Introversion and extroversion became part of Carl Jung’s typology, a theory of psychological types defined by three dichotomies in ‘The Collected Works of C. G. Jung’ published in 1921, his works were extrapolated and expanded to include a fourth dichotomy and this became the basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric questionnaire for understanding human behaviour. The purpose of this test is to make Jung’s typology understandable and usable in helping people develop constructive and positive changes in their lives by coming to an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
There are many definitions for introvert and several will have you believe that an introvert is a shy, reticent person, and while some introverts are shy, this is a misconception. It is important to remember that introversion isn’t a personality flaw but a character trait, and is not the same as social phobia. The main difference between introverts and extroverts is the source of their energy, extroverts thrive on social interaction and external factors, whereas the introvert thrives on solitude, creative pursuits and introspection. All humans fall somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale, we all have a propensity to lean one way or the other, however no one will be 100% either way, as Jung put it, “there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert; such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”
However the modern world and society is geared toward the extrovert and yet it is estimated that the worldwide figures for introverts is 1/3 to 1/2 of the population. We tend to think of extroverts as the movers, shakers and reformers. But look again, many great achievers are introverts, think Barack Obama, J. K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. And while these famous introverts have done great things, it’s in a world skewed toward the extroverts strengths.
The world is a noisy place, and society today, embraces gregarious, chatty personalities, the brainstormers, the quick problem solvers, and overconfidence. Introverts are often seen as socially awkward, ruminating and dull, whereas the extrovert is sociable, friendly and outgoing, so right from the get go, the extrovert sounds more appealing. But would it surprise you to know that there are many extroverts that are shy and many introverts who love to socialize. While the gifts of extroverts seem to be obvious, introverts are excellent at the details, learning through observation, creative and solitary pursuits, and are considered to be thoughtful, self aware and empathetic.
Many of our writers, musicians, scientists, therapists, actors, computer/IT designers, and according to Buzzfeed professional Netflix binge watchers tend to be introverts. However introverts can be found in every profession, in boardrooms, offices, courtrooms, in fact anywhere, where minds meet and ideas are exchanged, introverts have much to give. With the extroverts confidence, enthusiasm and momentum, and the introverts attention to detail and creative thinking, just imagine what could be achieved.
The secret to my own personal contentment is self awareness and today I am a self confessed introvert, but for many years I forced myself to be other than what I truly was, in the belief that there was something wrong with me. I tried to be Superwoman, to be all things to all people, the ‘yes’ woman, committee member, volunteer extraordinaire and the life and soul of the party, in my efforts to fulfill my desire to be wanted and needed, but in the end I was left mentally exhausted, unhappy and unwell. When I stopped resenting and ignoring my introvertive nature, I found a wonderful inner peace. Today I still belong to committees, but they’re the groups where my gifts, talents and knowledge are recognized, valued and appreciated. I still attend parties and social events but carefully selected ones, and I love going out for dinner and movies and spending time with those I love, and some of those are incredibly wonderful inspiring extroverts. But when I feel the need to retreat, I now embrace it, enjoy it and nurture it, it energizes me and then I’m ready for my next great adventure.
I have recently started therapy, a ongoing attempt at re-connecting with myself. CBT with John on Tuesdays, a space to talk and explore. No egos hurt, no damage done. Last week, a compassionate letter to myself, I sat for ages looking at a blank piece of paper and all I could come up with was I’m a good mother and a loyal and loving friend. Pathetic! Difficult! Apparently this is common, somewhat comforting, misery does love company. This week it was social interaction and isolation, that opened deep wounds for me. Then art therapy with Sarah on Thursdays. Art therapy shows me I can do contented isolation well, I get absorbed in what I’m doing, as I caress the paper with my charcoal covered fingers and I forget all around me, I become calm and at ease with myself. I also do it well, when I snuggle into bed with my faithful companion, my Kindle. I get lost in the worlds of Bilbo Baggins, Elizabeth Bennet and Scout Finch and I feel my pain ease and my breathing slow.
I can feel myself sinking again, I’m turning back inside, the critical and angry me, the hyper-vigilant me, the despairing me. I’ve learnt how to recognize the signs, and I attempt to self isolate, although that doesn’t always work out, in an effort to avoid further damage to my already suffering friendships.
I think one of the greatest losers in depression is friendship, the desolation that depression brings affects everyone. I find myself now very isolated, my children are grown up and I rarely see them. My family a long way away, my friends are few and even fewer are my close friends. And over the months I feel some backing away, retreating somewhat to protect themselves, I get this, I don’t blame them, I was horrendous, I only hope that when this is all over, I can regain what I’ve lost. My friends are precious to me, to me they’re my family and family is everything.
I lost Liz at this time to sudden death, the ultimate isolation. I get so angry with her, then I think of the senselessness and futility of this and I get angry with myself. I still see her face everywhere, and sometimes I forget she’s gone and I smile and start walking towards her and then I remember. I’m exploring my grief in therapy but sometimes I feel I’m moving backwards.
I know the greatest gift I can give myself is contentedness in my own company, the gift of being alone not lonely, see I know this, but doing it is something altogether different.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
People come into our lives for lots of reasons, some say for a lifetime, a season or a reason.
My friendship with Liz lasted a lifetime. Her sudden passing this weekend, has left all who knew and loved her, heartbroken and desperately seeking an answer to why. For me, for the rest of my life she has taken a special place in my heart, thoughts and soul.
I find myself a day after her beautiful and simple funeral, utterly bereft. I spent the day in quiet solitude, thinking of her laugh, her smile and her last words to me on Saturday. I chose to turn to writing, and hopefully gain some peace from that.
I’ve known Liz for years, her daughter and my children having gone to primary school together, but I only really got to know her well about six years ago, when I started piano lessons, and this quickly became a deep friendship that grew and grew. A friendship of mutual respect and admiration, of shared passions and of sheer enjoyment in each other’s company.
Liz was a wonderful musician, an exquisite pianist and I loved to watch her play. Her beautiful long fingers danced across the keys, her eyes closed gently and her body swayed as she played. The beautiful music singing not only from the piano but from her very being, her lovely spirit.
And then it was my turn, and the spell was broken.
“It’s the C, Gill.” “Oh the other C.” “You weren’t playing the C.” “Are you sure about that, Liz.” “Fairly sure, Gill.”
“That’s lovely, Gill, but it’s not what the composer wrote.” “Mine’s Better, Liz.” “Undoubtedly, but as he went to so much trouble to write it his way, we should probably respect that and try our best to follow his score.” We would both then dissolve into laughter and tears of laughter until many minutes had passed before we could resume again.
But my favourites times with Liz, were the coffees, occasional meals together, or the glasses of wine in her favourite room, looking out over the stars and city lights, surrounded by her childhood piano and her much loved books. And we would sit late into the night discussing music, books, family, life and love.
I was with Liz two weeks ago, when her last student was finishing up, and she said to me, “Ah Gill, look at the beautiful gift I got.” And she showed me a beautiful bunch of roses. “And Gill, we must have a coffee from my new machine, it’s second hand but it’s brilliant. It makes lovely coffee and we must share one.” Last week, when we met again, it was, “Ah Gill, look at my lovely new sandals, they are so comfortable.” And her face lit up again, like a child on Christmas morning.
That was my friend Liz, such joy in the simple pleasures of life. A gentle honesty, generosity of spirit, such calm dignity, living life so passionately, and sending lovely picture messages which always seemed to come at just the right time.
I stood again in her favourite room, Monday evening, looking down on her coffin, grief stricken and in shock. Her daughter leaned into me, took my hand and shared with me, her mother’s feelings for me. I will hug them to me for rest of my life. But I wondered too, did she know how special she was to me. Did I tell her enough. We all think we have so much time.
Yseult said to me Monday, “Gill, Mum was a donor and she saved six lives, isn’t that wonderful. And it is, and back in February, at one of the darkest times in my life, her gentle coaxing of me, back to piano and something to focus on helped to save mine.
I have much to be grateful for, all these people in the world, and Liz and I connected. In time too, all my lovely memories of her will bring me great joy. And I will think of her as I look at the stars, a shining light that once blazed here on earth is now twinkling down on me from the heavens.