By this phrase, the inverted introvert,
I seek to sketch an impression of a particular behavioural space in which
many freaks, geeks and associated outcasts find themselves living. I myself
have been an inverted introvert, and I expect many of my visitors here will
recognise themselves in this description (or perhaps, their friends would…) I
do not intend this account as science, nor as philosophy, but simply as
personal observation, although I will be drawing on a few scientific props to
construct this mental doodle.
It is a common feature of many psychological models to distinguish between people whose focus is the external (human) world of people and relationships, and those whose focus is the interior landscape of their experience. The former are referred to as extroverts, and the latter as introverts, although it would be fairer to say that the extrovert is one who prefers to spend their time among the external world of people and relationships, since we all express introversion and extroversion in different situations and to varying degrees.
The introvert is happiest within their own
head, hence the typical love of books, and often of videogames, which
gloriously light up the internal landscape of the introvert’s mind. Some
introverts, however, find their interest in the external world, just not in the
human world – this aspect of me can be found in my love of nature, and the
tremendous time I can fritter away in the company of squirrels and other
wildlife. One can confidently bound the domain of the introvert at the
interaction with other people, which for most introverts (including myself as a
child) is a source of anxiety.
Yet we all have to deal with the external world of humans – we all have to develop an extrovert mask or persona, even if it is not our preferred state. Some introverted children find they fit neatly into an extroverted space as they grow up – some, in fact, transition from introvert to extrovert at the dawn of adulthood; whether this is a transformation or the unlocking of previously buried potential is a matter of speculation.
But many introverts do not make this
transition easily or comfortable. For such a person, rather than learning to be
extroverted (which is too terrifying to contemplate), they learn to interact
with the human world by a kind of inversion of their mental space – they become
an inverted introvert, who deals with the world of people by flipping
their interior landscape onto the outside.
This can manifest in many ways. There are inverted introverts whose internal dialogue is rendered externally, and thus they say all manner of strange things to those around them (usually to their detriment). There are inverted introverts who build detailed models of the world in their heads, and so substitute these models of other people for real human communication (usually with disastrously anti-social results). There are inverted introverts who seek to control their personal space tightly, and when they try to apply this externally they inadvertently become bossy and overbearing (usually driving away those that they would like to have as friends).
Many inverted introverts have an
over-inflated impression of their own judgment. It seems to them that they
have exquisite insight and taste, and that everyone else is thus deeply flawed
by comparison. This comes from the fact that the whole of their world is drawn
solely from their internal impressions – so of course, whatever pushes their
buttons is magnificent, and whatever does not push their buttons is rubbish.
Other people’s reactions are seldom considered, except perhaps to selectively
notice when other people’s views accord with their own as a means of reinforcing their
personal prejudices. Occasions when such a person is in error are rarely
remembered, creating an overly inflated confidence in one’s perceptions that
comes across to other people as an unjustified arrogance.
Or the inverted introvert can fall the other way, and lose faith in their judgment entirely and so tumble into a world of apparently inescapable depression where taking any action is a Herculean effort. Some give up hope, and succumb to suicide. Many linger in melancholy isolation for years not knowing how they might possibly escape from the Stygian hole they have entombed themselves within. And it is not uncommon for the inverted introvert to flip between these two states – overconfidence and desolate self-doubt – trapped in these two desperate worlds, because they can find no way out of their situation.
The pathology of this condition is such
that one cannot fail to get into trouble by attempting to use the introverted
experience as a substitute for extroversion. True extroversion relies upon
either learning the social games that people play in order to join in
effortlessly, or communicating genuinely with other people in order to
understand their uniqueness. The inverted introvert often thinks that they are
getting by at these things, but usually has utterly misjudged the situation and
is blind to the social realities of their behaviour.
A common result of this is that the packs of humans the inverted introvert interact with reject them, want no dealing with such a strange human being. The story the inverted introvert then constructs in their head is one of anger, or of depression (which the psychologist Fritz Perls has called “anger turned inwards”).
“How dare you reject magnificent me!” (goes
a typical angry narrative), “you must be deeply flawed and I reject you too.”
“I must be truly awful for people to reject me like this” (goes a typical depressed narrative), “I will withdraw to the safety of my books, my games, my private world.”
There is a deep irony to this failure to connect to the world, in that in terms of Temperament Theory, the inverted introvert is very likely to be gifted with Strategic skills, which of the four skill sets in this model are those which can lead to the highest salaries, and which are most often envied by those who lack them. Furthermore, many such people have potential access to the Leader interaction style (if they could develop their extrovert persona), which of all the innate skills we can have is the one which commands the greatest earnings potential and respect. The inverted introvert is in a sense blessed – yet they frequently manage to turn their advantages into a curse.
While they remain an inverted introvert, and not a person with access to their extroverted persona, they suffer greatly, both because of their social difficulties, and also the anger and anxiety that springs from this. The inverted introvert is likely to blame other people for their failures, without ever quite realising that the very key to success in this world is the extroverted world of people, and little of significance can be achieved without genuinely connecting with this world.
Perhaps because I was in this space as a younger man, inverted introverts can be found in every corner of my life, wherever I go. The fact that I work as a game designer intensifies this problem, since so many inverted introverts substitute the hollow success of videogame victory for real progress in life, or else hide from the terrifying world of humanity in virtual worlds where they alone have agency, or where the collective activity is so simplistic that little communication is required to make it happen.
If you recognise yourself in this sketch,
please heed this warning: you will always struggle to find happiness when you
project your internal world onto the people around you. Your models and
assumptions will frequently be flawed because they are based on vastly incomplete
information, and you can only resolve this problem by learning to
communicate. The gateway from inverted introversion to functioning as a
human being in society is learning to listen – really listen – to other
people. Try having a conversation with someone in which you only ask questions about them, and supply nothing of your own information unless expressly asked. This is a good way to learn basic communication, and until you can do this, you will always be miserable, or angry, or both.
The inverted introvert is stuck midway between their childhood experience of comfortable isolation in introversion, and the need to develop the extroverted skills required to interact with the world at large and thus get on with life. If, by dint of resolve or the kindness of their friends, they can take this step, many of their most troubling problems will evaporate, or at least decline, but it takes a capacity for trust in other people that can be difficult to attain when one is licking one’s wounds from myriad social nightmares, the memory of which still burns brightly.
Escaping from an oubliette of one’s own construction can seem an insurmountable obstacle, especially when the walls of that prison have been rendered invisible by the accretion of so many assumptions and expectations, so often leading to disappointment. Yet you can do it. You will do it. The process has already begun, or you would not be in the state of inverted introversion in the first place. All you need do is follow through, and for this, you will need the help, love and support of your friends, and the willingness to change.
The opening image is Introvert by Chilean artist Jorge Catoni, which I found here at his MySpace page. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.