Another Take on Introversion

Well, not many of you were very interested in contributing to my post on Depression, but that isn’t going to stop me from taking another stab at Introversion!

So today, as happens on many Sundays, I was reading the NYTimes and saw an article of interest. This article is one I enjoyed because of its new twist on another subject we’ve been writing about for some time, introversion. The author, a columnist and contributing editor from the Greater Boston Area, considers whether using the excuse of being an introvert is really just a rationalization for simply being rude. I particularly liked the part where she notes:
“Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.”

One reason I like this part is because she references the Romantic poets, many of whom wrote about sitting around, like Coleridge, under Lime Trees thinking about life, or transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau, who took himself into the woods to think about life, and then there are the hippies who also liked to muse about life while being one with nature. All of the above indulged in high minded philosophical ideas by withdrawing from society, believing they had reached a more astute concept of our world. In other words, they had pretty good impressions of themselves as a result of coming to the conclusion that social interaction, and following social mores, was accepting the dictates of others rather than being true to themselves.

In a later paragraph, the author takes a somewhat critical view of introverts when she says: “self-indulgent introverts [risk] crossing the line into antisocial behavior.” Since we’ve spent so much time determining what it means to be an introvert, and learning how all personality types fall on a spectrum or continuum, I find her identification of introverts as self-indulgent a form of indictment. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that they can be perceived as antisocial. It means something that some synonyms for antisocial includes terms like unfriendly, reclusive, standoffish, and even sociopathic.

We need to draw a distinction between the personality trait of introversion and being labeled as antisocial. However, there is a hazard that what is a personality trait to one person could appear to be acting unfriendly to another.

For a simple explanation of how some introverts function, I found this site helpful. There is something identified as Introversion.

And now we have the case of Martin Ellingham. There are signs that he falls somewhere on the Introversion scale. Similarly, there are signs that he is also rude and antisocial. We know he likes to withdraw into his house to read and work on clocks; but we also know he is willing to go to parties or out for a drink or dinner if the right person asks him (namely either Louisa or one of his aunts).

Finally, Dell’Antonia takes up the notion of control or self-determination, another one of our favorite subjects, when she states:
“I may be naturally reserved, and more comfortable alone than I will ever be in a crowd, but I am not at the mercy of my nature. There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others.”

Maybe she’s right…some of us may be hiding behind the guise of introversion when we are really more concerned about ourselves than others. Perhaps introverts should force themselves to join in more, and perhaps they would like it if they did.

There is an aspect of ME that falls under the category of self-aggrandizement. He thinks he’s better than the idiots and ignoramuses living in Portwenn, and he feels perfectly justified telling them so. We laugh when he tells someone they would be stupid not to listen to his advice (or have been), but it is offensive at the same time. When they frequently call him a “tosser,” they are literally telling him he is being selfish and inconsiderate. Is that the writers telling us this character is simply rude? I mean, we have to be honest and admit that he crosses the line fairly often.

What do you think about this view of introversion? If there are still psychologists and social workers reading this blog, please let us know what your reaction is. (I know, I’m deliberately nudging you to respond. Still, I am interested.)

Originally posted 2016-09-25 15:29:48.

15 thoughts on “Another Take on Introversion

  1. Santa Traugott

    My first reaction is that introversion versus extroversion is one of those traits that is more or less hard-wired, but like so many other hard-wired characteristics, it’s what you do with it that matters. In other words, being introverted or extroverted doesn’t necessarily correlate with whether one is pleasant to others. One can be an extroverted jerk, or an introverted luvvie. So far, I agree with the writer. I can’t cut Martin Ellingham any slack for his rude and antagonistic behavior, just because he appears to be an introvert.

    But surely it’s not only introverts that dodge people and events they’d rather not encounter, and surely it’s rather of an over-generalization to suggest that people who prefer their own company most of the time are, by that preference, not meeting the needs of others, and therefore should benefit them with their company? And I can’t fault people for taking cognizance of their own needs and weighing whether those matter more than the needs of others, in any given circumstance.

    In other words, if Martin Ellingham doesn’t want to attend a noisy tapas party, is he really a jerk for declining? He may be missing out on something he would enjoy, but that’s a different story. Insofar as differing degrees of introversion and extraversion appear in relationships, I think how things work out has to be negotiated on a case by case basis, but in an overall spirit of tolerance.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to fault the writer’s argument that often enough, the excuse that one is not doing something that others want or expect them to do because they need to take care of themselves, shades over into selfishness. It’s really hard to know whether that line is, though, and I don’t think that Martin Ellingham has displayed much selfishness, with his patients or his family.

  2. Amy

    As an introvert myself, I certainly disagree with the notion that preferring my own company makes me either rude or selfish. I can spend an entire day alone in my house and feel quite satisfied by the end of the day, but that doesn’t mean I am not doing things to care for others. I also force myself to do things outside my introverted nature because I do want to help people and be with people.

    So I don’t think we can attribute ME’s rude behavior to his being an introvert; I think it has more to do with his lousy upbringing, his rude parents, and his overall social ineptness. Being rejected and bullied and also being a surgeon probably are the sources of his anger and impatience with stupidity. Many introverts, while finding parties exhausting and chit chat boring and draining, still know how to be pleasant and even enjoy themselves at parties at least for some time. Most of us like people one on one and even in small groups. We don’t behave like ME!

  3. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    This conflict between introversion and rudeness is truly a quandary. I agree entirely that just being an introvert doesn’t give you license to be rude, but that it should be all right for people to decide whether they want to socialize or not. I guess it boils down to making some compromises and humoring others at times. If you attend a concert with someone, surely you could try to make some small talk and avoid insulting other guests or the person who invited you. But, again, the Martin Ellingham character is crafted to say and do things most of us wouldn’t, and that makes him both cringeworthy and comical.

    Of course, we can come up with all sorts of other reasons for why ME acts obnoxiously towards others, including his parenting. I would still contend that there was a deliberate effort to keep this character from fitting neatly into any particular category. So we have a little Asperger’s, a little OCD, a little introversion, a little depression. Basically a mish-mash of many sorts of psychological problems. I consider ME to also be a mixture of selfishness and selflessness since he hates to admit mistakes (until S7) or accept that he might have said or done the wrong thing, but he also makes himself immediately available when there is a medical problem. Sort of a microcosm of this is his behavior when Aunt Joan asks him to check out her friend, Danny’s mother. He comes when called but is annoyed when it turns out to be nothing emergent. Then he concedes to checking her for mental status but is fed up when she answers all his questions without a problem. He thinks she should have made an appointment; however, he’s doing Aunt Joan a favor.

    It appears that even those who consider themselves introverts are in search of reasons they act the way they do. I suppose they aren’t that comfortable with their own behavior. But, yeah, sometimes they are being rude!

  4. Amy

    I am not sure what to make of your last paragraph. I know lots of introverts who are not rude or uncomfortable with their behavior or in search of reasons for how they act. Most of us are essentially uncomfortable in large groups but find one person at a time to talk to—and are not rude. I guess I object to the idea that introversion is anyway linked to rudeness or anti-social behavior.

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I didn’t mean to make any insulting comments about introverts. I have some inclinations towards introversion myself. All I meant to say was there seems to be a desire for introverts, probably much like all of us, to seek some explanation for why they act in certain ways under some circumstances. I come to that conclusion based on the several articles that have been published in the Times. That’s all.

  6. Amy

    No offense taken. I just wasn’t sure that you meant to make such a broad generalization.

    I like to think of myself as a friendly introvert. Most people would never guess that I am someone who is more comfortable with one person than many. Probably because my husband is such an extrovert and I tend to let him take the lead in large crowds!

  7. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    It occurred to me today that perhaps the balance of whether one is being introverted as opposed to rude may be tipped towards rude if every time there is an invitation to join in one rejects it. It’s quite acceptable to refuse an invitation, or maybe two, but it becomes a sign of intentional unfriendliness when the refusal occurs every time.

    In the case of ME, refusing to have a pint with Mark or Joe becomes a joke, and it passes without anyone getting hurt feelings. It’s when he refuses to be Mark’s best man, that Louisa considers him rude and hurtful.

    Just a thought.

  8. Amy

    I think Louisa was more upset that he turned him down flat without an explanation than that he turned him down. If Martin had said to Mark, “I am not comfortable doing it since I don’t know you very well,” I doubt she would have been as annoyed, although she might still have lectured him on getting to know the villagers better.

    I don’t think of introversion as the same as being anti-social. I think most introverts are sociable—it’s just that unlike extroverts who get their energy from being around people, introverts find it draining after a while.

  9. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Oh, yes, introverts can be sociable. What I’m wondering is whether it’s when an introvert never accepts an invitation or when there is a particular occasion of importance that is turned down, that is when they tip over into being considered rude.

  10. Amy

    We may be splitting hairs over semantics here, but I’d call that anti-social, but not rude. Rude would be not sending back a response or answering with an abrupt NO like ME does. Turning down invitations politely even if repeatedly isn’t rude—just unfriendly and anti-social!

  11. Linda D.

    I consider my self an introvert because I really do prefer to be on my own. My friends would be surprised to hear me say that I am an introvert because I plan outings and events and am lively and fun at them – TO A POINT. I tire quickly of the noise and the masses. I could be I have a short attention span but I reach a point (quite quickly) where I have just had enough. I try not to appear rude and just make a hasty, well timed exit. I have really only realized I am an introvert and found this article fascinating!

  12. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    So good to hear from you Linda! I figured you would have seen this before now, but it’s nice to know you found it and liked it. (I don’t know you personally, but I know you were in Port Isaac in 2015 during some of the filming and met members of the cast. I think you were able to overcome your introvert urges quite well then!)

  13. Lisa

    Hello, this is my first post, please bear with me.
    Regarding the subject of introversion, as it applies to ME, Martin’s social development was squelched by his parents. He is portrayed as someone not only as introverted, but with no social skills, as stated by Louisa. He hides his social inadequacies by being focused on the one area that he feels comfortable, medical knowledge. Many times he uses his superior knowledge to either mask this handicap or to lord it over people when he feels the need to be superior. This is not simply shyness, or deliberate rudeness, but an attempt to mask is social ineptness.

    Louisa recognized that Martin had more going for him than what he portrays. This is evident in the second series when she blurts out – “…Martin there are twenty things about you that are crap, but if you were a stick of rock you would be Martin Ellingham…” Translation: Martin you are rude and have no social graces, but I can see some redeeming qualities about you. Louisa’s mistake is she tries to change him too much. She attempts a kind of extreme make over, with him. Throughout the series we see Louisa failure to mould Martin into the person she idealizes. She goes from being frustrated to disillusioned, as revealed in series six, and part of series seven. Louisa complains to Dr Timoney about Martin having no social skills, superior attitude and has no sense of humor, for example. It isn’t until the last episode of series seven that Louisa finally comes to grips with the realization that her expectations for Martin are unrealistic. Louisa tells Martin that she has become too obsessed with being normal.

  14. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Hi, Lisa! It’s great to hear from you! Your characterization of ME is very good. Introversion is only part of his personality.

    Where I differ from you is when you assert that Louisa tries to change him too much and attempts an extreme makeover. She wants to encourage more social interaction by urging him to go out more, but she also admires his medical skills and tells him on more than one occasion that she likes the way he is. He may not always appear pleased to hear that, but she says it. For me her biggest problem with him is being shut out by him. She objects to having decisions made without consulting her and to feeling like he doesn’t confide in her more than anything else. You’re right that she can be troubled by his lack of discreetness, but that also involves the humor in this show.

    I should tell you that we have had many discussions on this blog about the last conversation Martin and Louisa have in S7 and her comment that she has been obsessed with everyone needing to be normal. Ultimately we are all rather confused by that comment because to us she has never appeared to be at all obsessed with people needing to be normal. In fact, she has expressed an appreciation of people’s differences on some occasions, including the time she tells him that there are twenty things about him that are crap, etc. As you say, she sees redeeming qualities even though he is difficult.

  15. Amy

    I agree with Karen that Louisa does not really try to change Martin very much at all. She does want him to be friendlier to the villagers. Right from the first episode she says the village needs someone with a good bedside manner. And later on she also wants him to be more social. But I think she’d tolerate both his gruff manner and his introversion if only he were more communicative with her—saying more nice things and sharing more of his feelings and thoughts, good and bad.

    As for “normal,” I noted that even in the first episode that word appears. Martin tells the colonel that some male breast tissue is normal, but then when the colonel shows him his chest, Martin conveys that what he sees is beyond normal. So I do wonder whether this whole notion of what is “normal” was on the minds of the creators/producers from the start.

    It is rather odd to watch that first episode and see how relatively normal Martin seems! He engages with Bert and Al, he tolerates Elaine, he makes a joke with Louisa, he says the word shit when he sees the colonel, his wife, and Ross fighting, and he wants to fix their relationship. Martin of Series 2 on would never have done any of those things. Louisa might not wanted to have change Martin 1.0 at all; in fact, she tells him that he’s not what she expected—meaning he was nicer than she thought he’d be.

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