Introversion as a Mental Illness

introverted-girl-readingIs being inwardly focused and gaining energy from your inner life instead of the outside world a sign that you’re mentally unwell?

Western culture glorifies sociability, outspokenness, and other traits associated with extroversion — the primary interest and involvement with one’s surroundings. Extroversion is seen as the ideal way to be and function in society. To a further extent, a lack of social activity is assumed to be abnormal. People wonder what is wrong with the person who rarely socializes.

Mental health organizations encourage popular belief that there is something inherently wrong with introversion. The World Heath Organization (WHO) classifies the introverted personality as a mental health problem and includes introversion in it’s “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems”. In 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) proposed including introversion as an indicator and factor in diagnosis of personality disorders.

Wider society’s views result from a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding of introversion. Introversion is not a mental illness, but a personality trait like any other. Studies show that introverts simply have more activity in their brain and as a result are satisfied with a smaller amount of outside interaction.

introvert-outsideThe introverted person lives a fulfilling life and is not impaired by their lack of activity and concern with the outside world. Introversion is correlated with useful qualities such as higher academic achievement and greater impulse control. Because of their tendency to be concerned with their inner world, introverts often have a greater awareness of themselves and other people.

Introverts can, however, can become unhappy if their natural way of being is not accepted. An introvert can only pretend to be extroverted for so long before they become drained and return to their more comfortable inward state. If introversion is connected with mental illness it is due to introversion being seen as a disorder. The outside world can succeed in causing some introverts to also believe they are abnormal.

Even if introverts could become extraverts, the world would miss the value they bring to society. Everyone does not need to be a constant talker or doer, some people need to listen and reflect. This creates a more well-rounded society where the unique strengths of each person adds to the larger diversity of the world. As long as introversion doesn’t prevent a person from being a fully functioning individual who leads a happy life –and it doesn’t– it shouldn’t be seen as a mental disorder or depreciated in society.

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22 thoughts on “Introversion as a Mental Illness

  1. Ah, my brother is a very quiet and thoughtful man, I think hes a Introvert, my uncle always gets on his case for that “What’s wrong with you wena!” since everyone else in my family are very chatty.

    Hes my favorite brother though if I had to choose and I don’t think theres anything wrong being a Introvert, it makes life for them a bit harder for them though in some ways. But a mental illness? please.

  2. “I don’t think theres anything wrong being a Introvert, it makes life for them a bit harder for them though in some ways.”

    I can be harder, because many societies (not all) are fit more for outgoing people and/or extroverts. I just think of schools in the U.S. where teachers expect people to talk in class, have discussion, etc, and that factors into their grade. Obviously, that gives extroverts the advantage because introverts (a) don’t like talking as much and (b) feel uncomfortable and drained after some time with large groups of people. But some introverts — the more social or talkative ones, can do a good cover-up and fit in well.

  3. I think people in general tend to conflate introversion with social awkwardness. I’m sure there are people who are both, but there are also extroverted socially-awkward people who talk incessantly to cover up nervousness and an inability to fit in.

  4. I think people in general tend to conflate introversion with social awkwardness.

    I agree, Jasmin. I think it’s easier to assume that someone is socially awkward or shy than understand that some of us choose not to be Chatty Kathys. I also think it’s conflated with snobbiness or elitism. Because extroverts aren’t elitist? ;)

    I’m probably biased, but I find it easier to have a conversation with another introvert (or an extrovert with a leaning towards introversion) than an standard extrovert. Because 1) they’re a lot more comfortable with silences and pauses, so it’s not awkward, and 2) because said comfort, I’m not consistently being interrupted by their verbal stream of consciousness. I don’t fight to talk, lol.

    I’ve been reading a book – Introvert Power. Unfortunately, I can’t recall where I put it, so I’m sad. I wanna finish the book :(. Anyway, it’s pretty interesting. There is a little bit of information on countries best suited for introversion, and they include Japan and the Scandinavian countries.

  5. Daphne,

    “Chatty Kathys.”

    Lol. This expression reminds me of grade school.

    “I also think it’s conflated with snobbiness or elitism. Because extroverts aren’t elitist?”

    Huh, extroverts created elitism. All the popular people are extroverts. ;)

    “I’m probably biased, but I find it easier to have a conversation with another introvert (or an extrovert with a leaning towards introversion) than an standard extrovert.”

    It’s easier in the ways that you listed: I get to say more. And I like that introverts think (more) before they respond. But a lot of the time I’m just listening to people and taking things in, so I’m not hugely bothered by a strong extrovert’s need to fill every silence with chatter. It can get annoying sometimes, with extroverts who rarely let you get a word in.

    I’ve heard of that Introvert Power book, but haven’t read it. AJ did tell me that Scandinavia seems to have more introverts so it makes complete sense that introverts would be more comfortable there. Let me know when/if you find the book.

  6. LOL, no introversion is not a mental illness. I work in mental health, and I just had to chuckle at that one. People may find introverts “weird” at times (I know I do…I can’t help it), but it’s a personality style. I’ve always been an extrovert; however, upon first meeting me, I’m very reserved.

  7. Eliss,

    “LOL, no introversion is not a mental illness. I work in mental health, and I just had to chuckle at that one. “

    Please tell your buddies at the APA this. They don’t seem to agree.

    “People may find introverts “weird” at times (I know I do…I can’t help it)”

    Why is it weird? We’re just into our own worlds. It’s more interesting there. ;)

    I would’ve thought you were an introvert. It’s probably the reserved thing; you come off as more reserved online. And people think I’m an extrovert… I just laugh at that — I find it easy to talk with people I know and my persona can be outgoing for a bit, but I’m no extrovert.

  8. I find them weird because they’re so into themselves…so quiet and shy. I want to know what they’re wondering or thinking about because it’s those shy ones that makes you worry.

    Me, an introvert???? LMAO!!!! Noooooooo. My writing style is very reserved, so I can see how that might come across, but I’m an extrovert. I love to socialize, mingle, and explore. I’m always doing something new.

  9. Eliss,

    “I want to know what they’re wondering or thinking about”

    No, you don’t. It’s scary in there! ;)

    Yes, your writing style and interaction level seem more introverted. I would expect an extrovert to be more sociable even on the internet, but maybe you’ve burned yourself out from interaction in real life (I know: yeah, right :)).

  10. I try to keep it reserved on the internet because of my life outside of internet social networks (i.e. employment, family). I can’t have any psychos messing that up for me, LOL.

  11. Eliss,

    I lay low for a similar reason: I don’t want any of the more “interesting” people on the internet trying to contact me in real life.

  12. Yup I obviously agree with the consensus here.

    My take on it is that there are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of conditions mentally healthy people have but their condition is labeled a mental illness or a disorder just because the condition doesn’t follow majority social trends.

    One example besides introversion is something the medical community calls “delayed sleep-phase disorder”, and all it basically is, is a condition where someone’s sleeping habits don’t match up with the majority population. People who go to bed at late times, and keep odd hours that don’t match the “wake up at 8 AM, go to bed at 10 PM”.

    If it looks like I’m defensive about “DSPD”, it’s because I have it, lol. And I don’t think it should be considered a disorder, just like introversion.

    I even think extreme introverts, what people call “schizoids” are healthy people. They just simply don’t need or want human contact. The human population is suppose to have variation within it, that’s how our evolution works. A world of nothing but extroverts would probably explode, literally… with all that increased extroverted human conflict, a nuclear holocaust is bound to happen within weeks, heh.

  13. I completely agree, AJ, that there are lots of characteristics which are labeled as “disordered” simply because the majority of people don’t exhibit these traits. And you’re right about the world needing some variation. Introverts do well in environments that extroverts don’t, and vice versa.

    “If it looks like I’m defensive about “DSPD”, it’s because I have it, lol.”

    I was going to say: you should know all about DSPD, since you have it for sure. But I don’t know, DSPD just might be a disorder; at the very least your circadian rhythms are completely off.

    …Just kidding (sort of) ;)

  14. I even think extreme introverts, what people call “schizoids” are healthy people.

    We had a debate about this in my Abnormal Psych class in college. A diagnosable disorder has to involve “impairment”, but are you really impaired if you enjoy being alone 24/7? Some people said it could be an impairment in the event of an emergency, but by the same token some extroverts would be impaired by virtue of subjecting themselves to moshpits at concerts. :-)

    AJ,

    Zek is a wannabe night owl, while I’m a morning person. I’m hopeful it’s just a college thing, otherwise we will not be sharing a living space, no way. ;-)

  15. Jasmin,

    “A diagnosable disorder has to involve “impairment”, but are you really impaired if you enjoy being alone 24/7?’

    Exactly. Introversion doesn’t hamper a person’s life in any significant way. It isn’t like introverts can’t deal with interaction, just that they need less of it. Introverts still socialize and do things in the world.

    “Some people said it could be an impairment in the event of an emergency”

    What emergency? Being trapped in an elevator with 10 other people for hours? :)

    “by the same token some extroverts would be impaired by virtue of subjecting themselves to moshpits at concerts.”

    Not only that: but extroverts could be “impaired” by virtue of needing outside interaction in order to function. Imagine if we lived in an introvert’s world, where people were required to do activities alone most of the time — extroverts would go crazy.

  16. Imagine if we lived in an introvert’s world, where people were required to do activities alone most of the time — extroverts would go crazy.

    That would be hilarious–people would need special “social skills” groups to teach them how to be less sociable. :-P

  17. “extrovert with a leaning towards introversion”

    I wish someone would define what that looks like because I think I may be one. :-)

  18. Hi Nordette,

    I believe an extrovert with an introverted leaning would slightly more into themselves and their thoughts vs. being focused on the outside world of people place and things. In my experience, in conversation they’ll take a bit longer before speaking than your average extrovert. :)

  19. Thank you for this post and to all for the comment. Perhaps there needs to be a public awareness campaign.

    I have always been an introvert and have been told I think too much, I’m stuck up, there’s something wrong with me, and so forth. I tried for decades to be ‘outgoing’ and it just made me sick for the effort. I love and care about people, I just don’t have the desire to be the social butterfly. That works for some but not me. Unfortunately it’s hard for introverts to find each other because we are introverts.
    I’m 48 and just now coming to terms with all this and the effect it has had on my life. Maybe if I can learn to be myself and be comfortable with that personality trait not buying into the erroneous belief there must be something wrong with me then maybe, just maybe, I can be happy.

  20. Hi Delere,

    You’re welcome. :)

    “I love and care about people, I just don’t have the desire to be the social butterfly.”

    Same here. I can be social in increments, but too much just makes me shut down. Like a toy whose batteries are dead.

    There is nothing wrong with you, just something slightly off about the way most societies think outgoing and social = normal.

  21. This article is dead on! Thank you! I am a very sociable,outgoing person, i love every festival,concert,and doings that come along, but i value my time to myself, just me……

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