Monday, January 30, 2012

Always The One To Shock Us

You wouldn't say anything for days but then you'd open
your mouth and say something incredibly profound


 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Scared To Hear It

Everybody wonders what you've been thinking about during all that quiet time.



Note: The above snapshot is from my high school yearbook. Probably ninety percent of the book was signed by kids who referenced my quietness in one way or another. As incredible as it is to flip through it and see that, the truth is that it's nothing compared to the day-to-day life at high school. Every day, most of the kids who spoke to me mentioned my quietness. I wish I could describe what that's like. But rather than bombard the world with all of that, I figured that I'd post some of these scribbled notes instead.

This is the first.

Some statements get pounded into us more than others. For me, it was always about how quiet I was. High school is one of those times that leaves a mark. It's a time for figuring things out. For me, it was a time for confronting and discovering my own quiet nature.

I grew much back then; and part of that involved just letting myself be me.

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sometimes It's The Good Things

I'm making dinner, a task during which it's easy enough to get lost in my head. As I chop vegetables and toss ingredients into various pans, a friend sits across from me and tells me stories. I interact as much as I can until he suddenly pays me a compliment. Maybe it's something about my cooking techniques; I don't recall, but let's say it is.

The point is that I take a dive inside myself afterwards. I sink into myself for the least of reasons, but sometimes the reasons are good ones. I go off somewhere. I travel without moving. The compliment takes me back to earlier times. I question its motives and its meaning and its origination. It simultaneously makes me focus on my techniques while also bringing to mind the memories of how I learned them. In other words, the statement makes me wonder.

Meanwhile, my friend is likely watching as I disappear. He's possibly asking himself what he said wrong. He said nothing wrong. It's just that I'm prone to wondering. Wonder is what I do. And sometimes I wonder about good things.

It could be any good thing -- or anything at all -- that sends me on a journey inside. Maybe it's an invitation to a party or maybe it's a smile. Or maybe it's how oddly beautiful a thing is: a movement, an expression, a phrase. Whatever it is, it makes me wonder. And then I'm lost for a little while.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that the outside world is paying any attention as I disappear. I forget about the impression that I'm making while I'm processing the impression that was made on me.

I do eventually remember to say "thank you" to my friend, or to respond in some other way. My lateness in responding isn't a sign of anything bad, either. It's just something that happens.

Probably I should reassure my friends of this whenever I can. I should let them know when it's good.

 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Turning Inwards: A Harmless Tendency

Sometimes it's helpful to return to the basics. For instance, where does the word "introvert" come from?

The prefix "intro-" means inward or within. The "-vert" portion is the Latin stem of the verb vertō or vertere, both of which essentially mean "to turn." So the word introvert means to turn inwards. That's all; nothing more; nothing bad. It's what we do as introverts: we turn inwards.

Introversion seems like such a simple and harmless thing when it's left alone like that. If only things could be left alone more often.

Extroversion is, of course, the opposite. I know that some people dislike the use of the word "extroversion" as opposed to the more accepted term "extraversion", and I understand that on some level, especially since I've had some training in psychology and English. But the two words mean the same thing in the end.

We either tend to turn outwards, or we tend to turn inwards. Sometimes we switch gears and do what we tend not to do. And some of us switch gears more easily than others.

For the most part, it's as simple as that. I wish it could remain that simple.

 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On Bowing Out Gracefully

Often I'm invited to hang out with acquaintances, and I find myself declining because I'd prefer not to be social at that moment. Although there are times when I'm more open to it (or when I force myself to be), those times are few and far between. Thus I'm regularly faced with the task of declining, which is something I haven't yet figured out how to do well.

For one thing, describing my reasons seems like an overly personal exercise. It feels like opening up more than I want to. Also, all of the potential explanations seem too lengthy. I want for a simple, concise, and friendly way to get the message across. Saying that "I'm not in the mood to hang out" seems like it would invite too many questions. It might also appear to be too harsh; I'm not a harsh person, despite how I may come across, and I don't want to come across that way.

So how is it done? How do you turn invitations down without:
  1. Being an ass, or
  2. Being too personal, or
  3. Making others more curious, or
  4. Lying outright

If it's an impossible task, then maybe I can understand why many introverts come across as cold. Of the four options above, being an ass does seem like the easiest solution.

Unfortunately, I think I tend to veer towards being too personal. It's a compulsion: I hate saying anything that I don't mean, and I certainly don't mean to hurt anyone. It's a wonder I speak at all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

On Behaving This Way

The following is a snippet from an an article that a fellow blogger pointed me to recently.

From http://research.similarminds.com/similarminds-personality-descriptions-are-too-negative:
The introvert 'class' behave the way they do (quiet, shy, private, etc.) because they...
  1. don't know who they are

    and/or

  2. intentionally want to hide who they are from others (because who they are is unattractive/offensive/etc. to others in perception and/or in reality AND/OR because they perceive some tactical advantage over others by not revealing their 'hand')

    and/or

  3. are afraid of / don't trust others,

Sigh. When a person is this wrong about introverts (at least in my opinion), I then begin to wonder whether I should find another label to go by. I can only speak for myself here, but none of the three items above describes me. Instead, I would say this:
  1. I know very well who I am, and probably more so than most people. I could likely attribute much of this to the very fact that I'm an introvert, which has given me more time to be introspective and to evaluate who I am.
  2. If and when I intentionally hide from others, it's because it feels good. But the truth is that I'm glad to be selective about who I show myself to, and when I do open up to someone I tend to give all that I can of myself.
  3. It's not fear that keeps me away from others. It's that I desire something else. I think what people see as being "afraid" is really a projection of their own anxieties.

Sometimes, I wish I didn't know what people thought of my behavior. I'm not likely to behave differently because of it, and being judged so wrongly certainly won't persuade me to hide any less. If anything, I'll end up reinforcing the wrong-headed ideas because of my utter lack of desire to associate with them.

Behaving this way is right for me. But I suppose I'll have to accept that not everyone sees it the same way.

 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Perhaps In A Parallel Universe

Imagine a world where the tendency to be social is viewed with suspicion.

In such a world, kids shun their talkative peers. Those who frequently gather in large groups are looked upon as strange. Children are discouraged from feeling drawn towards crowds and parties. Feeling overly social is discouraged in general. Adults, on the other hand, are encouraged to work alone rather than in teams. The loud and gregarious ones are chided.

In such a world, the entertainment industry is less glamorous, though still highly appreciated. Literature and science are far more advanced, and these things are more glamorous; the lone researchers and novelists are especially admired.

In such a world, being reserved is the norm, and it's a trait that's prized and nurtured. The leaders in society are the ones who are seen the least. They strive to say what they mean, and they tend to do so with few words. They're thoughtful and effective. They don't lead for the attention, but because there's value in it.

In such a world, the tendency to be social is pitied. Many people try to change you if you happen to be that way. If it weren't for the fact that science had advanced so far, being so social might even be considered a disease.

Imagine a world where those who tend to be "too social" are made to feel uncomfortable because of it. Perhaps in that world we can find understanding.

 

Diagnostics, Part 3: How Withdrawal Becomes Frightful

(see also: Part 1, Part 2)

The DSM group, which is currently working on revisions for the fifth version of the manual that describes mental disorders, has removed the proposal for the term "introversion" as one of the criteria for diagnosing schizotypal personality disorder. Unfortunately, they've simply replaced the term with another one, namely detachment. Although this is an improvement, it's not what I would call a solution.

They now refer to introversion as one and the same as detachment, (e.g., they say that "extraversion is the opposite of introversion, a.k.a. detachment)", and then they go on to describe detachment as a facet of Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This essentially means that introversion is a facet of the same disorder. In case you're curious, here's how detachment is characterized:

  1. Restricted affectivity: Little reaction to emotionally arousing situations; constricted emotional experience and expression; indifference or coldness.
  2. Withdrawal: Preference for being alone to being with others; reticence in social situations; avoidance of social contacts and activity; lack of initiation of social contact.

I'm not sure whether to be worried about these definitions or whether this is just a typical day in the life. My mind reels with questions about this proposal, but probably the detail that confuses me most is the inclusion of "withdrawal" -- especially as it's defined above. Though I understand that it's the combination of all (or most) of the listed characteristics that determines whether someone has a personality impairment, I just don't agree that all of the characteristics belong there. They're not relevant.

As I see it, withdrawal is an integral part of being an introvert. It's something that we need, and it feels good. It helps us to recharge, and to be ourselves. And yet it's said to potentially indicate something wrong in one's personality. So simply by being ourselves, we risk becoming diagnosed with a disease.

My conclusion from all of this is, as usual, that we live in an extrovert's world. Our world is defined by the ones who make the most noise. When people are afraid of something, they define it as a disease.

And, apparently, introverts inspire fear.

 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Diagnostics, Part 2: To View Inhaling With Suspicion

(see also: Part 1, Part 3)

This is old news (circa 2010), but I only came across it recently while trying to determine what the current view of American psychologists is about introversion. I found it astounding that, without most of us ever knowing about it, professionals in the psychology industry were proposing to use the term "introversion" as a criterion for diagnosing personality disorders.

Throughout the history of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), there have been many things wrongly classified as disorders. Homosexuality, for example, once appeared as a disorder in the DSM. Now it's introversion that's being misjudged.

This is what the New York Times had to say about the matter last year (2011):

The DSM inevitably reflects cultural attitudes; it used to identify homosexuality as a disease, too. Though the DSM did not set out to pathologize shyness, it risks doing so, and has twice come close to identifying introversion as a disorder, too. (Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shy people fear negative judgment; introverts simply prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments.)

In 2010, the group responsible for revising the DSM made the proposal that I mentioned above. Fortunately, there were other professionals who objected to introversion being used in such a manner. The following are two excellent letters by Hester Solomon of the IAAP, one to his own organization and the other to the DSM group, which voice his objections to this proposal in a beautiful way. Honestly beautiful.

From http://iaap.org/frontpage/archive/proposed-changes-to-dsm-v-introversion.html

Written by Hester Solomon
IAAP’s President Secretariat

11 May 2010

Dear Presidents and Individual Members of the IAAP

I am writing to let you know that the IAAP has made a submission to the DSM V Working Group on Personality Disorders. You may know that DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) is a very influential publication of the American Psychiatric Association used broadly by psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers in formulating diagnoses of mental illness and dysfunction within the community. Its influence is felt beyond the boarders of the USA, and its categorizations of mental illness have an important impact on patient diagnosis and treatment in many parts of the world.

Recently John Beebe brought to our attention that the DSM V Working Group, in its revision of DSM IV, is proposing to include the term ‘introversion’ as one of the criteria used to designate the category of ‘schizoid withdrawal’, making it one of the ‘trait domains’ indicative of personality disorder. With John’s help, we formulated a letter to the Working Group to put forward the rationale for not using the term ‘introversion’ in this way. This was forwarded to the Working Group and now appears on the APA website. The deadline for receiving such communications was 20 April 2010.

The IAAP’s response, together with this explanatory email, is being posted on the IAAP’s website in order to to keep you informed about our actions in this matter. As soon as the results of the Working Group’s deliberations are known, which may be towards the end of May, I will write again to inform you of the outcome.

I would be pleased if the Presidents of Member Groups would circulate this information to the members of their Societies.

With all my good wishes

Hester Solomon
President, IAAP

And then, even more inspiring, here's the submission to the DSM working group:

8 April 2010

Dear Dr. Skodol,

I am writing on behalf of the International Association for Analytical Psychology to urge that the term introversion not be used to identify the trait domain of personality functioning that can become, if carried to an extreme, a pathological syndrome of reclusiveness, withdrawal, and affective constriction. Introversion, a term introduced into psychiatry by C. G. Jung in 1909, has a long and varied history in personality theory, only a small part of which is captured in Theodore Millon’s otherwise extremely useful discrimination of the syndromes of personality disorder. Millon’s book, Disorders of Personality, has led many American psychiatrists and psychologists to accept the erroneous belief that introversion was simply the historical antecedent to the contemporary conception of schizoid personality disorder. Indeed, if one looks on the DSM-V website for a definition of introversion, one finds this proposed personality trait domain defined in exclusively negative terms: "Withdrawal from other people, ranging from intimate relationships to the world at large; restricted affective experience and expression; limited "hedonic capacity" with trait facets of "social withdrawal," "social detachment," "intimacy avoidance," "restricted affectivity," and "anhedonia".

This definition is transparently based on the current DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Schizoid Personality Disorder, and thus equates introversion with a pattern that has long been regarded as personality pathology. Under the proposed new terminology, the pattern defined as introversion is a trait domain, within a dimensional approach to diagnosis. While this approach does not insist that a personality displaying the trait of introversion is ipso facto pathological, unless the trait dominates the personality to an extreme degree, the clear implication of the definition is that extraversion is the sole basis of positive affectivity and healthy relationships with others. We believe this unjustified conclusion stems from the misuse of "introversion" as a term to represent a trait domain of detachment from social relationship and one’s own affects.

For many of us, the term "introversion" means the normal and psychologically essential process of introspection and reflection through which people define, evaluate, identify, and digest both outer and inner experience. Encouraging mental health professionals evaluating personality to write and think about introversion in negative terms would be analogous to asking internists evaluating patients to view inhaling with suspicion, because it is a compromise or absence of exhaling.

The International Association for Analytical Psychology represents approximately 3000 member analysts in 50 Institutes of Jungian Analysis around the world, and their influence is sufficiently felt through teaching, supervision, publication, and, of course, clinical work, to bring us in contact with many mental health practitioners who are working closely in psychotherapy with patients who happen to be introverted. It is clear to us that patients who need to connect positively with their inner lives will suffer if the very word "introversion," which has been a lifeline to many, becomes stigmatized as it would under the proposed DSM-V wording.

I want to thank you for letting us give input as part of your own hard work to get this right.

Sincerely,

Hester Solomon
President, IAAP

Amazing letter; few of us could have said it better. There's a lot to take in from this correspondence, but -- without question -- this is important stuff. As introverts, it seems that we should be included in such events. It would have eventually affected us in very crucial ways.

We're lucky that there are others watching out for us. Imagine what might happen to us without them!

 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Diagnostics, Part 1: The Dragon Tattoo View

(see also: Part 2, Part 3)

Friends of mine recently recommended a book by Stieg Larsson, and they explained that the writing style was different from anything they'd come across before. Though skeptical, I figured I'd give it a try; after all, anything that can inspire such enthusiasm is worth looking into.

It turned out to be a dark story told in a rapidly fluctuating manner, which I admit was interesting. What struck me most, though, were the references to introversion. Here's one of several:

By then her casebook was filled with such terms as introverted, socially inhibited, lacking in empathy, ego fixated, psychopathic and asocial behavior, difficulty in cooperating, and incapable of assimilating learning.

Excerpt from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson

I'm not the first to have noticed this. The passage refers to a psychological profile, and it includes introversion as an indicator for a highly questionable and likely disturbed personality. In other words, it's described in negative terms. This is just a work of fiction, but I'm sure authors can have more influence on what the general public perceives than almost anyone. What the public will think in this case is probably that introversion is something to be suspicious about.

I wondered whether this was a translation error, or whether introversion is viewed more negatively in other parts of the world and in other cultures. And then I wondered how American psychologists currently view the trait.

Personally, I don't think introversion should ever be included in a psychological profile. In my view, it'd be similar to describing someone as perfectly content. So why should it appear alongside terms such as "psychopathic?"

For me, introversion is a positive thing. At worst, it's a neutral thing: it simply is. It's confusing to see the term used in potentially negative ways.

I just don't get it.

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How To Lose An Introvert

Understand this: when an introvert is lost, it's usually in thought.

I imagine a scene like the following:

You, the introvert, are talking with a group of people, but you gradually recede into your head. The conversation continues while you process unrelated phenomena, facial expressions, body language, and the random bits of conversation that you are able to pick up. Without your noticing, the conversation eventually becomes about you.

"His eyes are glazed over," someone says.

"I think we're losing him," says another.

"Doctor," says yet another, "he's crashing! We need to resuscitate!"

Believe it: this kind of thing happens every day.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a habit of retreating inside myself -- not retreating because of some threat, but rather because it's where I go naturally. There's comfort inside. Thoughts become real there. Problems are solved there. And something there pulls me into myself, like gravity.

But sometimes the cause of my retreat is external. It always took very little prodding to send me back into myself.

Growing up, I noticed that certain situations would send me there more quickly than others. Personal remarks about me, especially, would trigger a retreat. For some reason, evaluating the truth of the remarks was a compulsion; I needed to understand why things were being said about me. Or I needed to understand something else about the situation. Being in large social gatherings would usually send me there, as well. I'd try to join in and follow along, but very soon I'd find myself failing. I would eventually conclude that I was being over-stimulated: there was just too much going on for me to process it all. Talk became noise. Faces became blurred. Or maybe I was simply too slow.

But after all these years, I've noticed a trend. There are certain kinds of statements, and certain kinds of situations, that will cause me to become lost in my own head. Some things incite me to dive into thought, and that's when I get lost. In fact, it's easy to lose an introvert.

Here's how:

  • Ask him how he feels, or whether he's happy, or ask some otherwise personal question, especially in a public setting
  • Tell him how he feels, or what he is, or who he is
  • Embarrass him
  • Judge him, or tell him that he's being evaluated
  • Have an argument, either with him or within close proximity to him
  • Bring a large gathering of people over to him and commence a conversation (or simply have everyone sing to him)

If he's not lost within moments of any of these events, he soon will be. And it will probably take some time for him to recover. If your goal is to witness an introvert becoming lost, these things will usually do the trick.

All joking aside, however, I have developed some defenses over the years; I'm guessing that most introverts have. When I was young, I would simply recede without understanding why. Since then, I've figured out ways to avoid sinking into my head. I decided at some point that I needed to remain present and available to interact with people, though it wasn't easy to adjust.

My primary defense is actually embarrassing to admit: Whenever I'm with a large group of people, I often only "half listen" to the various conversations. Terrible, I know. I block out the noise, as if I'm speed-reading. I don't even hear much of what's being said -- which is an entirely different problem, of course, but frequently an unimportant one, since much of what people say tends to be filler. What I've noticed is that I can usually pick up on the things that I should be listening to. I can usually tell when someone is being sincere, or serious, or genuine. I can tell when it's not just filler, in other words. I do worry that I miss a lot by defending myself, and I'm ashamed about not being fully there for others, but it's what I've needed in order to cope.

It's what I do in order not to get lost. Or at least not too lost.

A secondary defense is to do what other people do: provide filler. To (more or less) provide meaningless answers. It's something that goes against my nature, and it's a method that I rarely employ, but it's the simplest way to respond. It's the simplest way to remain on the surface, and to remain present, even if it never feels right. Unfortunately, since this tactic doesn't come naturally, I sometimes stumble with words while in the process of trying to use it.

On the flip side, I only use these defenses when I need to. When I'm with a friend or in an intimate setting, I always try to be fully there. I always try to be completely honest and genuine. Most likely, I'm even more fully there and more intensely in tune with the conversation than the friend that I'm with. It's one of the markers of being introverted. We excel during small gatherings.

In any case, despite how easy it is to lose an introvert, I don't really recommend it. Instead, try to keep him there with you. It's surely worthwhile.



End note: I'm guessing there are many other ways to lose an introvert. If you'd like to offer any up, please do. I'd enjoy receiving them.

 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Typecast

Although I don't put much stock into this stuff, I've been asked several times what my personality type is, and I thought I'd provide an answer here. Most of the tests I've taken tell me that I fit into the INFJ (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging) type. Here's how various sites describe the INFJ:

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), (http://www.myersbriggs.org/)
    Seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material possessions. Want to understand what motivates people and are insightful about others. Conscientious and committed to their firm values. Develop a clear vision about how best to serve the common good. Organized and decisive in implementing their vision.
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter, (http://www.keirsey.com/)
    Described as a "counselor".
  • Estimated frequency of INFJ males in the U.S., (http://www.capt.org/)
    Approximately 1-2%.

While I find these theories very interesting, and while I even consider many of the descriptions fitting, they're ultimately no more than stereotypes. They can be useful, of course, but only as useful as any pattern can be. Though I'm likely to be a certain way on a day-to-day basis, I'm not restricted to being that way. I think of the personality types system as one of many possible perspectives, and trying to make myself fit into one type is like trying to see myself through someone else's eyes. It can be fun (and insightful) to try, but in the end another person's perspective is limited.

And I prefer not to be so limited.

 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dear Zeri: On Not Giving Enough

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hey Zeri,

I got to your Extreme Introversion blog by Googling something along the lines of "how to relate to people with Asperger's", and I've found your posts very interesting. You haven't blogged for a couple of months now, so I guess I'm not going to be surprised if you don't respond to my email. I've read a good chunk of both of your blogs, and it seems striking to me the lack of mention of a girlfriend/wife/significant other. Which perhaps is connected with why I was Googling the above phrase to begin with. I lean more so towards introversion myself, but lately I've been dealing with someone whose social needs are perhaps the most diminutive of anyone I've ever encountered. Consequently I feel rather neglected - I understand on a conceptual level that it's not that I am unappreciated, it is merely that his need for socializing is less relative to mine. Have you ever experienced something like that? Where it was expressed to you that you weren't "giving" enough? How can I avoid being overly clingy but not compromise on my personal needs?

I recognize that you might not have an answer for my issue... but your perspective would be much appreciated.

Best,
J



Monday, December 12, 2011

Hi J --

First, I should say that the circumstances you're describing are the opposite from what I generally experience, and the best advice I could offer is to point you elsewhere (e.g., to a book). I haven't read the book, and so I can't truly recommend it, but you might find some useful tidbits in it. Look up the title "The Introvert and Extrovert in Love: Making It Work When Opposites Attract". I've read parts of another book by Marti Laney; not all of it was relevant, but I found some good advice there. If you do read it, please let me know what you think.

As for my own perspective, I'll say that I'm almost always the more introverted partner in my relationships. Thus, I'm sure that I tend to make the one I'm with feel neglected rather than the other way around. But I've dated introverts, too, and so I do have a sense of what it might be like from their perspective. I know what it's like to feel too needy, in other words.

Though it's different with everyone, I personally doubt that being clingy is a bad thing. I know that it can get overwhelming, on a very basic level, to not be able to "escape" from the outside world, but -- despite how it may appear -- the positive attention is always a good thing. If I were to give advice about clinginess, it would be: 1) don't stop, but 2) be gentle about it. Be persistent, but don't fight about it if you can avoid it.

About not giving enough: yes, that's a constant struggle. The key, I'm guessing, is in communication. And, as it is with all relationships, the key is also in being patient. It takes time to understand how to provide for another person's needs, and we're often resistant to trying. Plus, I can say from experience that it's easy to misunderstand that a partner actually needs something to be happy; it's easy to miss that sort of thing, or to interpret it as a want, or even as a complaint. It's good to make sure that you both know what you need, and the only thing for that is communication. And then, of course, the patience that it takes to grow into the role of providing it.

Anyway, thanks for writing. If you were looking for information directly related to Asperger's, I'm sure there are far better resources. Good luck with working things out.

... Zeri