It is high time I finished the third leg of my three-legged stool. I wrote about the first leg, Depression (“What’s With That Blog Title?”) on May 9; I wrote about the second leg, Shyness and Anxiety (“My Three Legged Stool”) on June 1. I intended to finish the job long before now. Life intervened.
With apologies to my many followers waiting with bated breath for the third leg of my stool:
The third leg of my stool is Introversion. Here’s what I wrote May 9:
“Depression, shyness, and anxiety are disabilities to be managed. Introversion is not a disability; it is an innate part of who I am and is to be understood and embraced.”
I use the term Introversion as the psychiatrist Karl Jung (1875-1961) defined it in his seminal work Psychological Types (1921). He identified three innate aspects of everyone’s personality:
- How you get your energy for living (Introversion, Extraversion)
- How you take in information (Sensing, Intuition)
- How you make decisions (Thinking, Feeling)
In the 1940s, two followers of Jung, Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers, identified a fourth aspect of personality:
- How you relate to the world (Judging, Perceiving)
They developed an instrument called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help people identify their innate psychological types. Today the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most commonly used and best regarded psychological instruments in the world.
I am going to cover here only the first aspect Jung identified, Introversion and Extraversion, because that is the third leg of my stool.
Introversion does not mean you are shy; Extraversion does not mean you are outgoing. There are shy Extroverts and outgoing Introverts.
As Jung, Briggs, and Myers identified Introversion and Extraversion, they are two different ways (or preferences) of getting your life’s energy. You are born with these preferences. They are both good ways of being. You do not change your basic preferences, but you can, at least to some extent, change behaviors associated with them.
Extraverts draw their energy from engaging with other people and their environment.
Introverts draw their energy from within themselves.
To identify which preference you have, you could ask yourself:
At the end of a hard, stressful day, would you rather:
- Go out and unwind with friends at a bar, OR
- Go home, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy a quiet evening with a good book.
Here’s another situation:
You are at a large party, and you know only a few of the people there. Would you probably:
- Circulate around the room to meet and talk with new people, OR
- Stay close to the people you know and talk with them.
If you are an Extravert, you probably would pick the first answer to both questions. If you are an Introvert, you probably would choose the second answer.
I say “probably” because for some people those choices might be reversed. Remember, there are shy Extraverts and outgoing Introverts.
I am a shy Introvert. I get my energy from within myself, and in social situations I’m more comfortable with people I know than with strangers.
Introversion and Extraversion even can be detected in how we move our bodies.
Extraverts, drawing their energy from the people and environment around them, tend to move more than Introverts, Extroverts may tap a foot or drum fingers while sitting, or shift position frequently, or get up and stretch or move around the room. as if they are extending feelers out to their surroundings.
Introverts, who draw their energy from within, usually sit more quietly and for longer periods without much body movement. Introverts also may smile less than Extroverts.
In the same vein, Extraverts tend to listen more expressively than Introverts. An Extravert listening to someone might lean forward, smile, give head nods, say “I see,” or give other facial or body signals that he or she is hearing and reacting to the speaker.
An Introvert may do little or none of that, leaving the speaker wondering what the hell the listener is thinking about what the speaker is saying.
Being introverted, I tend to be a stone-faced listener. That can be a problem with people who don’t know me, and was, early in my city government career.
My boss was the city manager, and I had a lot of contact with the seven city councilors. I had cordial relationships with most of the councilors, but there was one, a very extroverted person, who did not like me at all. The city manager, who understood me very well, took me aside one day and did me the favor of explaining the reason for this councilor’s dislike.
It was my stone-faced listening. The councilor would talk to me and I would give no visible reaction, which the councilor interpreted as indifference or hostility. (Truth was, such an extroverted, dominant personality intimidated me. And when I’m intimidated, I do shut down.)
From then on, when I talked with that councilor, I gave lots of listening cues. I leaned forward, I nodded, I said “uh-huh,” and “oh, I see.” Things gradually improved between us. Later, when I ended up working on a project for the councilor that especially called on my skill set, we became friends.
I will always be grateful for my boss’s intervention early in my career on an aspect of introverted behavior I needed to change. It was some of the best coaching I ever got. I continued working on my listening skills, and in time active, extroverted listening became second nature to me.
This is an illustration that your preference doesn’t change, but your behavior can. I was and always will be an Introvert, getting my energy from within. But I can change introverted behavior when it’s not working for me.
Growing up, I knew nothing about Introversion or Extraversion. I knew nothing about depression. I did know I was shy and anxious, and that wasn’t a good thing. I knew I liked to be alone a lot, and I thought that was a good thing. I still do. But now I understand that I do better if I’m not alone too much, as I was too often in the past. Some of my worst bouts of depression came when I lived alone. I’m living with a partner now, and I need that.
Learning about my Introversion also helped me understand why I had difficult relationships wi th my parents when I was growing up. My mother and father were Extraverts; my older sister and I were Introverts. My mother and I clashed a lot over privacy: As an Introvert I wanted lots of it. As an Extravert and a mother she felt I should have little of it. There was a lot of drawer snooping and pocket searching and diary reading that led to anger and raised voices.
This Introversion-Extraversion example of privacy attitudes is extreme, because there were a lot of other reasons my mother and I clashed on a lot of things. It is true, though, that Introverts and Extraverts may have different ideas about privacy.
Introverts tend to be bad at spreading gossip. That is because If you tell something to an Introvert, he or she may consider the message intended for him or her alone, not necessarily for anyone else. Extraverts hearing the same message may consider it interesting information to be shared with others.
I have been burned by this difference several times, talking to a friend about something I considered personal and confidential, only to discover later that the friend told other people. I considered this a breach of confidence. The friend, for whatever reason, did not. I learned from those experiences that if I talk to someone about something I consider private and confidential, I need to say that.
I was not able to embrace the strengths of my Introversion when I was younger because it was so pathologically entangled with my depression and shyness. Now that I understand my depression and shyness, I love being an Introvert. For me, it’s the only way to be.
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