an article I published on mcmanweb in 2003, plus some additional observations to reflect my current thinking on the topic ...
In May 2003, I asked my Newsletter readers to take an online Myers-Briggs personality test and email the results, along with their diagnosis.
The Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) begins with eight personality functions in contrasting pairs - Introvert (I) or Extrovert (E), Intuitive (N) or Sensing (S), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
The Introvert/Extrovert dichotomy relates to people drawing their energy from being alone or with people rather than simply being either shy or outgoing. Thinking and Feeling are self-explanatory. Sensors tend to focus on the here and now while Intuitives look for meaning and possibilities. Judgers prefer structure in their lives over the messy flexibility of Perceivers.
Falling within these four temperaments are 16 distinct personality types, defined according to the eight paired personality functions, thus INFP, ESTJ, etc.
I analyzed the first 100 responses. Most readers also sent in their diagnosis, nearly all with depression or bipolar disorder. Since most people with bipolar disorder are depressed more than manic, it is safe to conclude that this poll was dealing with a mostly-depressed population. Approximately three-quarters of the respondents were women.
The first eye-popping result was 83 percent of those who replied were introverts, which sharply contrasts with the 25 percent to be found in the general population. According to one reader, who had a strong extrovert score four years ago and a much weaker one when responding to this poll: "Over the last four years I've sunk into a very isolated existence. The mania has worsened despite changes in medication/dosages and I spend most of my time sleeping and avoiding large social functions. I do slightly better in small social gatherings, but up until just a couple of months ago I didn't go anywhere or see anyone other than my immediate family within our house."
The best is yet to come: There were 17 INFJs and 14 INFPs, the largest populations in this study, the "mystics" and "dreamers," respectively, who only account for one percent each of the general population. These groups turned up in higher than expected numbers in at least two online MBTI tests, which may explain the large turnout here.
As for the extroverts: Possibly because it was just one letter off INFP, there were seven ENFPs, “visionaries” who would fit right in with the mystics and dreamers, the only category of extrovert over-represented in this poll. Since other versions of extroverts have descriptions such as “enforcers,” “adventurers,” “helpers,” and “jokers,” you can see what we are missing.
One of the few psychiatric studies using the MBTI, by David Janowsky MD of the University of North Carolina, also found a preponderance of introverts (as well as feelers) among a depressed population.
Several readers commented that their results varied on circumstances and phase of illness. Stephanie wrote that "when manic I'm as sociable as Bette Midler on cocaine and when I'm depressed, seriously come not near me."
Carol, who came up ENTJ back in college and again a couple of years ago when working for a mutual fund company, observed that "if I may draw a conclusion, those of us who can break through isolation and make contact with others, could be better able to keep the depression at bay."
In the meantime, we are left with the disquieting knowledge that our illness can isolate ourselves to the point of virtual no-return. Another study by Dr Janowsky found that 84 percent of 64 suicidal patients he examined were introverts, leading the him to observe:
"The issue of social isolation has been mentioned as a potential risk factor for suicidality. The introverted individual almost certainly has trouble reaching out to others, especially in times of stress and need. Thus the social isolation of introversion may set the scene for suicidality."
In a 2001 article appearing in Current Psychiatry Reports, Dr Janowsky cites various studies to support the proposition that "increased introversion predicts the persistence of depressive symptoms and a lack of remission" (and conversely that extroversion can improve outcomes).
The obvious antidote is to do whatever it takes to get out of the house and into the company of others. This is generally easier said than done, given the nature of our illness, but the stakes are enormous in what could very well be the most important aspect of our treatment.
Based on what I have learned and experienced since writing this article nearly seven years ago, I would make some major changes to include the positive features of introversion. On a personal note, I am an INFP and a hermit by nature. What makes my day is connecting two seemingly unrelated thoughts alone in my room or while out on a walk in the middle of nowhere. I do perk up around people, and in these situations I get mistaken for an extravert, but the effort drains me and I find myself relieved to be back in my comforting isolation.
I pity those who have no comprehension of my rich inner world, but when I originally wrote this piece I realized my isolation was killing me, as it had nearly killed me at other times in my life. Accordingly, I made deliberate efforts to get out amongst people, which no doubt reduced my risk of depression, and had the unexpected result of helping me find the kind of ease within myself that had eluded me my whole life.
Getting out amongst people back then was like plunging into ice water. It’s much easier now, but the water is still cold. Your views, please ...