Introvert vs. Extrovert: Mental Health

As an introvert I have been made to feel many times that my ways are unhealthy or that I am even borderline mentally ill.  My values and priorities are so alien to them that they naturally assume something is wrong with me.  Worst is when they try to intervene and ‘fix’ me!

Never does it seem to occur to them that many of their behaviors are strange and disturbing from the introvert point of view.

What I notice most about extroverts is their almost compulsive need for constant stimulation.  There’s this upset stomach look that comes across an extrovert’s face when they’ve no one(or even not enough people) to talk to.  What happens next?  Stimulation, any kind from anywhere.   As introverts, we’ve ended up in cars and at restaurants with someone to whom we just couldn’t give enough interaction.  It’s an annoying and heavy burden of responsibility.  Most of us are not willing to babysit a grown person.  The extrovert gets desperate, starts talking about pointless stuff, which causes an introvert to disengage entirely.  We’ve seen what happens when an extrovert gets stuck in their nightmare scenario:

-The cell phone immediately comes out.  Anyone who will say anything to them will do.
-Next step is loud music.  The louder the better.  Somehow this is soothing.   The sheer white noise seems to fulfill some deep set need.
-The extrovert in question starts talking as loudly as possible, almost to the point of shouting in order to stimulate themselves.  They don’t usually seem to conscious of doing this.   In the case I’m forced to ask them to tone it down a little, they usually seem genuinely surprised at my request.
-Extreme fidgeting, finger snapping, knee slapping, humming to themselves.  Often in conjunction with very loud music.  By itself, it’s something of a last resort.  When it reaches that point, I sometimes wonder if they’re going to snap.
-Amazingly, sometimes interaction deprivation(especially if prolonged) causes them to be quiet.  Uncharacteristically quiet.  When this happens they turn sullen and depressed.  So much so that their dark mood practically fills a room.

Now, tons of extroverts have supposed there’s something wrong with me, but I have to wonder which way is unhealthy?  It seems that the extrovert requires constant distraction from their own selves.  That doesn’t seem like an indicator of good mental health!
-I have to wonder, what are they perpetually running from?
-Is it boredom from being forced to engage an underdeveloped inner life?
-Is it simply an unfilled vacuum, deferred questions, unaddressed personal insecurities that they must suddenly face?
-If it is that awful to spend time with yourself, doesn’t that strongly suggest you don’t like yourself very much?

They literally cannot live with themselves and I think by projecting their needs upon me suppose I must be thoroughly wrecked in the head by not constantly socializing.  I quite realize that extrovert has very different needs from my own.   I also realize that extrovert is incapable of empathizing with me.

I, the warped, sick, mentally ill introvert am at peace with myself, I enjoy just being me.   In spite of this I recognize that other people have other needs.  I don’t have to overload my system to feel happy and stimulated by the world around me.

The healthy, outgoing, achieving extrovert
-writhes in agony when forced to live in their thoughts
-can enjoy interaction with others but not themselves
-is unable to empathize with non-extroverts in spite of their fascination with other people.

Most worrisome of all, the extrovert has a relationship with sheer volume and noise of stimulation that follows a pattern very like chemical addiction.  They are physically incapable of living without regular ‘fixes.’  They have to keep upping the volume because their tolerance is sky high.

Frankly, I find it a little disturbing that I’ve just described the sort of person who is thought to be the epitome of ‘having things together’ in our society.

In a mass society where most people are strangers, those most determined to break the ice and engage in networking win.   Thus, I suspect that those most determined to project themselves outwards are naturally those trying hardest to escape from themselves.

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

Introvert vs. Extrovert: Mental Health appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

related (in at least some cases): Keep Moving (Mimi and Eunice)

on 06/20/11 in featured, Society | 2 Comments | Read More

Comments (2)


  1. Jeff says:

    Hi Zygmunt.

    I think that the “extrovert” people you refer to are just stupid people. As Schopenhauer said: “The quantity of noise anyone can comfortably endure is in inverse proportion to his mental powers.”

  2. Mark Stairwalt says:

    I believe I read somewhere recently that intelligence does in fact tend to be higher in introverts. Just as Stephen Colbert complains that reality has a liberal bias, extroverts may well complain that intelligence has an introvert bias.

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