By: S. Franco
Are you an introvert, or an extrovert? Personally, I am an extrovert, but what does this in fact mean, and how can I be sure that this definition of myself is accurate?
Particularly with the rise of social media, many people have taken to personality tests to discover information such as this. In fact, one specific personality test, known as the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, is taken by 2 million people per year. Evidently, condensing your personality into the labels of 'introvert' and 'extrovert' has become quite popular. And to understand why, it is also interesting to study the history of these terms, in addition to recent developments pertaining to them.
Dr. Carl Jung and Personality Types
Each of these terms was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, in his book entitled Personality Types published in 1921. Here, Jung defined several distinct personality types, in which the words 'introvert' and 'extrovert' were mentioned. These are both derived from Latin, 'intro' meaning 'to the inside/internal', and 'extro' meaning 'to the outside/external'. And the term 'Vertere' means 'to turn to'. Thus, 'introvert' outlines one who 'turns to the inside' or is more reserved and perhaps quieter, whilst 'extrovert' describes one who 'turns to the outside', or is sociable, and seeks approval from others. Both personality types have their advantages and disadvantages, being that introverts are less likely to take risks, and are described as being more 'introspective'. However, it is also found that such introverts are more prone to mental and emotional disorders such as depression. Inversely, extroverts are much more probable to take risks in order to achieve greater rewards, with higher levels of dopamine release in the brain. Although, as a result, they are also most likely to fall into substance abuse and gambling addictions.
Now, people all over the world have taken to labelling themselves as one particular personality type.
Carl Jung and Sigmond Freud
To understand more about Carl Jung's views on personality types, it is important to delve into his relationship with the infamous member of the psychological world, Dr. Sigmond Freud. The pair met in Vienna, in February of 1907, and upon their meeting, discussed the theory and practice of the psychological field for 13 hours straight.
The two the developed an intense relationship that often danced upon the line of friendship and rivalry, exchanging frequent correspondence. Freud even prepared to appoint Jung as the heir apparent to the emerging psychoanalytical movement. Nevertheless, each had juxtaposed ideas appertaining to certain theories, and hence, fell into several disagreements. Freud studied repressed trauma and 'the ego', meanwhile Jung was fascinated by dreams and spirituality. In 1913 however, one of their disputes would end forever their friendship. Freud eventually wrote to Jung, stating they should "abandon our [their] personal relations entirely. I [Freud] shall lose nothing by it, for my [his] only emotional tie with you [Jung] has been a long, thin thread, the lingering effect of past disappointments." After this, they never again saw each other again, much to Jung's dismay, being that Freud to him, was not only a companion but a father figure, Freud being 20 years Jung's senior.
In spite of this, Jung's disagreements with Freud led him to an important series of reflections. Jung wondered: how could two people perceive the exact same set of facts and draw utterly differing conclusion. The psychiatrist was then motivated to further investigate the topic of personality and determine the infamous personality types of 'introvert' and 'extrovert'. After naming these types, Jung determined that he himself was an introvert, whilst Freud was most certainly an extrovert. He affirmed that "when he [Freud] had thought something, then it was settled, while I [Jung] was doubting all along the line. So from the very beginning, there was a discrepancy." Many continue to study Jung's ideas on personality and modify them so that they further apply to modern society.
Why are we so eager to define ourselves as one personality 'type'?
We humans adore labels. They appear to be 'the easy way out' and that always appeals to us. If we are told that it is possible to condense something as complex as the human psyche into one term that summarises it all, well, surely, we jump on the opportunity. See, many look to personality types to explain, or even justify their behaviour, or avoid delving into suppressed emotions or trauma that may lead us to do certain things. For instance, it is much easier for one to explain away their consistent desire to isolate themselves from others by stating 'it's alright that I'm like this, it's because I'm an introvert', than to deep dive into what resulted in their need for self-alienation. Another example of this are astrological signs. One may prefer to justify their stubbornness by affirming they are a Taurus, or their indecisiveness with the fact that they are a Libra, rather than attempt to understand and improve upon these traits. Ergo, it can often be easier to contain oneself into a label than explore what truly drives one to carry out certain actions.
Recent Discoveries and issues regarding personality types
Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology at North-western University, disagrees with the use of 'introvert and extrovert' labels to define ourselves, being that they take away from the complexity of the human essence and cause one to 'loose preciseness' when evaluating their personality. McAdams states that "Personality doesn't come in types. It's a romantic ideal. […] A lot of people find it very compelling to think of themselves as being of a certain type. But it's really not like that. It's more about traits rather than types. And traits are linear continua. […] So, let's think of height as a trait. Some people are taller than others. But types, basically, are like saying, OK, we got two kinds of people out there, tall people and short people, and that's it. […] You lose all kinds of precision if you say, well, everybody from 50th percentile over to the left is an introvert and everybody from 50th percentile over to the right is an extrovert, especially since most people find themselves somewhere in the middle of this distribution."
In addition to this, creating two vague labels of personality with much too distinct traits, may cause people to feel unsatisfied with their own nature. A study conducted in 2019 found that introverted citizens who forced themselves to be more extroverted felt happier. However, many experts debate the reliability of those results, being that another recent, and very similar, study that was carried out showed the opposite results. Many feel much worse when they actively attempt to act contrarily to their innate personality.
Henceforth, it becomes apparent that new developments in the psychological field have discovered several issues pertaining to Jung's personality types. Jung himself later stated that these personality types are merely to be used as a basis for understanding oneself, although much more detail is required. Wiebke Bleidorn, another professor of psychology at the University of California Davis, clearly states that, with more recent knowledge on evolution, it becomes apparent that diversity in personality types is crucial for the development of our society. All characteristics from each part of the personality spectrum present their own advantages and importance for our way of life.
In closing, it seems like it all boils down to us homo sapiens, the wise man, attempting to pursue an understanding of ourselves, and our essence. What makes each person so different? Why can different people have dissimilar perspectives on the same situation? What makes you, well, you? And it is alright to wish for all this complexity to be made into a concise description, as long as we continue to grasp that there is more to the story. To truly know ourselves, we mustn't be satisfied with merely one term that condenses our entire nature, purpose and character into one definition that can fit many others, but rather search deep within for the true motivators behind our actions and desires. New research and science are on the right track to assisting us in this, and, in combination with self-reflection and a more profound look into over-simplified labels, we might just reach a more holistic understanding of the human psyche, behaviour and personality.
And so, I leave you with another of Jung's famous quotes: "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."