Introversion as a way of being – Vademecum on introversion (by Lugi Anepeta)

Introversion as a way of being – Vademecum on introversion (by Lugi Anepeta)

(translated from L’introversione come modo di essere – Vademecum sull’introversione)

This article is a first approach to the problem of introversion, as well as an introduction to reading my essay “Timido, docile, ardente…”. This title is a quote from J. J. Rousseau (a great introvert) and can be translated into “Shy, quiet, ardent (passionate)”.
Each individual is unique and unreproducible. The analysis of experience and behavior of several individuals, however, allows us to identify some lasting and enduring characteristics (the traits) in common among them. On these grounds, it’s possible to define a typology, i.e. a model of personality which can be described abstractly.

If each individual is unique and unreproducible, what’s the sense of this typology?
The general tendency to categorize is a need intrinsic in human experience. Each subject, in the final analysis, categorizes himself by attributing to himself some qualities and defects which contribute to endow him with an inner self-image. While interacting with other people, he tries to categorize them and understand how they are: even without knowing it, he thus “typologizes” them.
By applying itself to personality, psychology has done nothing more than transpose that tendency to a scientific level.
Throughout its history, it has produced numerous typologies on the basis of the identification of the most diverse traits. No personality theory has thus far been recognized by scholars as a reference model. There is only one fact on which all psychologists agree: the universality of the extroversion/introversion trait.
It’s not difficult to understand why this trait is identifiable everywhere and in every epoch.
Every individual conscience is situated in the interface between two worlds: the external one, which is experienced through the senses, and the internal one, which is perceived as being the core of one’s identity. On a first approach, the introvert/extrovert trait simply means that some subjects appear to be more attracted to the external world, whereas others are more attracted to the internal one: the former think, feel and behave on the grounds of data which come from the external world; the latter filter these data through the internal world and give them subjective meanings.
As originally conceived and developed by C. G. Jung , the distinction between extroversion and introversion should now be studied further because, in today’s world, introversion has come to be defined as a negative personality trait. Being an introvert, now simply means being reserved, solitary, uncommunicative, shy, insecure, clumsy, inadequate, etc. Unfortunately, this prejudice is often shared by the introverts themselves, who live with the painful knowledge of their own difference and do their best to conceal and/or deny it, in an attempt to conform their own behavior to that of others.
This prejudice has also consequences on a pedagogical level, because, in various ways, once a child is identified as being an introvert, parents and teachers feel it is their duty to help him/her to become extroverted, socialize, be more “normal” etc.
The consequences of the social prejudice on introversion are serious because the vast majority of introverts live with an obscure unease, and many manifest various psychiatric problems.
Is this, as maintained by various psychologists and psychiatrists, a consequence intrinsic to the “vulnerability” of the introvert’s genetic legacy, or the result of the interaction with a social and cultural environment which does not facilitate the development of the introvert’s potential?
The answer depends on a clear definition of the introvert’s way of being.
Extroversion and introversion are two genetically determined components usually present in every personality. Hence, pure forms of one or the other don’t exist. The genetic distribution of the two components occurs through a spectrum of indefinite combinations, inside of which we find the prevalence of one over the other.
When we speak about extroversion or introversion, we are, therefore, referring to the prevalent trait.
From numerous data it results that, in the population, the extroverted component prevails, while the introverted one concerns about 5-6% of the individuals.
Being of a genetic nature, the prevalence of the extroverted or introverted trait infuences the personal development, which has nevertheless a certain degree of elasticity. In fact, throughout his or her life, an introvert can become an extrovert to a certain extent and vice-versa.
The notion of spectrum also applies to the set of individuals in which a given trait is prevalent. This trait, indeed, can be more or less pronounced, in relation to the component of the opposite sign. Introversion represents, therefore, a minority of a population on a whole that tends to lean toward extroversion.
Disregarding any social prejudice, the typical features of the introvert genotype can be summarized as follows:
  • a higher than average emotional disposition, usually combined with a lively intelligence, often higher than average as well;
  • a social sensitivity, which implies an immediate intuition of the state of mind and expectations of the others;
  • a precocious and lasting sense of equal dignity and fairness, often experienced with a dramatic intensity;
  • an orientation to idealism, which implies the reference to a world characterized by fair and delicate relationships, supposed to minimize the possibility of someone being hurt;
  • a highly selective social vocation, which, in order to be accomplished, requires a sufficient degreee of affinity and simpathy for others;
  • a very intense affectiveness, which implies the tendency to establish deep and meaningful relationships with the world (people, nature, culture, animals, objects);
  • an orientation to thought, introspection and imagination rather than action;
  • a preference for intellectual and creative interests, reinforced by taking great pleasure in mental exercise;
  • a very rich provision of needs (of belonging and individuation), expressed in different ways in each individual.
None of these characteristics by themselves can be considered absolutely decisive. Their combination, even in diverse forms, differentiates, more or less distinctly, the way of being an introvert from that of being an extrovert.
Even by considering the characteristics listed above alone, it seems evident that introversion is a condition potentially rich but also problematic. Feeling intensely, being capable of putting oneself in another’s shoes, having an innate sense of dignity and justice, being inclined to reflect about life, being endowed with some kind of creativity, are authentic qualities. However, by univocally merging in the tendency to question or examine oneself, others, and the status of existing things in the world, these qualities, somehow, “condemn” the introvert to occupy oneself with problems throughout his or her whole lifetime and to try and solve them by reaching levels of consciousness and understanting of reality increasingly high.
This “condemnation” to continuously grow up emotionally and culturally, to explore possible worlds and ways of being, is often ill-lived by introverts who, feeling it as a burden, come to envy the ones who live without caring much for problems.
This fate must be accepted, however, because only by taking charge of it and valuing  it, the introvert succeds in avoiding the trap of idealism, which keeps one stuck in the vision of a world as it should be, and interacting with the real world on the basis of disappointment, disconcert, indignation and anger.
Even taking charge of the “condemnation” to grow up and cultivate oneself, the introvert arrives late, in comparison with the average person, to a certain degree of maturity and self-fulfillment.
Not a few introverts would take advantage of living backwards, starting from the end. Unfortunately, the dynamics of evolution is what it is and implies a strong dependence of the development of personality, on environmental circumstances.
The evolution of the introverted personality, even assuming an hypothetical optimum environment, always implies paying a price. This is due to the intensity and precocity of feeling, always too rich with respect to the cognitive instruments, i.e. to the capacity of interpreting and giving a meaning to what is emotionally sensed and registered. This gap is destined, in the best case, to progressively decrease by virtue of cognitive and cultural channels inside of which emotions can flow without too much turbulence, and spread themselves in an undefined range of feelings.
An introverted personality, in the best case, does not reach a minimum of integration before the age of 25 to 30 years. From this period on, if there is the intuition of one’s own way of being and of one’s own “destiny”, the growth is almost continuous and, once the critical threshold (which differs from individual to individual) is crossed, can give rise to an interior experienxce which is affective, social and cultural, participated and deeply satisfying.
The adult introvert who has developed with little or no environmental constraints, is a well balanced and essentially serene, reserved, refined, gentle being who is delicate in the relationships with others and has a sphere of intimate social relations that is always limited but of great depth. The introvert usually cultivates cultural and creative interests that are rather engaging, but are for him like the air he breathes and from which he obtains satisfactions often superior than those obtainable from the practice of social relationships and emotional ties. He or she continues to question himself about the world, however starting from an attitude of empathy and tolerance centered on the consciousness that people tend to dedicate too little time to the inner life, in order to be wise.
Unfortunately, such a condition of self-fulfillment, recorded in the introverted genetic matrix, is exceptionally rare.
The majority of introverts, indeed, remains literally crushed by the interaction between their potential, which requires particular durations and ways of development, and the opportunities offered to them, or the normative requests of the socio-cultural environment.
Given the variety of the introverts’ genetic traits and that of the developmental environments, the most various courses of experience can occur.
Within this variety, nevertheless, it seems possible to identify two evolutionary paths depending on the prevalence of the need of belonging / social integration vs. the one of opposition / individualization.
The former is the one of the “golden children”, introverts literally dominated by the expectations of the adults and forced to prematurely wear the mask of a false self. In this mask, which makes them appear precociously mature, they express their potentialities but, in order to become what the other people would like them to be, they have to repress all the “opponent” instances which arise from a strong need of differentiation and individualization.
The latter is that of “opponent” introverts, who precociously start their war against the world sensing all its contradictions and irrationalities even before being able to understand them and, by rebelling, being obstinate, disputing everything, they are identified as difficult and, sometimes, intractable children or adolescents.
Whereas the former, solicited by the perception of being more or less imperfect, feel the obligation to achieve a model of perfection, the latter precociously expect a perfect , less contradictory and less irrational world instead of the one which is there.
Both paths are at risk.  From adolescence on, if a crisis does not intervene, “golden children” risk remaining crystallized in a mask of perfectionism; this  assures them a lot of social confirmation; underneath, however, there is the intuition of all that their personality has never expressed: in brief, the intuition of something obscurely perceived as terribly negative.
If a crisis occurs, it realizes itself with phenomena that go from the progressive loss of efficiency to the block of performance or, at the extreme limit, to the voluntary strike and isolation as a form of protest against an exhausting lifestyle.
“Opponent” introverts, from adolescence on, can continue their war against the world in the form of behavioral disorders of any kind which often bring them to a condition of deviance. It may also happen that, as a consequence of their sense of guilt previously accumulated, they gravitate towards an obsessive re-organization of personality or develop some symptoms (from depression to panic attacks and persecution complexes) which interrupt their path as rebels and potential deviants.
The frequency with which, starting from an introverted makeup, the two paths lead to psychopathological outcomes, is rather high. Since an introverted child is not aware of his introverted nature and what that means, it is not difficult to think that, if the environment did not push them, even unconsciously, towards perfectionism or rebelliousness to the utmost, these outcomes could be avoided.
Although such recommendation should be considered essential in order to prevent psychic disorders, it is, however, not sufficient to solve the problem of introversion in our world.
The psychopathology which developes by coming to the world with a introverted makeup is only the tip of the iceberg, whose bigger part is represented by the deaf, subterranean, more or less serious uneasiness, characterizing the experience of nearly all introverts.
The characteristics which underlay that uneasiness, common, with different degrees, in all introverts, are as follows:
  • a persistent experience of inadequacy and inferiority, which sometimes brings the shame of being what one is;
  • a more or less marked aversion (to the limit of phobia) towards emotional sensitivity;
  • a feeling of loneliness scarcely remediable, which expresses itself in a progressive tendency towards isolation, forced socialization or normalization, usually with scarse results;
  • a tendency to confront obsessively with others, which often shows the paradox of an intense envy and, at the same time, a hypercritical interior attitude towards them, pitilessly accused of superficiality, roughness and scarce sensibility;
  • a tendency to continuously think about one’s own problems, without getting to the core of them;
  • a general sense of a tiring, pitiful and sometimes painful existence.
In practise, the price to be paid in the evolutionary phase is prolonged indefinitely, very often for one’s lifetime and brings many of introverts to radicalize their aversion towards their own way of being.
In our world, in other words, the introverts live badly. There are no reasons to consider it as fatality. It is about a historical-cultural conjuncture, due to the deeply extroverted normative model which rules our society, which leads to the almost general adoption of this model by the pedagogical institutions (family, school, etc.) and to the difficulty of the introverts to become aware of the value and limitations of their condition, and take upon themselves the burden it implies, in terms of cultivating their “self” and their emotional and cultural growth.
In order to overcome this conjuncture, it is necessary to have clear ideas about values and limitations pertaining to the way of being introvert.
Value, referring to the introverts’ genetic features discussed above, is always a potential value. Those features, indeed, are comparable to a building material of excellent quality which, nevertheless, needs a cure and a far-reaching effort in order to arrive at an integrated, fulfilled and balanced personality structure. As regards the cure, this greatly depends on an evolutionary environment which should enable introverts to develop according to their own times, ways and tendencies. Viceversa, the effort, from adolescence on, depends on the introverts themselves, on the awareness of their diversity and the intuition that, indepentently of the immediate comparisons with others, introverts may reach a fulfilling self-realization if they follow their own way.
The limits of introversion are not less important than its values. They refer essentially to the idealism and richness of its emotional legacy.
Introverts risk of remaining trapped in the dream of a world where human beings are tender and fair, and where the tendency of hurting each other is minimized. It is a noble dream made by persons who, however, place the world as it should be it over the one as it is, and make the former a model by which they judge the latter, rather than seeing it as a historical-cultural object.
As a consequence of this dream, introverts often try and realize the better world it on their own, orienting themselves to perfectionism, i.e. towards a way of life which implies too many demands from themselves.
As that model is used to judge others, it is inevitable that introverts develop an hypercritical attitude towards the present status of the world, which goes from indignation to intolerance and anger.
The exuberant emotionality of the introverts remains often tied to a nascent condition especially as regards the sense of justice, although it allows them to appreciate the subtle and contradictory aspects of reality, which would require adequate cognitive and cultural tools in order to be understood.
Introverts feel too much but they risk to experience a painful and frustrating perception of themselves and others, unless they build a rich and articulate personality within which the emotions flow in ways which allow them to understand the world.
There is a lot of work to do to redeem introversion from the prejudices through which it is seen in our world, in order to give the introverts the conscience of their difference and allow them to proceed toward a self-realization freed from the dominant normative model.
This work is substantially up to introverts, to their capacity of appreciating themselves, organizing and struggling, out and inside of themselves, against the social prejudice toward their way of being, by laying the foundations for a new culture which appreciate the human differences instead of trying and homogenize them.
It seems obvious that this new culture will be concerned, first of all, with the environments in which introverts run the higher risks of suffering damages, and of not being able to take full conscience of their difference: they are the upbringing environment and the educational institutions.
It will also concern adult introverts who live their obscure uneasiness without coming to terms with it and who usually adopt normative strategies where the remedy seems worse than the disease.
Athough the primary objective of this work is to reduce the weight of uneasiness with which introverts live, it would be naive not having an even more ambitious objective as a consequence of the complexity of the human mental apparatus. This objective consists of extending to all human beings the “duty” to cultivate their inner life, to reflect about life and develop one’s own individuality in different ways, by critically interacting with normative codes, prejudices, commonplaces, etc.
The Utopia of a world made on a human scale won’t realize itself until the human beings don’t produce a culture which value the nature and difference of the introverts, instead of mortifying them.

[by psychiatrist Luigi Anepeta]

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