinterested in bliss. However, it's probably true that I am driven more by avoiding hassles than by finding meanings or finding bliss. I'm also driven more by avoiding sensory overload than by seeking sensory pleasures.

As for "the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture." What does this mean? Is "the search for happiness" being used to stand in for materialism/acquisitiveness/self-improvement? Is it supposed to bring to mind "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? (If so it's hardly only "contemporary" American culture that's relevant.)

I feel like I'm participating in a "search for happiness," but maybe I'm defining happiness a little differently than the author of this article. I've figured out that having more possessions is probably not the key to increasing my happiness. (Not because I'm into voluntary simplicity or anything -- it's just that I have a lot of stuff already.) I've figured out that I feel a lot of in-the-moment happiness in situations where very little is going on. There's also a sort of happiness that comes from feeling I've accomplished something, and in-the-moment happiness doesn't substitute. Introversion shouldn't interfere with that kind of happiness though. Being able to spend time alone without getting antsy should help me accomplish long-term goals.
In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player, and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge--not to feel like misfits in their own culture.
The problem here is that I don't see a connection between an "emphasis on happiness" and a competitive/aggressive/fast culture. Where is the connection? Is happiness being defined strictly as winning, being on top, having the biggest market share? And maybe the money that comes with that? If so, maybe there's a connection. But that doesn't sound like happiness by my way of thinking. When I think of being on top, I think of the stress of having to defend my position, and I can't imagine it would make me feel happy.

Another assumption is that there is only one kind of "American life," and that's this "competitive/aggressive/fast" kind of living. It's an aspect of corporate culture, and so people who are working in corporations, they might feel this pressure. But there are other ways to live. Aren't there? Am I missing something because I'm too privileged? Also, is there really no place for introverts in corporate culture? I did feel pressure when I worked in corporations, but I had a job pretty well suited to my introverted tendencies.
An introvert and a shy person might be standing against the wall at a party, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy individual feels she has no choice.
This sentence suggests that all shy people are really extroverts, which isn't true.
Introverts prefer slow-paced interactions that allow room for thought. Brainstorming does not work for them.
I don't think this is true of all introverts. It's true that I dislike answering personal questions on the spot, but brainstorming and trading wisecracks and other fast-paced forms of interpersonal interaction are fun for me with the right people. I just want a lot of alone time as well.
Even a simple opener of "Hello, how are you? Hey, I've been meaning to talk to you about X," from anyone can challenge an introvert. Rather than bypassing the first question or interrupting the flow to answer it, the introvert holds onto the question: Hmm, how am I? (An internal dialogue begins, in which the introvert "hears" herself talking internally as the other person speaks.)
Ummm, no. This suggests that introverts can't figure out that "Hello, how are you?" is a greeting. It did take me longer than some people (which might be due to introversion or might be due to other social issues I have) but I'm perfectly capable of making small talk and using the standard social forms of my culture without starting a whole internal dialogue with myself about the question "How am I?"
While the introvert is evaluating the question on at least two levels (how she is feeling and what she thinks about the question, perhaps also what this says about our society), the speaker is already moving on to sharing something about his day. The introvert must take the incoming message from the speaker and tuck it into working memory until she can get to it, while more information keeps flowing in that demands tracking, sorting, searching, and critical analysis.
As already mentioned, that's not how it works for me with a greeting. On the other hand, maybe it's a good explanation for why I find it difficult to remember people's names after I meet them -- I'm thinking about a bunch of other things happening in the interaction.
The conversation is also anxiety-provoking, because the introvert feels she has too little time to share a complete thought. She hungers to pull away and give time to the thoughts her brain has generated.
This suggests all introverts have social anxiety. Not true, IMO.

What say you? How well do these quotes or other stuff in the article fit with your social energy tendencies?

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/688855.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
lisa_marli
Sep. 15th, 2010 07:30 am (UTC)
I agree with you on the social greetings. I usually can handle those ok.
But long conversations, my mind tends to wander. I will withdraw into my knitting or PDA game at BASFA when it gets to be too much.
The Harolds have it much worse than I do. Which is why Moose disappears into his games at BASFA. And why I have a hard time dragging Big Harold to Anything. He has so few people he calls friends. These strangers make his life uneasy.
I have at least made a few friends, and so can handle parties and things a little bit better. I also can close up a bit at Big Social Things better and thus handle the overload.
But I do enjoy my Extroverted Friends! They push me to do things I normally wouldn't and that can be fun. I really sleep the next day though, *whew* that was Too Much Party.
(Deleted comment)
epi_lj
Sep. 15th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
I found the use of "happiness" in that article pretty weird when I read it also. It seemed like the author was trying to say that we should learn to be okay with the idea that introverts aren't as happy as other people -- that it's okay because introverts don't need to be happy the way extraverts do. Which is just weird. If they like the state they achieve, then how is that not happiness?

That said, I think my introversion is more stereotypical than yours (I have shyness and social anxiety) so it fit me better even if not perfectly (for example, I do talk a lot in conversations).
firecat
Sep. 15th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
On happiness: exactly.

I have shyness and social anxiety, but much less since taking antidepressants. Having much of my social anxiety go away suddenly was really weird. (The introversion stayed.)
karenkay
Sep. 15th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
I didn't read the article, just your comments. Your comments make sense to me, but your quotes from the article just wouldn't parse. (I don't think it's the quotes you chose.)

I THINK I am an extrovert, and I don't suffer from much performance anxiety, and I loathe brainstorming. FWIW, which I think is not much.
bastette_joyce
Sep. 15th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
Totally agreed about the "introverts don't seek happiness" idea. Huh? The author seems to have one concept of "happiness", so that when certain groups of people don't seek that particular thing, she concludes that those people aren't concerned with being happy. That makes no sense to me, as I believe that almost everyone is motivated by a desire for things that make them happy, however they may define that. "Happiness" is one of those ill-defined words that can mean a thousand things to a thousand people. Sure, I use it all the time, because I know what I mean by it. :) But if I were trying very hard to explain the subtle nuances of what that really means to me, I'd choose words with more specific definitions.

Regarding your response to her comments about how introverts respond to perfunctory "How are you?" questions, I actually think that her description of the dynamic was spot-on about you. OK, it was a bad example - you don't respond that way to standard social greetings. But I think the principle is correct. This seems to be a situation where a poor example has obscured a more general truth. I have seen this happen with you many times!
firecat
Sep. 15th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
you don't respond that way to standard social greetings. But I think the principle is correct. This seems to be a situation where a poor example has obscured a more general truth. I have seen this happen with you many times!

I mentioned "I dislike answering personal questions on the spot" in the previous paragraph, and I think that's the dynamic you're talking about. But my perception is that if someone says to me "How are you? I've been meaning to talk to you about X," then unless X is an interpersonal issue, I'm much more likely to skip the "How are you" altogether and go straight to "OK, tell me about X." What do you think?
bastette_joyce
Sep. 15th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
I was thinking more about conversations where I'm talking about something, and I suddenly notice that you seem a bit distracted, so I ask what's up and you say, "I'm still trying to figure out my answer to your first question" or "I'm still chewing over the first thing you said", etc.

I've seen this happen plenty when the topic didn't include personal questions. For example, I might say, "I wonder how you control where the knot will end up on a string of beads, because I was working on this project the other day, and ... blah blah blah...", and suddenly I notice you seem distracted. I ask you what you're thinking and you say, "I'm trying to come up with a way of explaining how you do that."

To me that sounds a lot like what she described in the article.
firecat
Sep. 15th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I do sometimes run trains of thought in my head when people are talking to me. But not in the circumstances she mentions, so much.
bastette_joyce
Sep. 15th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
Well, sure. People are going to respond to different things based on their interests and other factors. I was just saying that I thought her description of the behavior, as well as the reasons for it, sounded accurate to me, even though her example didn't apply.
bastette_joyce
Sep. 15th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
I meant to say something else, too
Another thing that I always wonder (not just about introversion and extroversion*, but about any personality trait that is defined as being part of one's inborn temperament) is this: how can you determine your inborn temperament, when so many life experiences affect those traits and preferences? I'm not saying there's no such thing as inborn temperament. I just don't know how to separate that from my observations of my own behaviors and preferences, many of which seem to be responses to prior experiences as much as to anything else.

Back to the E/I scale, if someone gets easily overstimulated by social interaction, and requires a lot of alone time, is this because of a biological tendency to be introverted, or is it because, due to some negative experiences, the person finds it somewhat stressful to be around people, so becomes drained after spending a lot of time with them? Similarly, if someone is highly social and craves the stimulation of interactions with others, is that due to their temperament, or could they possibly be "addicted" to the high of getting attention and approval from people? I don't mean to imply that these are the only possible motivations for these preferences - they're just two examples of desires that a person might genuinely self-report as being true for them, that may not come from true biological temperament, but rather, from needs stemming from past experience? (Or maybe from some combination of nature/nurture, but how do you figure out what's what?)

I'm also not saying it's impossible to make that distinction, but personally, I haven't been able to figure this one out for myself. The two "nurture" examples I gave above are true for me: due to insecurity, which comes from some of my past experiences, I get a high and a self-esteem boost from attention and approval from others, but also, due to distrust and suspicion about how other people see me (also due to past experience), I find many social situations to be stressful, and that in turn causes me to avoid social situations a fair amount. The tug of war between these two impulses takes up a lot more space in my conscious mind than any sense of what my underlying temperament might actually be!

This is a basic weakness in the way MBTI typing is done, IMO - it seems to be based mostly on self-reporting (relying on answers to questions about preferences in various situations). Does this actually reveal basic temperament?

* "extroversion" is a valid spelling variation... I looked it up. :)
firecat
Sep. 15th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
Re: I meant to say something else, too
I prefer the spelling you use :)

how can you determine your inborn temperament, when so many life experiences affect those traits and preferences? I'm not saying there's no such thing as inborn temperament. I just don't know how to separate that from my observations of my own behaviors and preferences, many of which seem to be responses to prior experiences as much as to anything else.

I mostly don't believe in "inborn temperament" -- that is, I agree with you; I don't think there's an easy way to tell what's an "inborn temperament" and what's a strong tendency that's influenced by both nature and nurture. I guess studies of identical twins raised apart might shed some light on that.

So if I say that I'm an introvert, I mean that so far in my life, there is a tendency in this direction. But I don't know where it comes from.

Back to the E/I scale, if someone gets easily overstimulated by social interaction, and requires a lot of alone time, is this because of a biological tendency to be introverted, or is it because, due to some negative experiences, the person finds it somewhat stressful to be around people, so becomes drained after spending a lot of time with them?

I've noticed that when I'm in an environment that I find very friendly, such as a fat conference, I don't become an extrovert but it takes me longer to get drained. So I think that worrying about how people are going to react to me does affect the degree of introversion I experience. But I've never personally been in an environment where I didn't get drained at all. (That might be because I had negative social experiences when I was very young, so it might still be that introversion for me has a largely experiential cause.)

Similarly, if someone is highly social and craves the stimulation of interactions with others, is that due to their temperament, or could they possibly be "addicted" to the high of getting attention and approval from people?

How are you defining addicted? Needing it in increasing quantities, or to a degree that's detrimental to other aspects of their lives?

This is a basic weakness in the way MBTI typing is done, IMO - it seems to be based mostly on self-reporting (relying on answers to questions about preferences in various situations). Does this actually reveal basic temperament?

My understanding is that people are expected to change their "score" on the MBTI over time. Certainly my score changes depending on whether I'm thinking about work or social situations and also on other stuff going on in my life. (I always test as an introvert, but the other things shift around.)
bastette_joyce
Sep. 15th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
Re: I meant to say something else, too
Similarly, if someone is highly social and craves the stimulation of interactions with others, is that due to their temperament, or could they possibly be "addicted" to the high of getting attention and approval from people?

How are you defining addicted? Needing it in increasing quantities, or to a degree that's detrimental to other aspects of their lives?


In that sentence, I was using it in a colloquial rather than strictly clinical sense (and that was the reason for the quotation marks) - what I meant was that someone could require positive attention from others on a regular basis in order to maintain a good self-image.
firecat
Sep. 15th, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
Re: I meant to say something else, too
I think everyone requires that. But some people probably need it more than others. I don't know to what extent that might be temperament vs. environment.
bastette_joyce
Sep. 16th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: I meant to say something else, too
Right, I guess by my use of "addicted", I implied that it was a pathology. And sure, we all do need social approval (to varying degrees), being a social species and all. What I was trying to get at was motivation. If someone seeks out a lot of high-energy social interaction, are they doing it because they are by nature extroverted, or because they're trying to fill a need that was created by a negative experience? I'm focusing on negative experiences because I think behavior motivated by pathology is one thing that MBTI doesn't seem to take into account. (At least not on the simple level that I understand.)

Another example of that: I told a friend that I identify as a "J", and she guffawed. She's like, "You? But you're always late! You're so forgetful and messy and disorganized." (I guess those are "P" characteristics to her - well, the downside of being "P", anyway.) Aside from the fact that I don't consider myself to be as disorganized as she thinks I am (chronically late and forgetful, yes :)), I think I'm a "J" because I'm happiest when decisions have been made, when plans are in place, and when I'm on top of organizational tasks.

For me, expressing "J" traits is a sign of feeling good, and "P" traits - those negative ones, anyway - are a sign that I'm overwhelmed or stressed out. I often see myself as a "frustrated J" - that's what I'd be at my best. For someone else, acting very "J" might mean they're feeling compulsive, and acting "P" means they're relaxed and comfortable going with the flow.
firecat
Sep. 16th, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
Re: I meant to say something else, too
I'm focusing on negative experiences because I think behavior motivated by pathology is one thing that MBTI doesn't seem to take into account.

Yeah, I don't know to what extent MBTI theorizes reasons behind someone's score vs. just saying "These are your tendencies." And I like what you say about J/P.
mjlayman
Sep. 15th, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
I've changed almost completely since I got sick. Part of it is that I don't have enough time to be out with other people -- I start needing to go home and sleep* -- but I think some of it is changes in my brain.

*and very few people have accessible houses, so I can't go there with others.
(Deleted comment)
sarahmichigan
Sep. 16th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Just on a meta-issue, I find it hard to take anything in Psychology Today seriously. They print a lot of really badly researched pop psychology. I think Psychotherapy Networker is better for people who are serious about learning about current psychological thought and trends (though it has its "woo" moments as well).

I had issues with a lot of the same passages you did, mainly with the fact that, while some of it might be true for some introverts, it was waaaay over-generalized.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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