I have been in the field of mental health for over thirty years. I was around within the field when the first discussions were up and about around introverts and extroverts. I admit I felt both definitions, in the 1960’s, left some to be desired. Neither categorization felt comfortable. After all, they were spoken about in terms of extremes. They were also personality traits, which is not to be confused with personality.
The extrovert was out there as a mover and shaker being assertive in her world. I found extroverts intimidating. The introvert was hiding in closets but thinking deep thoughts. I found introverts scary and unpredictable. I didn’t fashion myself as a mover or shaker and I didn’t see myself as someone who wanted to be alone for days on end in an apartment. Again, think extremes.
The truth is most people are a blend of the introvert and extrovert. We call this the ambivert. It is much like being ambidextrous or able to write with either your left or your right hand. Ambiverts are able to be alone or with others. They like and need both alone time and people time, but they balance the two because both require different energy and meet different needs.
As children, depending on your family and the culture you were raised within certain values were placed on being certain ways. Some families value the quiet child.
Remember hearing, “If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all.”
Remember the comment, “Children are to be seen not heard.”
And then there was, “The meek shall inherit the earth.”
Or, “The more haste, the worst speed.”
And stories such as The Tortoise and the Hare or The House That Ate Mosquito Pie or The Frog Prince.
Some families value the assertive child.
Such statements as, “How do you expect to get any where in life if you don’t……?”
Or, “If you don’t mix with people how will you have any friends.”
It also depends on if you were raised in a particular religion and your sub-culture.
Gender, geography, religion, culture, family, and our own sense of how we feel balanced enters into the decision making process involved in what personality traits will be valued and honed and which ones will be less developed. We all find a way to be balanced with our world. For some balance is achieved by being with others. For others balance is achieved by being alone. Still others find balance by creating a combination of time with others and time spent alone. This last example is the ambivert.
An ambivert is a person who enjoys time alone. They are thinkers and it may wear them out to spend too much time in groups or around large crowds of people. Ambiverts do like people, but they like everything to be balanced. They can and do speak publicly. They do join groups and they create wonderful ideas and inventions. They enjoy being on a road trip with others and they can spend the night in a hotel room with almost strangers that are a part of the club or organization. They will replenish energies spent listening and interacting with others, by taking a long bath, or by going for a hike alone, or by listening to music.
We want to be careful with what I call type theory. The Myers-Briggs uses a type theory. It was based on Carl Jung’s trait theory. People are divided into types. There are many other theories for understanding ourselves and others. The limitation of types is that people seldom conveniently fit in a type. And labels have a way of separating us from one another instead of bringing us closer together.
What follows is an excerpt from a 1970’s description of introverts and extroverts in a journal study on schizophrenia. Both types were used as part of the understanding of schizophrenia and its development.
First introduced into the literature by Jung in his volume Psychological Types (1923), the dimension of extraversion/introversion was not addressed to the issue of psychopathology but, rather, to the classes of forces that influenced an individual’s behavior. For extraverts, these were to be found in objects and relationships in the outer world; for introverts, the determiners
tended to be inner, subjective states.
While such determinants, of course, can influence the ease of adaptation to society’s demands, they do not reflect the predisposition to psychopathology. Were disorder to occur, however, the structure of its manifestations would be likely to reflect the balance of extraversive/introversive tendencies characteristic of the individual. Although the major thrust of Eysenck’s work supports the orthogonality of the dimensions of extraversion/introversion, neuroticism and psychoticism, he believes that certain forms of deviance can be categorized as reflecting extraverted neuroticism, while others can be viewed as indicators of introverted neuroticism.
The presumed relationship of extraversion/introversion to externalizing/internalizing symptomatology is suggested by studies (Eysenck and Eysenck 1963 and Sparrow and Ross 1964) of the factorial composition of extraversion in which sociability and impulsiveness have been found to be prominent components. In discussing neuroticism, Eysenck is thus led to pair hysteria and psychopathy as expressions of extraverted neuroticism, a discomforting linkage for most clinicians who see these as distinguishable and differentiated entities. However, the inclusion of impulsiveness, invoking elements of control, begins to approximate some critical- qualities in the externalizing child (Weintraub 1968) that may predispose toward acting-out behavior, although impulsivity, per se, is an attribute evident in disordered and nondisordered individuals alike, and clearly may facilitate coping under specific environmental circumstances.
I believe people lean toward wanting to label, categorize, group, and name things out of a basic fear and out of a need to control things so they will feel less fear. Labels separate and understanding brings us back together. Seldom does understanding happen when labels exist.
As a therapist I have people come in everyday making claims that they are an introvert, extrovert, co-dependent, addict, narcissist, bigot, bad father, bad mother, selfish teenager, or a brat. I guess I just don’t see the need for the names. I seek to understand what they mean by the labels they carry. We seek to remove the labels and replace them with understanding. How did you come to believe you were an introvert? How has this helped you to carry this label? How might it have hurt you? What purpose does it serve? What is you seek? I would rather engage in the rhetoric of understanding, rather than one of labeling.
So, introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? If we have to have a label I will choose one that blends, rather than one that positions itself.
Be well and take care,
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
Source of Quote. Norman Garmezy with the collaboration of Sandra Streitman, Schizophrenia Bulletin.
Schizophr Bull (1974) 1 (9): 55-125. doi: 10.1093/schbul/1.9.55