The popular conception of introversion pisses me off

The new Idea Channel is about introversion -- specifically, about the fetishization of introversion and some of the reasons it happens.  I'm pretty thrilled that he came out with this video, because it gives me an excuse to rant about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy.*

I just took an online Myers-Briggs test, because Mike talks about it a lot in the video, and it plays pretty heavily in the article he quoted:

We worked diligently and with enthusiasm, and perhaps unsurprisingly (given the way our culture socializes girls), all three of us tested identically: At the time, we all came out INFP.

And we rejoiced. Suddenly, we had answers. We weren’t outcasts or “nerds” [...] oh no: we were a rare personality type, one that the book said makes up only one percent of the entire human population.

I quote that section in particular because I got INFP when I took the test just now.  I, too, got the rarest personality type, apparently.

Here's the thing, though: I just got dropped into Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving -- rather than Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, on the basis of these numbers:

Introverted / Extroverted: 55.88% / 44.12%  (11.76% difference) Intuitive / Sensing: 65.63% / 34.38%  (31.25% difference) Feeling / Thinking: 56.57% / 43.33%  (13.24% difference) Perceiving / Judging: 54.17% / 45.83%  (8.34% difference)

The biggest difference there is between intuitive and sensing, which surprises me, but w/e.  That's not the point.  The point is -- and, I know people love to point out that we're supposed to interpret the results as being about a spectrum -- the point is that the Myers Briggs ratings push people into a set of sixteen categories that (a.) hint at a complexity that isn't there, (b.) stampede over the complexity that is there, (c.) encourage people to embrace more unnecessary binaries in their identity, and (d.) attempt to (i.) normalize things that should perhaps not be normalized, and (ii.) force a normative structure on personality in general.

I've thought a lot about why this all pisses me off -- and there's some pretty good stuff in the above-and-here-linked article about the problems with the introvert meme, as distinguished from introversion as a clinical term -- and here are some of my conclusions.

  1. I'm not an introvert.  I'm not an extrovert, either.  I'm not sure the conventional definition, introverts are drained by social interaction and energized by time alone, whereas extroverts are energized by social interaction and drained by time alone, is in any way sensible to describe my experience of the world.  You know what I find draining?  Exertion, sleeplessness, fear, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, I could go on... You know what I don't find draining?  Being around other people -- OR -- spending time by myself.
  2. The popularity of this dichotomy has, I think, discouraged me -- and probably discouraged other people -- from acknowledging anxiety problems.  Instead of asking, "Do I feel more energized or more drained when I spend time around people?"  There are a lot of times I should have been asking, "Did I feel afraid just then?  When?  Why?"  What would probably have emerged was a fear of isolation, of rejection, of embarrassment, that made my social interactions difficult and my time alone painful, neither of which have anything to do with whether I'm more or less socially inclined.
  3. I have for long periods of time felt caught between two standards, against both of which I was failing.  In one, I'm an academic, bookworm, loner, sitting quietly in dark rooms with books written by Russians.  In the other, I keep up with my friendships, go out a lot, dance, sing karaoke, and drink at parties all the time.  Neither standard makes any particular amount of sense, neither describes more than, like, one person I know, tops, and I felt like I was failing to live up to both of them.

The introvert/extrovert narrative bothers me for a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest one was that it encouraged me to identify with my mental illnesses, and fail to seek help.  It tells a story in which all my experiences are supposed to fit into one kind of healthy or another, that things that should have been symptoms got treated like normal parts of a personality.

I'm not rejecting the existence of introverts, and I certainly don't want people who just like being alone to be treated like they're ill.  But neither do I want symptoms, things like fear and anxiety and hopelessness and inability to get out of bed, to be glorified as a kind of superiority.

*No, I don't need an excuse to write about whatever I want on my blog.  Yes, I do still feel like I need an excuse to write about the stuff I already want to write about.  It would be easier to blog if I could get over that.