This is a topic that somewhat relates to October 2011’s discussion topic about mental health versus personality. I hope too much of this won’t overlap with what’s already been said. But hey, that topic happened before I became a part of Canvas, so I didn’t get to say my piece then. This topic has been revolving in my mind for weeks, but my thoughts never seem to crystallize into anything solid. Let’s see where I go here.
In the thread for the above topic, there’s a link to a Myers-Brigg type indicator. I took it, and my results don’t surprise me. They’re what I usually get:
In the past, sometimes my “Feeling” has veered into “Thinking,” but this is pretty standard.
When one peruses the discussion thread, it seems that many of the participants are introverted rather than extroverted. But even compared to them, my 89th percentile result is rather high. And it’s been even higher before.
A few months ago, Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking hit the bookstores. Intrigued by its potential, I placed myself on the hold list at the library. A couple of weeks ago, I was finally able to check out the book. It’s a fast read, and it has many virtues. However, I found myself somewhat disappointed. Obviously, it is not a book about social anxiety disorder, but I didn’t like the tangential definition Cain provided. Also, her writing seems discursive, which is probably a hypocritical criticism as I am being discursive here, too. But I’m not writing a book that reputes to be the long-overdue celebration of introverts.
Before I continue, I’d like to include some definitions.
Webster.com states in its second definition of introversion that it is “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.”
Cain distinguishes shyness from introversion thus:
“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that aren’t overly stimulating” (12).
She also mentions that social anxiety disorder is “pathological shyness” (13).
Cain’s definitions make me uneasy. They recall situations in my life when my parents have hurled the “too shy” remark at me. Something about the word “shyness” sounds like it’s trivializing the condition. Social anxiety is more than merely being pathologically shy. As a reference, the DSM criteria can be found here. As I experience it, social anxiety stymies. (Aside: Isn’t it interesting that one of the criteria is that “the person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable”? Would that mean that someone who thinks the fear is “normal” doesn’t have social anxiety? Is this aspect supposed to imply that people at some level consciously make themselves socially anxious?)
Cain’s statements raise an interesting question, though. What is the difference between introversion and social anxiety? I fall into both categories. Would all people who are socially anxious also be introverted? Are introverted people more likely to be socially anxious than extroverted people? Does a person with social anxiety become introverted because he or she is isolated or does the isolation lead to social phobia?
I would bet that they are all pieces of the larger puzzle. If you’re extremely nervous around people, you’re likely to have a rich inner life. You’ve got to focus your energies and thoughts somewhere. If you’re introverted, you might not like interacting with other people. That might lead you to become anxious when you’re pulled from your interior life into the exterior world.
What about introversion and mental issues more generally? Do they correlate?
If you’re an introspective type, your thoughtfulness might lead you down that path. Or mental issues might prompt you to deeply plumb your depths. Society’s bias against introversion could make you insecure, potent when combined with a life experienced primarily inside the mind.
What about me? Did I focus on my interior life because I couldn’t make any friends? Or do I just have a natural preference for self-examination?
I do think my introversion became more pronounced the more I spent time by myself. However, I also think that I’ve always had a predilection for thinking deeply. Even as a child, I wanted to know “why?”. I was never satisfied with the surface answer. I wanted to get down to the core of matters, but no one seemed to take that seriously.
I leave you with another quote from Quiet:
“Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the ‘real me’ online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions” (63).
This is definitely true of me. I can talk more online than I ever could in real life. There are several reasons for this. Online, there’s no instant visible judgment. People are less likely to fake interest in what I’m saying. I can present a more well-thought-out argument when writing than when speaking. I wonder if that is true for other introverts as well.
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