Three characterizations of introversion

Three traits contributing to introversion are anxiety, social inability, and unusual, stereotyped interests (endogenous personality). Like most trait clusters, “introverts” are characterized by a combination of these, although the extremes of each trait produce very different patterns of behavior.

Most introverts are characterized by anxiety. Usually, it is social anxiety. Most introverts enjoy social interaction but they need time alone in order to “relax”- i.e. to down-regulate their anxiety so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. Afterward, they can return to social interaction and enjoy it. Such a person does not respond well to continuous low levels of social pressure, which will build anxiety up to the point that they freak out, but they may respond well to intermittent, high levels of social pressure interspersed with solitary periods for decompression.

This is the popsci understanding of introversion and it does a good job of describing at least 80% of introverts, in my opinion. Extreme introverts of this sort have an anxiety disorder- this is why Robert Lindsay hypothesizes that Asperger’s Syndrome, and the extreme introversion often observed, is a type of anxiety disorder. It is certainly true that most people with AS tend to have a great deal of anxiety. This is also why people at every job I’ve ever had have asked me “So, are you going to come in here someday and shoot everybody?” (Maybe I should be offended or something, but actually it’s just confusing.)

Some introverts are simply characterized by their inability to get along with others. This means that the anxiety of social contact is greater than the anxiety of loneliness. Really, this just means that a person like this is an extravert by nature, but they are either socially incompetent or very odd or both. It is very likely that this will cause oscillations between trying to socialize, failing, retreating, and trying again. Eventually, this personality will also likely develop anger issues, an anxiety disorder, and probably depression. Mass shooters almost all fall into the extreme end of this category.

Another sort of introvert is characterized by endogenous personality. An endogenous personality is characterized by an unusual pattern of anxiety which can’t be explained by external stimuli. This doesn’t mean they aren’t sensitive to external stimuli (probably they are), but there are also surges of anxiety that can’t be explained by the environment.

Werner von Braun is a good example of this- there is no earthly reason he should have been so obsessed with going into space. He wasn’t being hounded to become an astronaut by his overbearing Asian mother. His strange ambition was motivated by the anxiety he would feel by failing to go into space. The resulting “inner motivation” is the desire to quell this inexplicable, internally generated anxiety. Most people with Asperger’s fall into this category.

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16 Responses to Three characterizations of introversion

  1. Koanic says:

    Aeolitalk + Bruce Charlton + Edenism. I like it.

  2. Koanic says:

    Once the various Altrugenics blogs are running I’d like to have you crosspost the “best of aeoli”. The people, they needs you.

  3. Guts says:

    What would you do if you belonged to the second category? I belong to the mass shooter category and everything you said is right IME. How to achieve health?

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      Actually I do belong to the second category, but I’m a special case because I don’t suffer from social anxiety. So I could keep running through social minefields all day without feeling any pain, even if that would be a bad idea.

      I think probably you belong in category 1. Your social graces are fine, but you suffer much more anxiety from failures than the typical extravert.

      Probably the best thing is to seek lots of alone time, and keep a journal about the social situations that are causing anxiety in you. Use these journal entries to teach yourself lessons and come up with principles to guide your future interactions in that type of situation.

  4. Manboon says:

    Jesus, I have the “unusual pattern of anxiety” you talk of.
    I love your blog, because many things you say are very true and observable.

  5. Heaviside says:

    You might as well just say that people are forced away from potential hills of nervous energy/anxiety.

    I think Jung’s original conception of introversion was best, but he was right that introversion is a quality which is totally rejected in American society, so his definition had to be mutilated in order to catch on.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >You might as well just say that people are forced away from potential hills of nervous energy/anxiety.

      That’s exactly what I’ve been getting at! Except I hadn’t thought of a way to express it so perfectly.

      >I think Jung’s original conception of introversion was best, but he was right that introversion is a quality which is totally rejected in American society, so his definition had to be mutilated in order to catch on.

      Agree all.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. There’s a fundamental difference between Eysenckian intro/extroversion and Jungian intro/extroversion (ironically, Eysenck himself was probably a Jungian-extrovert/Eysenckian-introvert).

    Fundamentally, introvert means “turned inwards” (intra+vertere) and extrovert means “turned outwards (extra-vertere).

    This is Jung’s original conception– though he did try to associate this fundamental orientation with various observable characteristics (in my view sometimes correctly, sometimes not) his whole theory proceeds from this fundamental difference. According to Jung, the extrovert fundamentally gives more importance to objective data and conditions, whereas the introvert gives more importance to “the subjective factor,” which is basically some form of “mental map.”

    Eysenck’s conception (which is the dominant view nowadays) is based on a collection of traits and defines intro/extroversion based on behaviorisms. (this is actually Te/extroverted thinking approach).

    This page explains it quite well:

    “Basically, what took place between Jung and Eysenck is that Jung’s terms were qualitative, while Eysenck’s were quantitative. In the process of quantifying Jung’s original concepts, Eysenck “slid” from the original intention to what was most readily measurable, causing a drift in meaning.”

    In my hybrid view, one can be an Eysenckian introvert, but fundamentally (Jungian) an extrovert or vice-versa; and this is probably much, much more common than thought. Quite a few Eysenckian introverts are Jungian extroverts. It’s complicated because all people have a degree of intro/extroversion, even by nature; and this can change throughout one’s life according to situations and habituation.

    Myself, though I’m fundamentally an extrovert, have a high degree of Eysenckian introversion– some by nature and some by habituation. It’s extremely hard to determine the degree to which any given individual’s Eysenckian introversion is natural vs habituated/situational etc. but the more data one has, the easier it is to determine.

    What it really comes down to more than anything, is that extroverts are “territory people” and introverts are “map people.” Extroverts are more interested in reality existing outside of oneself, whereas introverts are more interested in their own internal mental maps of reality. Both types have both forms of cognition because the map must have some territory to correspond to (introversion needs extroversion), and the more one navigates according purely to the territory, the less stable and consistent ones navigation will be (extro needs intro).

    So with the classic map/territory dilemma, introverts are more prone to the error of inventing maps (theories) that don’t correspond to the territory and don’t jive with actually existing external reality (in favor of being internally consistent, beautiful, personally relevant, fascinating in and of themselves, or something of that sort) whereas extroverts run the danger of becoming too erratic, chaotic, internally inconsistent, etc. because they do not seek enough internal coherence in their mental maps.

    The introvert is prone to distorting their perception of reality to fit what their map/theory says reality SHOULD be; whereas the extrovert is prone to internal chaos because external reality is by it’s nature chaotic, and therefore a greater internal correspondence to external reality means much greater internal chaos.

    Introverts can seem to have a lot of internal “turmoil” similar to the extroverts’ but it’s really totally different on a fundamental level– the extrovert fundamentally has difficulty in knowing who he is, whereas the introvert’s inner turmoil is from knowing who he is and not liking it, or otherwise having a conflicting attitude to it. In a nutshell, the extrovert is wracked with difficulty over the question “what am I?”/”who am I;” and the introvert is more wracked with “what is the world?”who are THEY?”/”Who are all these other people?”

    This is because an extrovert sacrifices self-knowledge in favor of greater other-knowledge, whereas an introvert sacrifices other-knowledge in favor of greater self-knowledge and internal consistency.

    (Both I vs E can have both sorts of problems, depending on all sorts of factors, and because nobody is purely intro/extro; but these are the tendencies)

    There are a whole lot of other things that can cause a fundamental extrovert to become observably introverted and vice-versa (this can be good or bad; sometimes the extrovert should be more introverted and vice-versa) such as high sensitivity, social orientation vs asocial orientation, endogenaiety, etc.

    Socially oriented introverts often express a high degree of extraversion and asocial oriented individuals often express a lot of seeming introversion but at the fundamental level they remain intro/extroverts despite surface appearances.

    Last thing to remember is that this is all on a chaotic sliding scale fundamental extrovert perspective, so it is extremely “fractal” in this sense:

    Some other links:

  7. Also another interesting factor is HSP/HSS (highly sensitive person and high sensation seeker) discussed here:

    Notice the combinations (quoted from one of the comments):

    “”1. HSPs/non-HSSs. They are usually reflective and tend to be happy with a quiet life; not impulsive, not seeing much reason to take risks.
    2. HSSs/non-HSPs. They are usually curious, eager, impulsive, quick to take risks, and easily bored; not very aware of subtleties in a situation or even interested in them.
    3. Non-HSPs/non-HSSs. They are low in curiosity, low in the tendency to reflect deeply, just living their lives in a simple, natural way.
    4. HSPs/HSSs. They certainly have versatility, a combination of the HSP’s vision and the HSS’s drive, but their optimal level of arousal is very narrow because they are easily overwhelmed and easily bored; they are often conflicted, in that they want new experiences but do not want to be over-aroused or take big risks. As one HSP/HSS said, “It feels like I always have one foot on the gas, one on the brakes.”””

    So in terms of Eysenckian and easily observable introversion, an (Jungian) extroverted HSP/non-HSS will seem introverted, while an extroverted HSS/non-HSP will seem highly extroverted, a non-HSP/non-HSS will seem extroverted but not in a thrill seeking way– and probably seem quite “balanced,” and an HSP/HSS extrovert will seem extremely ambiverted, bouncing about from intro to extroversion.

    Apply this to (Jungian) introverts and you find HSP/non-HSS= very, very introverted– “extreme introvert,” perhaps “overly timid”; HSS non-HSP: introverted, but with calculated busts of extroversion, sometimes seeming ambiverted; non-HSP/non-HSS balanced introversion; HSP/HSS maybe Marilyn Manson or Trent Reznor style introversion/exhibitionism stuff.

    It seems TMs might tend toward HSP/HSS– myself, Egyptian, and Doompony all seem this way; whereas MTs might tend toward non-HSP/HSS or non-HSS/non-HSP; MMs usually non-HSP/HSS; TTs seem to tend towards HSS/non-HSP (though for all of these it’s a sliding scale).

  8. Okay, a way of expressing what I’m driving at better:

    In relation to anxiety: rather than thinking about it as leading to introversion, think of it as (very often but not always) a result of the clash between intro/extroversion.

    Every person is some combination of intro/extroversion; many psychological difficulties can be caused by the clash between i/e.

    (for notation, intro/extroverted-intro/extroverted = eysenckian/observable-jungian/fundamental)

    Anxiety in introverted-introverts is caused by the demands of external reality (or a goal they want to achieve) forcing them to be more extroverted than their natural preference.

    Anxiety in extroverted-extroverts is caused by narcissism (sliding scale– it can happen for those e-e’s who aren’t very narcissistic, perhaps only situationally narcissistic as well as those who are full blown, pathologically narcissistic); i.e. by having external reality not feed their weak (because extroverted) sense of self. Generally e-e’s have lower anxiety than any other combination, but otoh they can tend towards narcissism and histrionicism which cause a lot of anxiety.

    Anxiety in introverted-extroverts is caused by narcissism as with e-e’s; or by habituated introversion causing them to be more introverted than their natural preference– and it is this sense in which it can cause introversion– i.e. cause an i-e to be more introverted than he would prefer.

    Anxiety in extroverted-introverts is caused by demands of external reality as well as in i-i’s but they have learned to cope, ignore, overcome, or become habituated to it.

    So with an i-i they can reduce their anxiety by figuring out how to arrange their life so that the demands of external reality do not force them too far out of their natural preference. OTOH anxiety doesn’t kill you, and shouldn’t always be avoided at all costs, and they might gain more advantage by being more extroverted than their natural preference– so they’ll have to decide what’s more important.

    E-e’s can reduce their anxiety by slowing down strategically or intentionally turning inwards– actually this will cause more anxiety in the short term, but may avoid long-term anxiety and lessen the symptoms of narcissism and histrionicism in the long term.

    I-e’s can reduce anxiety by becoming more extroverted; and by figuring out the particular causes that made them more introverted than their natural tendency in the first place; and by eventually becoming more and more immune to anxiety by strategic desensitization (though this must be practiced with caution).

    E-i’s can also use strategic desensitization, or intentionally turn inwards as they would naturally prefer (but have become accustomed not to via habituation.

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