Living Within But Certainly Not Without
Article written by Randi G. Fine, originally posted on Life As A Human on Oct. 18, 2012.
In my previous article, “Say It Loud I’m An Introvert and Proud,” I identified myself as a newly realized introvert and tried to dispel some of the common myths about having that type of personality. The recently acquired epiphany has piqued my curiosity about the underlying causes of introversion.
I was a “shy” child, though I was probably mislabeled as such. As a very young child I was particularly afraid of men. Their attention felt inappropriate even though they did nothing overtly wrong. I know that to be true because I was never left alone with them. But I do recall being told I looked sexy in my ballet costume at six or so years old by a male family friend who was trying to be “cute.” He said it in front of my mother whose lap I was probably sitting on. She thought his comment was adorable. I distinctly remember bursting into tears.
In hindsight, I now suspect that my early fear of men was something I had carried over from a previous incarnation. But there is another strange component to my phobia; as my life played out it became apparent that my childhood fear had been a premonition of what was to come. Overt sexual attention by random men, never anyone I knew, plagued me well into my twenties. Some of the attention I received was creepy but not harmful, some very damaging.
That attention seemed to spill over, cause jealousy, and negatively impact my friendships with other girls. Though I cannot blame it all on jealousy, I do have a long history of females treating me poorly and seriously hurting my feelings.
So the questions become, “Was I particularly sensitive and intuitive because I was a born an introvert, or did I learn to withdraw and put up walls as a way to shield myself from the onslaught of painful relationships and inappropriate personal intrusion?”
When I ponder those questions I realize that though my emotional walls were up for many years, they currently function appropriately. Curiously that has not changed my introverted personality.
As I mentioned in my last article, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was the one who originally coined the term introversion. I have since learned something very interesting about his philosophy. Jung attributed the introvert’s personality to the inward flow of psychic energy, opposite of the extrovert’s psychic energy that he claimed flowed outward.He believed that psychic energies flowing inward create a sensitive person, one who more easily absorbs the energies around him, one who is turned inward. That explains the etymology of the word introvert. It comes from two Latin words; “intro” meaning inward and “vertere” meaning to turn.
Jung has offered an intriguing theory but it is scientifically unsupported. That is understandable given the intangibility of his reasoning.
There are, however, more concrete explanations. Scientists have determined that introversion is related to the nervous system, more specifically to variables in cortical arousal. Their studies have shown that extroverts are cortically under stimulated, therefore must seek external stimuli to maintain optimum brain function levels, whereas introverts are more cortically aroused, therefore require less external stimulation. That is why extroverts require outside excitement and introverts do not.
Though it may appear to others that introverts have less excitement in their lives than extroverts, science proves that they actually have more. We are the complete package. I find that very empowering.
Innumerable studies have determined that there is also a substantial genetic component to the introvert/extrovert personality. There is evidence that we are born predisposed one way or the other.
If that is the case with me, my introversion must have come from a mutated or recessive gene. I am the only person in my family that is introverted. Both my parents and two sisters enjoy highly social lives. I am an anomaly.
I have also examined it another way. My childhood home was an emotionally unpredictable environment with poorly defined boundaries. The only safety I felt was the safety I generated from within—actually it was the emotional walls I built inside myself and hid behind.
Could that explain my propensity for introversion? It seems logical but I don’t see how that could be the case. My sisters grew up in the same environment yet were not impacted the same way I was. Neither of them is introverted.
Perhaps it is my positioning within the family. It is possible that my placement as the youngest of three children had something to do with my introversion, though I cannot imagine where that component fits in.
There are a multitude of factors that influence our character. I suppose it may all come down to the nature versus nurture argument. Then again perhaps it does not. Maybe Carl Jung was onto something when he attributed introversion to the inflow of psychic energy. I believe that we are spiritual beings living in physical bodies and that there is much we cannot see that influences our lives.
The bottom line is that it does not really matter where our introversion comes from. We probably will never know. What is important is that we embrace it as a gift. Yes…introversion is a gift. Others may choose to view it as an inadequacy but we now know better. Introverts have more stimulation in their lives than extroverts do, not less. That has been scientifically proven.
We are very fortunate. As introverts we have the ability to experience the extrovert’s world whenever and however we want to. Our world of quiet, deep introspection is one they will never know. Our gift is one we should be ever grateful for.
What is your perspective? Feel free to leave comments and express your point of view.