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.



sparris said...

I think maybe the reason introversion is viewed with such suspicion by the rest of the world is because when people go off by themselves others don't know what they're doing in their solitude, and that feels threatening. Sorry if it's not very well formulated, it only struck me just now.
I don't think the book is poorly translated(haven't read either version yet though) and Sweden is friendlier to introverts than the U.S. I'd say it's the author's own prejudice we're seeing, unfortunately.

Zeri Kyd said...

Sparris, you're probably right about how threatening it can feel not to know things. Thanks for your input about the book, too; I was very curious about the Swedish perspective.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's easy as an introvert to project some insecurities regarding how we interpret such writing extracts.

I haven't read the book, but I have seen the series of Swedish film's. I find what you're saying interesting because I must have made an assumption while watching the films, regarding the psychologist who would have carried out the assessment of Lisbeth as being the abuser of her; the guy who rapes her; and therefore the "professionals" around her are being lied to based on the reports written regarding her behavior anyway.

So basically she is being cheated, and those around her are being cheated at least in terms of their gained ideas, which effect their experiences of her, and we the reader or viewer know the secret, whereas obviously the majority of the characters in the story don't. They do not assess her character with eyes independent of other peoples judgments.

We the viewer know who Lisbeth really is, and that she is essentially motivated by goals that are reasonable (she is motivated to protect herself, to survive) - this being the reason that I don't think she is portrayed, or her traits necessarily as bad. Maybe this kind of depiction makes the viewer more likely to question their understandings of character, and inherent motivators of behavior? I think she is quite likeable. haha.

She is also pretty extreme as far as characters of novels go. I haven't met any Lisbeth Salanders yet, at least amongst the introverts I have met.

She is justified in her behavior, and special because of the experiences that we may interpret define who she is, and who she becomes. She is depicted as essentially having been damaged, and that it is the damaging experiences she has endured that make her "special". But she seems very sound of mind too - just extremely diligent in her methods of acquiring individualism.

She seems quite heroic in my eyes. But that is my interpretation, so you're right that to others they would perhaps gain a very different idea, in terms of the parts that make up the bigger picture of her as a character, I don't know.

Still you're right that, it's the judgment, the words, or labels used to describe her that ultimately play a part in hindering her ability to be a ghost; as others pick up on the fact that she is highly competent, and is anti-social, and that besides making her very different, seems to permit people to make certain judgments. I've read that generally people don't appreciate such an anomoly in their environment... :) And so take pleasure if they can in debasing the very qualities that one may admire at a distance; while reading a book for instance or watching a film . . . haha. Extroverts like to read too!

Anyway, I think overall she is a hero figure. And that in itself, interestingly, at least as far as I have observed, is perceived as threatening by others when somewhat naturally projecting certain notions upon strangers, one may not be able to quite work out, or compare to in terms of self-esteem, and that goes irrespective of what authoritative labels can be stuck to a person.

Zeri Kyd said...

Hi, Jenna, thanks for the thoughtful comment. You make some very good points.

Though I don't know for sure, the movie is probably different from the book -- I get that impression from the way you describe Lisbeth. While I'd agree that she's heroic in many ways, she's also extremely violent and remorseless; whether or not the objects of her destruction (and invasion) are deserving of it, she's undeniably dangerous. That's what bothers me primarily: introversion appears to be, in the book at least, closely associated with psychotic behaviors.

Also, even though Lisbeth may be introverted (I have no qualms with accepting that), I just don't believe the trait belongs in a negatively-slanted psychological profile.

As for her motivations for behaving the way that she does, I can definitely agree that they're understandable. But I don't think people are motivated to be introverted; we just are.

Anyway, thanks again. Your thoughts were much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

I will have to read the books!

Here's something you might find interesting too;

"Unfortunately, based on the actual evidence, I have to conclude that many aspects traditionally associated with introversion are in fact serious psychological dysfunctions (not that excessive extroversion isn't also rife with issues). For example, being private can mean being afraid to show others who you really are (often because you don't even know who you are). How anyone could spin that as a positive is testimony to the marketing greed of personality test companies or good intentioned people pleasing of the Accommodating disposition.

Which brings up another flaw regarding introversion (and extroversion as well). It's not a distinct type, it's, at best, a classification of a superficial shared behavioral pattern. A useful personality type has one shared motive, a classification is merely a grouping of superficially similar behaving people who lack a shared motive for that superficial behavior."

I understand that in some ways the behaviors that characterize introversion are instinctual, in the sense that our brains are wired differently.

I like the jungian personality system for the reason that instead of seeing a "type" as essentially maligned by society, that for each "type" one views the darker aspect of ones personality. I don't get the sense that negative traits are exclusive to a type.

I just found these this morning, also interesting!

Thanks for your thoughts and engagement! :)

Anonymous said...

"I understand that in some ways the behaviors that characterize introversion are instinctual, in the sense that our brains are wired differently."

What I meant by this is just that who ever you are, and how you are being defined there is always room for growth.

A very close friend of mine, "suffered" with his introversion, for a large part of his life, but somehow he changed his self, so he could enjoy his life more, so now he expresses his self, as an extraverted introvert, which I find interesting.

I think he took time out, living in a buddhist centre for a good few years; and the experience changed something in him; his approach to living.

Zeri Kyd said...



That article (from makes me sad. It's another example of how introversion is misconstrued. Just because it's easy to lump schizoid personality disorder and introversion together doesn't mean it should be done. Though this author seems to prefer the word introversion, what he describes appears to be more in line with a schizoidal personality (even bordering on sociopathic). And though he makes claims for the scientific nature of his results, it's easy for a person to mistake what they think they're measuring for something else entirely. In other words, some tests might be intended to measure introversion but really are measuring another thing instead.

In order to measure introversion accurately, we need to understand it first. As far as I can tell, there is no consensus as to what introversion is. The tendency to be reserved is really the only part of introversion that everyone seems to agree on.

Another point is that the author of this article describes his own self-hatred as though it has something to do with introversion; in my opinion, self-hatred has nothing to do with being an introvert! Perhaps the author should consider that he has issues that are unrelated rather than lump the two things together.

He also lists the reasons for an introvert's behaviors as if he knows the reasons for certain. This seems irresponsible, and it also seems truly arrogant. His three reasons for an introvert behaving in a private manner are, in my opinion, very far from the truth. I, for one, don't relate to any one his three reasons.

This is how misconceptions about introversion arise. It's like using the words shy and introverted interchangeably. Or like using the words up and north interchangeably. Though they describe two different things, we tend to be indisriminate with our language.

As for your friend, I only have one comment: no one "suffers" from introversion. We suffer, perhaps, from being treated badly because of it, but not from being introverted. If your friend was truly an introvert, then I'm sorry that he's trying to act like an extrovert (that must be a huge burden); if he was suffering from something else, on the other hand, then good for him for finding peace.

Once again, thanks for submitting some very interesting essays. They've been thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

"In order to measure introversion accurately, we need to understand it first. As far as I can tell, there is no consensus as to what introversion is. The tendency to be reserved is really the only part of introversion that everyone seems to agree on."

I agree with you.

"As for your friend, I only have one comment: no one "suffers" from introversion. We suffer, perhaps, from being treated badly because of it, but not from being introverted. If your friend was truly an introvert, then I'm sorry that he's trying to act like an extrovert (that must be a huge burden); if he was suffering from something else, on the other hand, then good for him for finding peace."

He is truly an introvert.

He spent 10 years in a Buddhist centre; which takes a certain mentality to endure, if that's the right expression; I mean in terms of discipline, and being content in constricting ones world, in a sense.

I guess what I meant by referring to him as having "suffered with his introversion", is that he was uncomfortable being around people; he is very quiet, reserved, reflective, and an observer.

I think one can use certain methods, to be more comfortable with ones introversion. He felt intense anxiety, which was a result of picking up too much energy from others, I think this is a result of his introversion, not how others perceive and respond to him necessarily.

Zeri Kyd said...

Hi, Jenna, I didn't mean to imply that your friend wasn't suffering. I apologize if I came across too harshly.

I think what you're describing about your friend doesn't sound like introversion. He may very well be so, but "fear" and "intense anxiety" doesn't describe introversion (historically, anyway); I'd say your description sounds closer to an avoidant personality disorder (

In any case, I don't really want to define introversion for others. Here in this blog, I mainly intend to write about what my perceptions have been.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zeri,

"I apologize if I came across too harshly."

Not at all!

Perhaps you're right and he had some other issues going on, that are not a consequence of his introversion. I didn't know him at that the time that he experienced such difficulties. He is also much older than me, by over 20 years.

It's interesting anyway. We are multifaceted creatures, and not so easy to define, or describe in a generic way, I guess. There seems to be many influences contributing to our character.

By chance, I found this article today which you might find interesting;

I think you have a great blog by the way!


Zeri Kyd said...

Thanks again, Jenna. Related to the article, I also have an entry in mind about my experience with inheriting introversion. I'll eventually publish something on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zeri,

Just found the following article on my meanderings, thought it might interest you. Tis one of my favorite blogs, you'll probably find interesting too.



Anonymous said...

Oh, just one more!

Zeri Kyd said...

Jenna, when I went to check out the first blog that you linked, I confess that I was distracted by the articles about butter. :-) His does seem like an interesting blog, though. I'll check back now and then.

I like that Csikszentmihalyi was quoted in your second link. Some of his writing seems more "spiritual" than scientific, but I enjoy reading his work, anyway. Though I can imagine someone fluctuating between introversion and extroversion, it's hard to conceive of someone who was being extremely introverted and extremely extroverted at the same moment.

By the way, feel free to write to me by email ( if you come across anything more you like to share.