Today we use the terms introvert and extrovert in everyday conversation, but C. G. Jung was the first to explore these two fundamental ways of interacting with the world in a psychological context. In his book Psychological Types, published in 1921, he looks at the history of our attempts to understand personality differences, going all the way back to the Greek concept of the Apollonian (more refined and intellectual) and the Dionysian (more emotional and visceral). His system is based on two general attitudes – Introversion and Extroversion – and four functions – Sensation, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling. Rather than a personality label, Jung saw introversion and extroversion as the way energy flows, outward for the extrovert and inward for the introvert. In Houston terms, maybe we can think of extroversion as ramps that merge onto the freeway, and introversion as ramps that take us onto the feeder road and into our private neighborhoods. While we all have our patterns and tendencies, when someone is one-sided to an extreme, Jung believed the opposing energy is necessary to bring the psyche into a creative equilibrium. If we don’t embrace the opposite willingly, psychological and/or physical symptoms will appear until we begin to pay attention. It’s kind of like getting sick after a period of extreme busyness – the body just says enough is enough, and shuts down whether we like it or not.
The popular Myers-Briggs personality test is based on Jung’s writings on personality type, and although many in the Jungian community see this tool as a reduction of his ideas to a marketable, simplistic formula, I find that if used with an attitude of curiosity and openness, it can pose questions about our behaviors and perspectives that we might not have considered otherwise. If you’d like to explore, take the test yourself ! But I would proceed with this caveat: don’t take the results as a statement about who you are, take them as a question, asking you to both experience your subjective reality as well as observe it.
As Americans, we live in a clearly extroverted culture, one that values all that is big, bold and loud. The unprecedented time that we find ourselves in, requiring mass quarantine and social distancing, could be seen as an unwanted, but necessary nudge toward our inner lives, away from activity toward solitude. Susan Cain, whose Ted Talk has been viewed over 25 million times explains the difference between introversion and shyness in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.” She begins the book with “A Manifesto for Introverts.” As we spend more time in solitude these days, her manifesto can be thought provoking for all of us.