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The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung has introduced us to some extremely interesting and useful concepts, such as the archetypes, the collective unconscious, and the shadow. Most of these concepts are only understood in detail by those who have read Jung’s works, however, there are also several concepts, introduced to us by Carl Jung, which we have adopted into our daily vocabulary, such as the terms introversion or extroversion, or introvert and extrovert.
Although we use these terms on occasion to explain our own behaviour or the behaviour of those around us, not everyone is aware that the terms; introversion and extroversion, were introduced to us by Carl Jung. Moreover, when we use these terms to explain our personality, we often only scratch the surface of the full essence of the meaning of these terms.
This article will investigate the full meaning of these two concepts; introversion and extroversion, it will explore how Carl Jung developed these terms, what it means, according to Jung, to be and extrovert or introvert, and how the full essence of these terms can give us a better understanding of our own personality. For, as Carl Jung observed, “The ultimate aim and strongest desire of all mankind is to develop that fulness of life which is called personality.” (CW 17, pars. 284)
The Origins of the Term Introversion and Extroversion
After speaking to many of his patients, Carl Jung concluded that there exist two fundamentally different attitudes towards life. According to Carl Jung, one attitude can be characterized by an interest in external objects, extroversion, while the other can be characterized by an interest in the subject, introversion. This definition relates closely to the definition we employ today; we consider extroverts to be more outgoing, while we consider introverts to be mainly focused on their own private experiences.
Carl Jung, however, elaborately discussed each attitude and therefore gives us the opportunity to comprehend with greater detail what it means to be either an introvert or an extrovert.
What does it mean to be an Introvert or Extrovert?
Carl Jung observed that extroverts are mainly interested in external objects. According to Carl Jung, extroverts can be characterized by a desire to join in on events, they enjoy being influenced by these events, and are quick to accept the consequences of external events. At the same time, extroverts have a high capacity to endure certain louder and more active surroundings, they might even prefer such surroundings. Moreover, extroverts find it easy to make connections and are not that selective during this process.
Carl Jung’s discussion on the extrovert attitude becomes particularly interesting when he discusses how, through an extrovert’s attention towards the external objective world, the subjective world is left in the dark: “The actual subject, the extrovert as a subjective entity, is, so far as possible, shrouded in darkness. He hides it from himself under veils of unconsciousness.” (p.141) Moreover, according to Jung, the ‘internal’ life of an extrovert, takes place outside of the individual, in the open for everyone to see and understand: “The psychic life of this type of person is enacted, as it were, outside himself, in the environment. He lives in and through others; all self-communings give him the creeps. (p.141)
Therefore, Jung believed that the extrovert attitude is more familiar to us and easier to understand, because this attitude is easier to observe; an extrovert shares his or her attitude with the world. As a result, introversion is harder to describe.
As opposed to an extrovert, introverts, according to Jung, are constantly pulling away from external objects and events, moving into their own private internal worlds frequently. At the same time, introverts do not find it pleasant to be in a large crowd: “He holds aloof from external happenings, does not join in, has a distinct dislike of society as soon as he finds himself among too many people. In a large gathering he feels lonely and lost. The more crowded it is, the greater becomes his resistance.” (p.141) Moreover, according to Jung, the introvert approaches the eternal world carefully, he or she is afraid to make mistakes during social interactions: “His apprehensiveness of the object is not due to fear, but to the fact that it seems to him negative, demanding, overpowering or even mincing.” (p.142) Resulting from this more negative attitude towards the external world, the introvert can be characterized by a more defensive attitude, which the introvert him or herself will come to dislike as well: “He confronts the world with and elaborate defensive system compounded of scrupulosity, pedantry, frugality, cautiousness, painful conscientiousness, stiff-lipped rectitude, politeness, and open-eyed distrust.” (p.142)
As a result, only the internal world feels like a safe place to the introvert. Introverts prefer to be by themselves, do things their own way and, at the same time, are not easily convinced by the opinions of others or the majority: “Crowds, majority views, public opinion, popular enthusiasm never convince him of anything, but merely make him creep still deeper into his shell.” (p.142)
Therefore, compared to extroverts, introverts often have fewer friends, and it is a lot harder to comprehend what is going on in the psychic life of an introvert, because this psychic life is almost entirely private, whereas the extrovert is often more open to share private events with the world: “Should any difficulties and conflicts arise in this inner world, all doors and windows are shut tight. The introvert shuts himself up with his complexes until he ends in complete isolation.” (p.142)
As a result, the attitude of the introvert appears a bit more negative at first, introverts appear a lot colder, more mistrustful and a lot more defensive. These attitudes are less accepted by our current society than the attitudes of extroverts, according to Jung, who are a lot more open. However, by retreating into their own inner worlds, introverts still contribute a lot to society: “In spite of these peculiarities the introvert is by no means a social loss. His retreat into himself is not a final renunciation of the world, but a search for quietude, where alone it is possible for him to make his contribution to the life of the community.” (p.143)
To conclude, it is interesting to note that Jung observed that the misunderstandings surrounding the identity of introverts are often cherished by introverts themselves, because they enjoy a certain mysticism surrounding their personality: “This type of person is the victim of numerous misunderstandings – not unjustly, for he actually invites them. Nor can he be acquitted of the charge of taking a secret delight in mystification, and that being misunderstood gives him a certain satisfaction.” (p.143)
|Focus on the object
|Focus on the subject
|Active social life
|Dislikes large social gatherings
|Easy to share their life with others
|Neglects the internal world
|Neglects the external world
|Easy to make friends
|Very selective in making friends
How can the Concept of Introversion and Extroversion Help us Understand our own Personalities?
These differing attitudes result in an interesting situation. Fundamentally, introverts trust their own internal world a lot more, while extroverts put more faith into the external world. According to Jung there is, of course, no right or wrong approach, which in a sense results in the existence of two worlds. Whereas extroverts often neglect the internal world, introverts often neglect the external world:
“What alone is valid for him [introverts] is his subjective world, which he sometimes believes, in moments of delusion, to be the objective one. We could easily charge these people with the worst kind of subjectivism […] if it were certain beyond a doubt that only one objective world existed. But this truth, if such it be, is not axiomatic; it is merely a half truth, the other half of which is the fact that the world also is as it is seen by human beings.” (p.143)
Resulting from these differing attitudes and a focus on differing worlds, introverts and extroverts approach the ‘real’ outside world differently. Resulting from their more negative attitude towards the external world, introverts are often less capable to adapt to external circumstances and often act less quickly: “The reflective nature of the introvert causes him always to think and consider before acting. This naturally makes him slow to act. His shyness and distrust of things induces hesitation, and so he always has difficulty in adapting to the external world.” (p.160)
Extroverts, not surprisingly, have a more positive attitude towards the real external world. They are a lot less mistrustful and defensive, and therefore also able to respond a lot quicker to external events: “The extrovert has a positive relation to things. He is, so to speak, attracted by them. New, unknown situations fascinate him. In order to make closer acquaintance with the unknown he will jump into it with both feet.” (p.160)
Perhaps surprisingly, Carl Jung proposed that the two types appear to be created for eachother, and a relationship between two different types can have several benefits because they complete eachother: “The two types therefore seem created for a symbiosis. The one takes care of reflection and the other sees to the initiative and union.” (p.161) Although the different realities of each type might lead to misunderstandings, there is room for understanding, according to Jung, because the opposing attitude is, although it may not have been developed, still present within each individual: “Although he has developed only one of them as a function of adaptation – we shall immediately conjecture that with the introvert extroversion lies dormant and undeveloped somewhere in the background, and that introversion leads a similar shadowy existence in the extrovert.” (p.161)
Jung uses the example of the discovery of a castle. According to Jung, when an introvert and an extrovert were to venture upon a secluded castle together, at first the extrovert will be eager to enter and explore the castle, whereas the introvert will prefer not to, because he or she will imagine all the things that can go wrong if they enter the castle. However, if they do enter the castle, it might just turn out the be the case that the introvert enjoys it more and even wants to stay longer than the extrovert. The extrovert will have imagined all kinds of interesting things going on in the castle, therefore feeling bored when not much of interest is going on. At the same time, the introvert, having imagined all kinds of things that can go wrong, might become fascinated by the artwork or some scriptures hidden in the castle.
According to Jung, in this scenario, the roles reverse, and the extrovert becomes an introvert, and the introvert an extrovert: “At this point the types invert themselves: the introvert, who at first resisted the idea of going in, cannot now be induced to go out, and the extrovert curses the moment when he set foot inside the castle. The former is now fascinated by the object, the latter by his negative thoughts.”(p. 163)
Carl Jung himself argued that a certain kind of typology is required to understand the immense differences between individuals: “It is a critical tool for the research worker, who needs definite points of view and guidelines if he is to reduce the chaotic profusion of individual experience to any kind of order.” (p.146) At the same time, typology is also a tool for individuals to better understand their own behaviour or the behaviour of others.
The typology of Carl Jung goes far beyond this present discussion on introversion and extroversion. Besides these two differing attitudes, Carl Jung described four additional ‘functions’: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. These functions are, however, always combined with the two different attitudes: introversion and extroversion. As such, each function can present itself either in an introverted fashion, or in an extroverted one. I will discuss these different functions in a future article.