Are Introverts Nuts?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is considering including introversion as a determining factor for diagnosing mental disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—commonly known as the DSM-5. The APA’s proposed definition of introversion is: “Withdrawal from other people, ranging from intimate relationships to the world at large; restricted affective experience and expression; limited hedonic capacity.” The definition also includes “deficit in the capacity to feel pleasure or take interest in things.”

When I took the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment during my corporate days, I learned that being an introvert meant that I got my energy from my inner world—and that there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you’re an introvert, you’re in good company since about half the population has preferences like ours—such as thinking before we speak. If the APA includes the proposed definition of introversion in the DSM-5, could that exacerbate the stigmas that introverts already face?

I’m wondering this as a businessperson, and with respect for the field of psychiatry. I’m concerned with the misconceptions around introversion in our society and specifically in the workplace. If introversion becomes a criteria for diagnosing mental disorders, could that lead to confusion among those who learned they were introverts by taking the MBTI® tool and other personality assessments?

“If an introvert is clinically depressed,” says Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Introvert Power, “that’s a problem.” She adds, “If an introvert is debilitated by anxiety, that is a problem. If an introvert suffers from a social phobia, that is a problem. But if an introvert is simply an introvert, please don’t render that person ill. We are talking half the population here!”

If the APA were to use another term instead of introversion, would that help prevent perpetuating the stigma around introversion? Or are the concerns I’m raising a stretch? Are we talking apples and oranges? Is this a semantic squabble?

I welcome your insights and perspectives and will keep you posted if I learn anything compelling to add to the mix. Meanwhile, you can learn more about the proposed definition of introversion on the APA’s Web site. Also check out the DSM5 in Distress blog that Allen Frances, MD writes for Psychology Today and see his recent “DSM5: An Open Process or Bust” story.

Copyright © 2010 Nancy Ancowitz

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One Response to “Are Introverts Nuts?”

  1. Alawi Albar Says:

    I’m an introvert and I like who I am, however let’s face it! Some of the proposed APA definition absolutely describe my character, but it fails to explain how we express our feelings and where we get our hedonic capacity. For example, I usually tell my lovely extrovert wife that the fact that I’m living in the same house with her and our 3 beautiful childern is an evidence of my love to my family and my happiness.

    Recently I understood that this fact is NOT enough for an extrovert; I’ve to consistently say and declare that I love her and our family and that I’m actually happy to prove the truth. And this is where we as introverts don’t get it right. If we want the approval and acceptace of the ‘extroversion’ world around us, then out of reciprocity we need to approve and accept the extroverts’ need to express our feelings toward them in ‘words’ and not just actions.

    So it’s a two-way deal; as much we need extroverts to give us little space for solitude we need to give them back little ‘extroversion’ interaction and expression. Both types need to understand deeply the other and come to a middle-point in their behaviors and expectations to live happily with each other.

    In terms of work life, introverts have more pressure than extroverts to be visible in order to be successful and your book “Self-Promotion for Introverts” is a prove for this shortage of our type.

    Thank you Nancy for all your efforts and I wish you all the best!

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