Thursday, August 19, 2010

Solitude and its Graces 7

Chapter seven of Dr Anthony Storr's little book Solitude is about the connection of solitude with temperament.  The first time I was introduced to temperament as being either extravert or introvert was some thirty years ago now almost when a former provincial leader of the Irish Christian Brothers, one Timothy Claver Leonard introduced me to the MBTI, in  the administration of which he had qualified somewhere in the United States.  In short the MBTI (or Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator) is an assessment based on a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.  These preferences were extrapolated from the typological theories proposed by Carl Gustav Jung and first published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923). The original developers of this personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers - hence the provenance of the name of the inventory.

Jung tells us that he came up with his theory of temperament while he was trying to understand the alternative interpretations of human nature advanced  by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Jung described Freud's basic attitude towards things as what he calls extraverted.  By this Jung meant that Freud conceived the subject as primarily in search of, and moving towards, objects.  Adler, Jung argued, on the other hand, takes the introverted attitude as "conceiving the subject as primarily needing to establish autonomy and independence, and hence moving away from objects." (Solitude, p. 87)

When I was studying and administering the MBTI with Br. Tim Leonard, the way we differentiated between the extraverted (E) character and the introverted character (I) was by saying that E temperament persons get their energy from outside themselves, from engaging with the world, while I temperament persons get their energy from inside themselves, from being alone and in solitude..  Let us return to Storr's words here for their lucidity of explanation:

Jung thought of extraversion and introversion as temperamental factors operating from the beginning of life, and as co-existing in everyone, although in varying measure.  No doubt the ideal person would reveal both attitudes in balanced fashion, but in practice one or other attitude generally predominated. (ibid., p. 87)

Like with everything else under the sun, there then enters that ideal state of balance.  I believe that growing in self-knowledge or any type of personal development is all about balancing the extremes that are at play.  It is unsurprising then, that Jung should have argued that neurosis followed if either pole of this divide - either extraversion or introversion - became exaggerated.  Extreme extraversion leads to the individual losing his or her own identity to that of the mob as it were, while extreme introversion would lead to to self-preoccupation and lack of contact with the real world.  Jung reminds us that already in history many literary giants the likes of Goethe had already become aware of these two opposing tendencies in different individuals and that this latter German writer and polymath had described these characteristics as diastole (E) and systole (I). Then, he points out that the art historian Wilhelm Worringer had referred to these poles as Abstraction (I) and Empathy (E).  Similarly he referes to the late great contemporary psychologist Liam Hudson (1933 - 2005) who made a similar distiction between Divergers and Convergers where Divergence corresponds to E while Convergence corresponds to the I category.  Howard Gardner adverts to Patterners and Dramatists when he studied the drawings of children.  Once again the Patterners would correspond to I while the Dramatists would loosely correspond to E. (In all of these examples mentioned by Storr, we should bear in mind these two words "loosely correspond," because we are in a highly nuanced and mercurial area indeed.)

Undoubtedly, we need a balance of both, but in everyone one particular pole of the continuum is preferred, or, in other words, we each tend towards one pole while we balance it with some of the other.  There is indeed the Adlerian need, an introverted need, to establish distance from the object, independence, and where possible, indeed, control.  To be objective means I do have to withdraw as it were and observe from a distance.  As John Henry Cardinal Newman was fond of saying way back in the 1840s that when one was lost in any terrain one had to "mount upon an eminence" if my recollection of his Victorian vocabulary serves my memory well, or in more contemporary terms, "climb up a hill" to view where one is, get one's bearings and then see how one will progress from there.  So abstraction is very important to our self-preservation.

However, once again no one is all E or all I.  In suggesting these two basic attitudes or general tendencies, of course, Jung was generalising from extremes which, of course, it is necessary to do if we are to come up with any theory in the first place.  However, Jung, like all good scholars, realized that he was doing this, and that there was a continuum at play in all humans, that is we all share some of both traits to a lesser or greater degree.  When I first did the MBTI, which has some 16 character types, I came out as ISFJ and have come out the same again and again with very slight fluctuations on S-N or F-T scales over the years.  However, on the E-I continuum I have always come out as decidedly I.  However, over the years through much personal development, natural growth and indeed, therapy, I have developed great extraversion skills.  One has to if one wishes to simply survive.  I am a teacher and I have to extravert myself in class.  I also do a certain amount of public speaking and this certainly necessitates being extravert.  As Dr Storr puts it very succinctly: "Even the most introverted persons need some human relationships; even the most extraverted persons need some pattern and order in their lives." (Ibid., p. 93)


Barry Kennerk said...

Very interesting piece Tim,

Useful to this discussion might also be R.D. Laing - see: 'The Divided Self' in which the author discusses the concept of ontological security. I think your comment about extreme extroversim dovetails neatly with Laing's portrayal of the schizophrenic whose failure to maintain any sense of individuality leaves him in fearful of being literally consumed by engagement with society.

I remember the Myers-Briggs tests we undertook back in 1994/5. What is surprising is the extent to which these tests still retain their validity. I look forward to reading more of the same.

TQ said...

Thanks for the comment Barry. Indeed you are right. I could have mentioned that above! I have long been a disciple of Ronnie Laing and have all his books. The book you refer to is brilliant and I have commented on it in these posts before. Thanks for the comment. It good to have readers out there! Once again, let me know the time and place of your book launch and if I'm free I'll be there! Thanks again for taking the time to comment!