On Intro- and Extroversion: Labels Are Dangerous

(I owe the polyphasic community like six hundred updates — sorry guys!  My productivity has been miserable lately, for reasons that have nothing to do with sleep.  Actually, that's one of the posts I need to write:  How being polyphasic is different from "just" a productivity hack.  But first I need to fix my shit so that I actually have time to write again!

ANYWAY.  This one feels pressing, so I'm using it for motivation to Sit In The Chair And Press The Keys, which has been unreasonably difficult lately.)

Introversion has been "a thing" lately, and I think that's good overall, since as many of us know by now, people who are introverted socially are/were often mis-labeled as being unsociable, unfriendly, antisocial, or just not pleasant to be around — and that certainly isn't fair.  Having different needs isn't a crime, and we should all be more understanding of each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Good lesson.

But as with many fad ideas, I think this one risks going too far.  If I'm reading my feeds right, approximately half of all Internet-connected humanity thinks it's an introvert now; and we know for a fact that that isn't true.  (Neither are half of them suffering from some mild form of Asperger's, I might add as a corollary.)  

I point to myself as an early example:  I was called antisocial and treated just the way introverts hate being, for a long time.  Then I was more politely labeled an introvert and, well, pretty much treated the same way, though as the idea gained traction in the nerd community, it became easier to explain my loner-hood in a single word, I guess.  I behaved like an introvert, as I think many people (especially Gen-X/Y-ers) in the "nerd subculture" do:  I avoided parties, crowds and people I didn't know, preferred the company of just one person if any, and spent a whole lot of time with my face in a book or a screen, shutting out the world.

But I wasn't an introvert.  And I wasn't "antisocial" either, whatever that means:  I was, in fact, an extrovert with a crippling case of social anxiety disorder, and a whopping history of childhood bullying and isolation that had left me unable to identify, express, and meet my own social needs.  What the early well-meaning people identified as being "socially miswired" and the later people identified as "introversion" both missed the question:  Was I *happy* that way?  Because while I think we can all agree that it's cruel and stupid to look at a young person and say, "Fuck 'em, they're antisocial", is it really more helpful to label someone (or yourself, I might add, because this is an easy cop-out rather than dealing with it) "introverted", if the end result is still ignoring a problem?

A truly introverted person spends a lot of time alone, or with one or very few companions, and is happy that way.  Their social needs — and we are humans with social needs, and not getting them met is no healthier than malnutrition — are being adequately met by their circumstances.  You could compare them (sloppily, but adequately) with people who only need three or four hours of sleep:  That's rare, and it is unhealthy and mean to force someone like that to lie in bed all night because "that's normal and normal is what we do" — but it's just as bad to ignore the sleep-deprivation of a friend who's only able to sleep three hours a night but is miserable that way.

I guess what I'm saying is, labels are dangerous.  If we really want to be compassionate to each other and understanding of our differences, we need to empathize, to see each other as individuals, and to care whether whatever someone's doing is working for them or making them happy, rather than what box it fits into.  The "introverted" label made it possible for me to continue to starve myself of social contact I actually needed — and more pertinently, the application of that label made it easy for people, even people who loved me, to ignore that I was miserable and needed to fix some things about my social life.  

What happened, finally?  I went to a very good therapist and after a few sessions I casually mentioned that I was an introvert, whereupon she actually snorted before saying, "You are one of the most extroverted people I've ever talked to!"  From there it became gradually clear that I wanted and needed social contact that I wasn't getting because I'd been taught to fear or avoid it — but because I'd been taught to fear and avoid it, and then further taught that it was just "how I was" (i.e. "my" label), I didn't actually know that that was the problem:  I only knew that I felt a lot of negative shit pretty much all the time, that I usually felt like an alien and had a hard time connecting to anyone, and that I wasn't very able to be happy either alone or in company; and that while having one safe-feeling companion seemed like a fix for that, it was often landing me in very dependent and unhealthy relationships.

And while my issues may have been pretty serious on the scale of things, I don't think it's at all uncommon for people to be misaligned with, unaware of, or not automatically able to meet their social needs.  

In fact, I think "not aware of or able to get what you need for some reason" is a LOT more common a situation than "introverted".  The difference is, the former shouldn't be written off or ignored:  it's not a stable state, a comfortable label that's fine as it is.  If you are intro (or extro) and fine, then great, awesome.  You probably know what you need, then, and are capable of going out (or not) and getting it; and therefore there's not much reason to worry — the most discomfort you face is explaining your needs to others, which come on, isn't really that bad.  (And if it is, well, stop hanging out with those particular others; they suck.)  

But if you feel lonely, cut off, anxious, unsafe, unheard, or like you hate yourself or your life…that's not a label, not a thing, and not okay.  Neither you nor the people around you should be ignoring it:  You should be fixing it.  And fixing it starts with believing that a fix is necessary and possible…something those neat handy labels can sometimes really get in the way of.  

May you find peace, whether or not you find the "right" word for it.  ;)

About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut and lifelong autohacker ... long-term Ubersleep, shoeless winters, medication-free anti-depressants, and as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the fourth wall).
This entry was posted in better thinking, polyphasic sleep, psychology, site - about, social laquer. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Intro- and Extroversion: Labels Are Dangerous

  1. Sorcerer88 says:

    But I guess what you mean is that many people when seeing social issues often immediately point a finger at Asperger/Autism without much thought behind it.

  2. Sorcerer88 says:

    Very good post! I guess i'm a genuine introvert then because I don't miss seeing people when i rather follow my hobbies alone at home. Sometimes I do, but that's reasonable because otherwise I'd never meet people, right?

    The Asperger dimension thing is more difficult, because research is still not very advanced and wide-spread in that field. There are many forms and a scale or dimension if you will of Asperger and Autism factors, and I'm pretty sure I'm on a mild level of it, but I can deal with it reasonably well. I just don't feel like laying out my case here point blank ^^

Comments are closed.