Introversion and Mental Health

AngelThis 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. 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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18 thoughts on “Introversion and Mental Health

  1. I’m an INFP almost every time I take the MBT and on a few occasions a INFT. I’ve always wondered about this, even had a discussion about it with some people in a bipolar group on Facebook and one thing that did pop up a lot was the I and/or F.

    • INFJ was one of the most popular when we did this back in October. A few of us, mostly the population affected by bipolar disorder, said that our I and E were often interchangeable based on mood. This basically insinuates that there are certain people that sit on a cusp.

      I know I had previously mentioned that my I (ntroversion) had become just that after many years of scoring ENFJ. An interesting interpretation of the I and the E in the MBTI suggests that the introverted and extroverted nature doesn’t necessarily have everything to do with a certain preference for an inner and an outer world. It is a distinction between between those that draw energy and knowledge from the outside world versus those that find the external world and social activities to be draining and have an need to introvert themselves for a recharge.

      I would definitely say that symptoms of certain disorders can have a lot to do with the outcome of MBTI. Although personality is thought of as a static concept, this is not a solid concept that is universally accepted. You know the old saying, “A tiger doesn’t change his stripes.” But, if you’ve ever had a tabby cat as a kitten, you know that, while those stripes will remain for the rest of the cat’s life, they do start to become something different as the kitten becomes a cat.

      For some, it’s a difference between an E and an I. I would definitely say that goes for affective disorders. For others, it is a difference between an S (ensing) or N (iNtuition) and a T (thinking) and an F (feeling). For example, a person near and dear to me has scored ENFJ for most of his life on the MBTI. It was only recently that he started to score ENTJ. The thinking / feeling switch, in my opinion, was in response to a disorder that emerged in his early twenties and has been plaguing him since. (Without treatment).

      Therefore, we can assess that personality isn’t exactly static, although relatively unchanged.

      • In her book, Cain often uses the introvert/extrovert distinction as hinging on where people draw energy from. I’ve taken the MBTI a few times since I wrote this post, and my F and J scores seem to change a little bit. The N seems to stay at 25, and the I seems to stay at 89. I think I’m on the F/T cusp. I think the F might’ve become more pronounced the more my issues escalated. Perhaps I do listen to my feelings more than I used to, though it doesn’t feel that way. Change is so gradual that it’s hard to perceive it–this is what happens when my vision changes, for example. I can sort of see it–I think I used to go more with my thoughts but eventually found that my feeling were more often right when I made certain choices.

        • For me, the rest of the NFJ has never really changed. I have always relied heavily on iNtuition, and you know what? It’s fairly accurate. My intuition has never lead me astray, and I find that I am keenly aware. However, it’s the F(eeling) that has done me in. Feeling is so abstract for me. It is often guided by my moral compass, and most of my decisions have to “feel” right. But, because of my changeable nature, I cannot rely on feeling alone. Sometimes, my feelings have no logical basis. I rely heavily on logic to mitigate some feelings.

          I think if I were an INTJ, then I’d probably be able to follow my iNtuition a little better. Like I’ve told others, I can feel things that others feel. I know when something’s wrong, and my iNtuition is pretty good about making vague predictions. Unfortunately, I have no way of making realistic predictions, or finding solutions without working very hard at it. The T(hinking) would probably make that combination more powerful, in terms of supporting “hunches”.

          • See, I’m just the opposite. I think my borderline T is what kept me from listening to my intuition. My intuition would tell me one thing, and my thinking would tell me that it’s not rational and I would go with the rational. Intuition to me is more bound up with feeling. If I intuit something, I instinctively feel it.

  2. I laughed at the last quote because it’s so true; it rings true to me and this blog is proof of it. I wonder though, if for example in BP “hypo manic” and “manic” phases, the impulsivity makes extroversion more prevalent. I know whe. I’m (and I’m just gonna use DSM terms for lack of better words) hypo manic, I tend to be ver outgoing, chatty and revealing. Interesting stuff.

    • I don’t know. I haven’t been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so I can’t say. There are days during which I feel more extroverted than others. Even I, a strong introvert, am not a complete one, lol. I need interaction with other people sometimes, too. If only I didn’t get so nervous about it, though. The jury’s still out on whether or not I have bipolar disorder. If I do, I think my social anxiety masks any extroversion mania or hypomania would give me.

      • I guess I can’t say either then, hehe, since yesterday I found out the therapist I’d been seeing had diagnosed me with Axis I: Major Depressive Disorder and Axis II: Borderline Personality Disorder. No BP, just BPD though they can be co-morbid. Maybe that can be your case too?

        I relate more to people who’ve been diagnosed with BP though and I was initially Dxed BP myslef back in 2008 which is why I say that. I thought about it all day yesterday and I do think BPD is probably the most accurate diagnosis I’ve gotten. I plan to write about this. *Sigh*

        Who knows. What I do know is that I’m pretty sure about the introvert thing. I’m very introverted even when I’m begin extroverted, if that makes sense. And of course everyone feels the need to socialize! heheh. We’re social creatures. I don’t think even the most hermits of hermits would be all well on his own all the time.

        Oh and I made a big typo, well lots, but I meant to say the BP people in the group discussion came up with mostly “I” (introvert) and “N” (iNtuitive) not “F”. That intuitive part says a lot for me too.

        • Interesting. It seems to me that bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder do overlap and might be hard to distinguish between. I’ve periodically thought that I don’t have a mental illness so much as an emotional illness. My last pdoc and my current therapist told me that I feel more emotions than most people. That would seem to make borderline fit, as I’ve also heard it referred to as an emotional dysregulation disorder. But they told me they don’t think I’m borderline because my behavior isn’t extreme enough. Also, I’m a timid person, and my pdoc claimed he’d never seen anyone who had both social anxiety and borderline personality disorder. So they just told me that I have borderline tendencies.

  3. I want to read this book too. I don’t think introversion and social anxiety and shyness are equivalent terms. To me, introversion does not necessarily imply that the person is unhappy about their introvertedness. However, with social anxiety and shyness, I believe the person wants more social activity and acceptance but finds it difficult due to fear. I think the difference between these two is the level of discomfort that is felt. Social anxiety is much more difficult to overcome because (for me at least) it makes social encounters downright painful.

    • I agree. There are parts of the book in which Cain distinguishes between introversion, social anxiety, and shyness. She’s makes it clear that the terms are different. I’m just bothered that her definition of social anxiety is so simplistic. Then again, it’s a book about introversion, not social anxiety, so in that regard perhaps it’s helpful. Her definition just indicates that she might not have a full understanding of social anxiety. Then again, I don’t think anyone who doesn’t have social anxiety can really understand it. They think that if I just “face my fears” they will eventually go away. I’ve spent most of my life trying to overcome my social anxiety by “facing my fears,” and it doesn’t work. I thought it meant I wasn’t trying hard enough, but I did the best I could. It does get easier, but the social anxiety is still a strong presence.

  4. INTJ for me … I definitely think introversion and social anxiety are separate beasts, but I would guess there is a higher correlation for introverts. For the extrovert, the fear of being able to socialize must be very painful indeed. The introvert may wish they could interact normally with others, but they may accept it more easily because it is less important to them.

    Apart from that, I have a theory that extroverts and introverts react much differently to bipolar mood swings (relating to PAZ’s comment). I also think that Bipolar Type II people are more likely to be introverted.

    • Those are interesting ideas. As I mentioned in my reply to PAZ, I can’t really weigh in on the bipolar disorder relationship to extroversion and introversion. In her book, Cain does stipulate that it’s possible for an extroverted person to be shy and an introverted person not to be shy. It’s hard for me to fathom a socially anxious extroverted person since, by definition, an extroverted person draws energy from being with others. Not doubt such a person exists, though.

      What I was trying to get at here is how much introversion might breed social anxiety and vice versa. Would someone with social anxiety gradually grow more introverted since they tend to stay away from people? Would an introverted person develop social anxiety because they commit a faux pas in public again and again? I don’t know if social anxiety is something that can be developed like that or if one would be born with it. I do think that for me they influence each other, perhaps the social anxiety feeding more into the introversion rather than the other way around, though that might be happening, too.

  5. Very interesting. Every time I take an MBTI, I get either INTJ or ENTJ. It depends on my mood. I’m really walking right down the middle on the I/E question. Sometimes I just need to be left to my own devices; other times I need people around. It just isn’t consistent. I feel like I’m more E when I’m hypomanic, and more I when I’m depressive, but I haven’t tried taking the test during a known mood episode to see if that hypothesis holds any water.

    • Interesting. It would be intriguing to see what happened if you charted your E’s and I’s to see when/if they correspond with hypomanic and depressive periods. I’m sure there other people exist who also walk the line between I and E. And the combination, with everything else, makes one unique! 🙂

  6. I actually saw Cain speak at a library convention. It was rather amusing, because the staff that attended just naturally grouped in the introverts and the extroverts. And when you looked at the extroverts, it was like everything she said was shooting right over their heads. I admit that I just don’t understand extroverts at all. I can fake it when I have to, like when I need to help people at work or participate in a group, but it’s not me, and I have to go run off and be alone later. I also don’t like how extroverts tend to be right in your face! Like BANG, a balloon popping everytime they show up. Maybe it’s just me.

    As far as her book, I thought it was okay. Her suggestions for the workplace would be great, except that workplaces are often ruled by extroverts who, in general, are clueless any other type exists, and if they do know, they don’t much care. These are just my experiences, not to insult anyone.

    • You saw Cain speak? That’s cool. Lol, I also often feel like extroverts sometimes seem obnoxious. It can be kind of annoying; occasionally I just want them to leave me alone. I don’t think I can really fake extroversion . . . I can make myself talk and such when I need to, but I feel like my introspective personality is usually very obvious. I tend to stop talking and think about something for a little while before I saw more about it. And I’m not the world’s best public speaker. I do all right, but I’m much better at writing than speaking.

      • Oh, so am I. If I have a prepared speech I can kind of do okay, but I get very nervous in front of crowds. I’d be more the speech writer than the speech giver, generally speaking. And faking extroversion is exhausting. Some people used to think I was so friendly cause I’d sit there with this Joker smile on my face that said “I am scared out of my wits and have no idea what I am doing.”

        That is why the net is such a lifesaver. I have time to gather my thoughts and put them together in a way that at least has a chance of making sense.

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