For quite some time I have been aware that many of my clients all had something in common that lay well outside of what was a conventional diagnosis of anxiety or depression. Many of them were deeply emotional people who had an exquisitely high level of sensitivity not just to stressful situations but also to other people's sufferings, to music, art, and literature. In fact, a number of them were in fact artists, writers, and musicians who used their extraordinary sensitivity to not just appreciate the beauties of the world around them but to add their own contribution to the milieu they so much enjoyed. Several of my clients have written books of poetry, fiction, and one worked as a videojournalist who traveled the world making documentaries. The problems these clients all encountered was that they were basically introverts trying to adapt to an extraverted world. The terms introvert and extravert were originated by Dr. Carl Jung, a famous Swiss psychologist who wrote extensively about these differences in personality in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1921 he wrote the book, Psychological Types, in which he developed his ideas about the basic types of personality that he found to be common to populations all over the world. Those of you who have taken the modern psychological test known as the Myers-Briggs Inventor are familiar with his thinking and perhaps are acquainted with your own inherent personality tendencies along the introvert-extravert continuum. Dr Jung believed that one third to one half of all peoples were introverts. By this he meant that they were somewhat reserved, often thought long and hard before speaking, and tended to need a significant amount of "alone time" in order to recharge their psychological batteries. This did not mean that they were anti-social but rather they needed more time away from people (crowds were particularly draining for them) and time spent doing things they enjoyed alone or with a very small group of friends. Many famous people have been known to be introverts: Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, and Jung himself. What makes this an issue in therapy is that in American society we do not, as a culture, value introversion. On the contrary we much more prefer to value extraverts and their aggressive drive to dominate, interact, get things done, and their fun loving "can do" attitude which is in the heart of every T.V. commercial and magazine ad. Our cultural icons in business, sports, and celebrities in general tend to be extraverts. On the other hand, the people who often make the greatest contributions to the long term good to our society are the introverts.
It is not that either the introvert or the extravert is all good or all bad; it is just that the introvert in our society is not particularly valued. This is particularly a problem in the public school system in which introverts, however smart they may be, are often the target of bullies and much more aggressive children. Unfortunately this difference among school children can leave scars on the introvert because they are viewed as unathlectic, unpopular, and nerds. Interestingly introverts are often drawn to extraverts for marriage because, just as Ying and Yang, each offers the other person some different perspectives and strengths. This makes for many fascinating conversations but can also lead toproblems in the relationship. Family and relationship counseling is often needed to help build a bridge of understanding betwee the introvert and extravert when they form an intimate partnership. For more information about my work with highly sensitive people, who make up most of my practice, I recommend a couple of excellent books. The first is "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" by Elaine N. Aron, Ph. D. The second book is "Quiet" written by Susan Cain, J.D. In "Quiet" the author, on page 13 offers some interesting questions that allow the reader to make a judgment as to how frequently they think as an introvert. Some of the questions have to do with issues like: how much do you try to avoid conflict, how often do you spend with a very close cirlce of friends, do you tend to favor listening or talking, do you like to do work that allows you to dive in so there are few outside interruptions or distraction, do you often feel drained by interactions with other people, and do you often let the phone calls go through to voicemail? Both of these books are written to those people like myself who are basically introverts but must live in a society that doesn't necessarily value or understand quiet, sensitive people. Much of my work centers around helping my client determine what is their personality type, what specific issues they want to work on, and then providing training in the appropriate coping skills. Many times it is simply a matter of teaching someone who is an introvert to take time out for themselves without feeling guilty and to stop trying to be something they are not genetically wired to be. Self-acceptance and self-esteem development go hand in hand in providing a solid platform to do mindfulness training, relaxation training, biofeedback, and E.M.D.R. therapy. All of these approaches teach the introvert to value their rich inner world and to create a boundary with the outer world that tey often find rude, loud, and insensitive. Our clinic offers coaching via phone and e-mail for those individuals who are not geographically able to access our services in person.