Something has been bothering me lately.
Well, a lot of things have been bothering me, but in this particular moment I’m thinking of my posts on the book I lovingly refer to as my personality bible, Quiet. It is Susan Cain’s defense of the introvert – what it means to be introverted, and all the advantages and disadvantages related thereunto. I really cannot shut up about it – the irony of which is not lost on me – but I still don’t feel that either of my attempts at explaining why it had such an impact on me really got to the core of it, or even got people interested in the topic (although feel free to chime in if you disagree ).
Today as I was waking up with my chai tea and toast, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed for some interesting reads to get my brain going. And when my eye caught the headline, “APA Gains Sanity: Introverts Not Nuts,” well, you KNOW I was all over that.
Apparently, last year the American Psychological Association (APA) was thinking about including introversion in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; the 5 refers to the latest iteration), the bible of psychological issues – the ultimate reference for medical practitioners. Basically, it’s a big ass book of symptoms and factors to aid a medical practitioner in diagnosing a patient. And they wanted to put introversion in it as a contributing factor for diagnosing mental disorders.
This is a perfect example of why Cain’s book got me so fired up about my introversion. It is this kind of institutionalized bias against introverts that makes me want to put my head through a wall.
I was (still am) a quiet kid. I took books to parties. I hated group work in school. I loved spending hours alone in my room playing with my Barbies. These things made me happy. But the older I got, the guiltier I felt about my instinctive need for solitude. In a culture that praises and rewards (in many different ways) social interaction and with 2 more-or-less extraverted parents, I was picking up on all kinds of signals indicating that my hatred of parties and highly social activities was bad and wrong. So I “pushed” myself to be social. I assumed this was healthy, that my need for alone time was some neurological defect that could be cured with a healthy dose of socializing; in hindsight, I think this mindset is strikingly similar to and just as absurdly stupid as the idea that homosexuality can be “cured.”
Eventually, I pushed myself too far. Going into my junior year of college, I signed up to be an Orientation Leader (OL) for the new class of freshwomen at my school. This meant showing up two weeks before regular classes started to decorate campus and, well, orient the new students to their new home and lifestyle. It’s a crazy and overwhelming time, and I thought I’d be pretty good at it. What the job description didn’t note was that all OLs got up at 7 and went to bed at midnight every single day for those entire two weeks – with not much more than 30 minutes of break time during the day. Orientation and the prep for it involves intensive and constant group work, and being as outgoing and friendly as possible all the while. And there was not a single day of rest between end of orientation and the first day of classes.
All of a sudden, I stopped sleeping. Just…stopped. It was like I couldn’t turn my brain off. I began to doubt everything about myself. I cried for no reason. I distanced myself from all of my friends and acted like an irrational bitch, half because I wanted to keep them away from me, half because I didn’t really think anyone liked me anyway. All I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and disappear. It felt like I was losing my mind.
It took me a long time to work through that period of my life. Honestly, it will always be something I have to deal with, just at a lesser degree. And I’m not saying that the single solitary reason for that “snap” was because I pushed myself too far away from my introverted self - there were plenty of other factors building up to that breakdown – but it was most certainly and without a doubt the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It was with that memory in particular behind me and with all of those other memories in general of feeling like I was somehow not good enough as long as I was introverted that I read Quiet. All of a sudden, here was this woman telling me it is perfectly fine to honor who I am, and not constantly try to “improve” myself by being more extroverted. She wrote example after example of situations where introverts are more or less screwed over, and I could as well have written them myself. It was a bit of a “come to Jesus”-type moment, reading that book, and it completely and totally changed the way that I see and listen to myself.
And so now, when I see things like major medical institutions making the term “introvert” an official symptom of some serious mental disorder, I think of the girl who sat in her closet crying uncontrollably because she tried so hard to be the outgoing picture-perfect person it seemed the world wanted her to be and failed. I think of a child Cain mentioned in her book whose parents took home from one psychologist to another, trying to figure out what was “wrong” with him that he would prefer reading to playing at recess. And I wring my hands, because there is so much damage to be done when you tell half the population – that’s about 3.5 billion people – that there is something neurologically defective in them.
On the bright side, the APA ultimately decided against using the term “introvert.” But the current proposal for the DSM update now includes “detachment,” under schizotypal personality disorder:
[Detachment] involves withdrawal from other people and from social interactions.” It defines withdrawal as “preference for being alone to being with others; reticence in social situations; avoidance of social contacts and activity; lack of initiation of social contact.”
Source (article mentioned above)
Introverts can be schizophrenic, depressed, and disordered the same as an extrovert can – I’m not saying we’re superhuman. My issue here is with the world preference. I have to use what Dr. Laurie Helgoe said here, because I think she says it best:
It’s important to remember that nothing is diagnosable unless it causes impairment in functioning and/or significant distress for the individual. That said, it seems odd to me that a “preference” for being alone would be considered problematic. To me, preference implies engagement and interest rather than avoidance or incapacity. I do think there are levels of detachment that are indicative of mental health problems, such as a schizoid adjustment in which a person plays out relationships in fantasy rather than incorporating input from others, but there’s a diagnosis for that.
Furthermore, “introverted personality” and “introverted disorder of childhood” are listed in the World Health Organization’s manual, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. This is truly upsetting to me, and I don’t think my feelings are unjustified.
I realize I can (and have) blather on about this topic, but I hope I’ve explained why it’s so important to me and everyone else who was similarly moved by Cain’s book. So, for the record, I just wanted to say that there is nothing wrong with us introverts, and to hell with the psychologist (or other human, for that matter) who thinks otherwise.