Roberto Assagioli offers an in-depth presentation of his view on extroverts and introverts, using historical figures to exemplify how we can be extravert on one level and introvert on another.
By Roberto Assagioli, Jan. 1931, first published in The Beacon. Original title: Individual psychology and spiritual development, part 4 – Extraverts and Introverts.
Today we will take up another classification of human types, that which is based on the direction of the vital interest. For this classification we are chiefly indebted to Dr. Jung, who has embodied the results of twenty year’s study on this subject in his book Psychological Types. In my opinion, Jung has the great merit of having started from the centre and not from the periphery; he has studied human personality in its living reality, in its inner dynamism and warmth. He begins with what chiefly characterises a man: the movement and the direction of his vital interest.
“‘Where your heart is, there you are,” has been said with deep psychological insight. Indeed, the direction of the deeper and original tendencies of one’s being, the object of one’s most intense and constant desires, the aims towards which one’s activities are polarised, give us the key to the understanding of a human being and help us to perceive the similarities, to and differences from, other beings.
Jung distinguishes two fundamental and opposite directions in which the vital interest moves: one centrifugal and the other centripetal.
In the centrifugal movement, which he calls extraversion, the interest is turned towards the external world, which is for the personality a field of attraction, a magnet. The external world in the widest sense, including other persons, is the object which attracts the attention, the emotions, the love of the subject, and which therefore determines his activities.
In the centripetal movement on the contrary, called by Jung intro-version, the vital interest is naturally turned towards the subject himself, who, with his qualities and conditions, becomes the centre of attention, the inner field of observation and activity.
This deeper movement of the vital interest, of the psychic energy, (or libido as Jung calls it, eliminating the sexual significance attached to this word), this deeper movement is rhythmical and alternating in the normal man.
Each has moments In which he merges himself in the external world and its life, and allows himself to be touched and drawn by it; moments in which he wants to express and to project outside of himself his urging creative energy—but each has also moments in which he detaches himself from external objects, in which he collects himself and regards himself as a field of action, as a substance to refine and mould.
Both are fruitful and necessary phases and their alternation constitutes the basic rhythm of human life. Also in this cue the conceptions of oriental philosophy give us much light on the origin and on the true function of those phases and their alterations.
Those who know the oriental teachings about the universe and its manifestation, can easily see that the human rhythm of extraversion and introversion is really a microcosmic reflection and analogy of the great cosmic phases of involution and evolution. Involution is indeed a centrifugal movement of spirit, its extraversion into matter, by means of successive life waves.
Evolution, on the other hand, appears to be the opposite, centripetal movement, the gradual introversion of spirit, manifested and embodied in innumerable conditions and entities, toward its original unity and transcendence.
This analogy may be carried further. We are taught that the great cosmic cycle of manifestation and re-absorption, the maha-manvantara and maha-pralaya, called in The Secret Doctrine ‘The Great Age’ or `Hundred Years of Brahma’, is divided into many lesser cycles of manifestation and re-absorption, each relatively more limited and of shorter duration: Manvantaras and Pralayas of planetary chains, globes, and races, called symbolically “years and days of Brahma’, and so on.
In the same way the long pilgrimage of man’s spiritual entity proceeds. Leaving its unconscious and undifferentiated perfection, descending from plane to plane of manifestation, it identifies itself with the various vehicles down to the physical; then it changes its direction and starts on the return journey, withdrawing gradually until it re-enters again, “the Father’s bosom,” but this time consciously, and with all its inherent qualities fully developed.
But also this pilgrimage is divided into many minor cycles of immersion in, and emersion from matter, of identification and disidentification, of extraversion and introversion.
Some of these minor cycles may last through a whole human life—which is after all only a short day in the long life of the soul—and thus we find individuals in which one of these vital trends is outstanding.
This is the deeper explanation of the existence of the two opposite human types described by Jung, as the Extravert and the introvert. We can easily prove to ourselves the reality of these psycho types If we observe some extreme cases of both. The German philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, is an illuminating example of the extreme introvert. His lack of interest in the outer world was such that he never cared to leave his little native town of Konigsberg, while his unwearying interest in the inner world, his mind constantly bent on studying its own laws and workings, produced his monumental books on the analysis of pure and of practical reason.
Even more introvert than Kant has been the French novelist Marcel Proust who hated daylight and the normal human activities, lived most of his time in a cork-lined room and described in a most clever and diffused way the subconscious mental processes of the characters created by his imagination.
Other striking examples of introverts are those mystics who com-bine a complete neglect of the world with an ardent endeavor to dive more and more deeply within themselves, down to the very core of their being, to find the Indwelling God, as for instance, Meister Eckhart.
As for extraverts, our mind goes naturally to the great men of action who projected all their energies towards the realization of worldly pursuits, and who have brought about great changes in history. We have only to name Julius Caesar and Napoleon. The same can be said of the great technical inventors, such as Edison and Marconi.
There are also other kinds of extraverts; for instance, those with a passionate nature whose vital interest is absorbed entirely in the love of another being. This often leads to such a dependence on the other person that they cannot or will not endure separation or loss.
These few examples show that while the differences existing be-tween the two types are quite dear, we find individuals belonging to the same type who are very different from each other; and this indicates the necessity of further subdivisions. A first important differentiation which I think should be made is that between the active and the passive character of both extraversion and introversion.
The active extravert has a powerful current of energy and interest, which is spontaneously directed outwards. He is animated by a strong desire to act, to possess, and to express himself in the outside world. To use the original terminology, he is full of Rajas. Such are the typical men of action.
The passive extravert presents quite a different picture. He is a sensitive impressionable individual whose attention is captured by external influences, to which he is over-receptive; he is dominated by the outer world. A typical trait of the passive extravert is his tendency to agree with every point of view successively presented to him.
An extreme case of passive extraversion is that of one who is hypnotised. A more normal condition of passive extraversion is the state of receptivity we all find ourselves in occasionally while reading the newspaper or a book, or while looking at a moving picture, absorbing the influence of music and landscapes, etc.
The active introvert withdraws himself from externals in order eagerly to explore and to conquer the inner world. The philosopher, the introspective psychologist, and the meditating occultist are examples of this type.
The passive introvert on the other hand, is interested only in him-self through indolence and egotism; he is to the oriental, a tamasic type. Passive introversion may also be due to a state of disease in the body, or to an emotional or mental trouble, which captures the interest of the individual and rivets the attention on the part which is suffering.
Before proceeding to study other differentiations of these types we may briefly examine two points of interest:
1. Their abnormal and pathological manifestations;
2. The activities and worldly pursuits more adapted for each.
1. There are two diseases in which we find an extreme introversion. In the first, which has been called dementia praecox by Kraepelin and, more aptly, Schirsofrenie by Blenler, the patient has lost all or al-most all normal contact with reality and is engrossed in a fanciful world of his own creation. In the other, called melancholy, the patient suffers terribly under the delusion of being ruined or damned and is tormented by thoughts of self-condemnation and remorse.
The pathological extraversion is found in mania, in which the patient is exuberant and talks, moves, acts all the time.
In nervous diseases, hysteric patients are often extraverts; neurasthenics are introverts.
2. The activities and professions suited for extraverts are those which require dynamic and aggressive qualities and much vital contact with the external world and with the public; for instance those of the explorer, the athlete and the competitive sportsman in general; those of the foreman, the organizer, the salesman, the politician; those of the lawyer, the teacher and lecturer, the actor, the nurse, etc.
The Introvert is happier and more successful in quiet solitary occupations, in activities which require concentration, thought, inner creativeness, such as those of the farmer and gardener, of the astronomer Rid mathematician, of the scholar, the philosopher, the psychologist; of novelists and poets, etc. Coming back to the subdivisions of the general types we arrive at other necessary and interesting differentiations combining the two classifications which we have studied in this and in our previous article.
This combination has been given by Jung in his book on “Psychological Types.” Thus we have eight distinct types:
- The extravert sensation type;
- The extravert feeling type;
- The extravert thinking type;
- The extravert intuitive type;
and the four corresponding introvert types.
I cannot give here a detailed delineation of each of these types, but the general characteristics of each may be grasped without difficulty combining the descriptions given in the separate classifications, and we shall be able to recognise them in individuals we know, or among historical characters. For instance, we can see at once that Emmanuel Kant belonged to the introvert-thinking type and that Napoleon was chiefly an extravert—sensation man.
On the other hand, I think that not all individuals can be made to fit into one or the other of these types without straining the facts or over-looking important elements.
The complexity of human nature often overlaps the fixed boundaries in which we try to encase it for the convenience of study.
First of all, we find individuals extraverted in more than one sphere of life, and with a different polarity. For instance, a man of action who works with energy and success at a practical enterprise, and therefore belongs to the extravert sensation type with a positive polarity, may at the same time be under the influence of a woman whom he loves, and in that respect he is a feeling extravert with a negative polarity.
Another example: A man may be much concerned about his physical health, observing all his bodily sensations (introvert sensation type with a passive attitude) and yet be at the same time a keen student of philosophy creating original theories (introvert thinking type of the active kind.) This is just the case of the well-known German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
But there are also more complicated types, with apparently contradictory characteristics, that is who are extraverts in one sphere and introverts in another. Let us take for example the case of the Swiss writer and thinker Frederic Amid, who was passively extraverted in the physical sphere, since his extreme sensitiveness made him subject, against his will, to all external influences, yet in the mental and intuitional spheres he was decidedly introverted; as shown by the most valuable introspective analysis contained in his Journal Intime, in which his noble soul is faithfully mirrored.
Also some great Christian saints such as St. Teresa, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Dominicus, etc., must be considered complex types, because they combined and accentuated mystical introversion with a practical extraversion which made them men and women of action, creating big organisations and even exerting, as in the case of St. Catherine, an important influence on the political history of their time.
These facts prove, I think, that we must acknowledge a great variety of complex and mixed types if we want to do justice to the manifoldness of human nature.
After having given the description of these types, we must now consider the question of their respective value. This is no easy matter.
We are all apt to be partial and unjust, claiming that one type is superior to the other. This partiality is due to the sympathy and attraction that we often feel for one of them according to our own individual make up. In this respect a curious fact may be observed: sometimes we over-value the type to which we belong and misunderstand and criticise the opposite one. In other cases instead, there is the reverse tendency to under-value one’s own type and to appreciate the opposite. In my experience I have found that the first fact occurs more often with extraverts, who are apt to have very good opinion of themselves, and who, being generally poor-psychologists, have little understanding and appreciation for introverts. Introverts on the contrary often suffer from an inferiority complex and from the difficulty of adaptation to ordinary life; therefore they are much too conscious of the limitation of their type and envy the facilities and absence of self-consciousness of extraverts.
But if we try to rise above our personal preferences and reactions, and to examine objectively and impartially the two types, we shall arrive at the conclusion that neither can be considered on the whole superior or inferior to the other; but that within each there are inferior and superior manifestations, there are low grade and high grade characters.
In order to make this point clear, I will describe two extreme cases of each type, which will give a kind of standard for placing intermediate cases.
The inferior extravert is passionately and selfishly attached to external possessions and people; if he is of the active sub-type he is greedy, sensual, and loves in a jealous, tyrannical and possessive manner. The negative sub-type shows an excessive dependence on conditions and people and is extremely open to suggestions. He is like a weather-cock which turns with every wind.
The superior extravert presents quite different characteristics. In him the outward flow of the vital interest takes the form of a big human sympathy, of unification with others; of communion with nature, of brotherhood and compassion; he is the embodiment of the pure Franciscan spirit. In its more active aspects the higher extraversion manifests itself as an urge for service, as the zeal of the apostle and the self-sacrifice of the pioneer.
Coming to introverts, the difference between the lower and higher sub-types is equally striking. The inferior introvert is excessively self-centred, confined within the hard shell of his personality; fearful and worrying; really he is a pitiful individual.
In the higher introvert instead, the in-going current of the vital interest turns upward, awakening and developing the highest powers of the spirit. We have an Epictetus who, indifferent to all worldly things, has achieved spiritual freedom; and we have the great mystics who have found God by retiring into the inner sanctuary of the soul.
If we consider the two types in relation to age, it would seem that in a very general sense, youth leans towards extraversion and old age towards introversion, but a closer consideration will show us that there is an interesting alternation.
The babe is an introvert: he is entirely occupied with his own physical sensations and needs. The child is an extravert: his interest is directed towards the discovery of the strange and wonderful world which surrounds him. The adolescent passes generally through a phase of introversion, as new vital and spiritual forces awaken in him, and the often difficult problem of their adjustment attracts perforce his attention to himself. When this crisis is over and some solution arrived at, the vital interest turns naturally again towards the external world; towards achievements and tasks and the intercourse with other beings, which generally means: falling in love. This wave of extraversion lasts through the whole of youth and maturity. Then it gradually loses its momentum and gives place to reflection, to the assimilation and the elaboration of the life’s experiences; to a detachment from worldly interests and a turning within.
This is just an outline of the normal and general course, but there are many exceptions and complications due to individual differences and circumstances.
It would be interesting to study the different races, civilisations and nations from the angle of the prevalent direction of their vital interest.
Generally speaking we may consider Orientals, and particularly Indians, as introverts on the whole, and Westerns, Americans particularly, as extraverts.
Northern people are generally speaking, introverted emotionally, while they are positively extraverted on the physical plane. Southerners, on the other hand, are generally more extraverted, which is shown by their case of expression, their impressionability, etc.
After this survey of the types of extraversion and introversion we can sum up synthetically their respective functions and life purposes.
The main functions of extraversion are:
1. To have experience.
2. To develop the powers of expression and of action. (These refer to the growing entity and to its relations with the not-self, and include activities belonging chiefly to … intelligent activity.)
8. A further and higher function of extraversion is that of service; the loving active help to every being, and in this we have the expansive quality of the Second Ray, that of love.
The functions of introversion can be summed up as follows:
1. The inner digestion, as it were, or assimilation of the experiences gathered through the phase of extraversion and their transmutation into inner faculties and qualities.
2. The awakening of inner energies and the absorption of energies from higher levels.
3. The active alignment and communion with the Soul on the part of the personality.
4. The freeing of the inner life from the limitations due to the form aspect, up to the final liberation including the destruction of the causal body.
This knowledge of the nature and functions of the two directions of our vital interests enables us to make some practical applications to the tasks and problems of our spiritual development.
Each has to do this for himself, according to the unique peculiarities of his own case. Yet some general lines on which to work may be indicated. The first and principal task is that of realizing and expressing in the best and highest manner, the type to which we belong. Thus we begin by eliminating the lower crude and selfish manifestations of our type and by developing more and more its higher aspects. This is, in a sense, following the line of natural development and of least resistance, but it does not mean that it is a quick and easy process, It necessitates a radical transmutation and sublimation of vital energies, which entails an occult burning of the grosser elements, and it cannot be accomplished without pain; but this pain is amply compensated by the added power and higher possibilities thus gained. We must remember also that in so doing we help to develop the elemental and deva entities which compose our personal vehicles and that we thus actually regenerate and save our microcosm.
The second task we have to accomplish is that of developing in our-selves the power to function in the opposite direction; that is, if we are chiefly extraverts we have to acquire the capacity to function well, when necessary, also as introverts and vice versa: This has to be done in order to avoid one-sidedness and to attain an all-round development. But in doing it we must be careful to develop the higher aspects of the new direction and to avoid excessive and inharmonious “over-compensations.”
Before concluding, I will say that, in my opinion, in our Western civilization at the present time a special emphasis should be given to the cultivation of introversion in its higher aspects—and this chiefly for two reasons:
1.. Because humanity on the whole is on the ascending curve, or in other words, because the ‘prodigal son’ is on the return journey to the house of the Father. The polarization is gradually changing from the planes of personality and form to those of the formless, and this requires a process of introversion.
Because our civilization at the present time is exaggeratedly extraverted. All the mechanical inventions, all improvements which are made on the physical plane and the added power to use the natural forces, constitute a real progress, but have their dark sides and their dangers. The excessive attention and over-valuation of the material and form side is apt to stifle soul activities and cause the neglect of some vital parts of the personality, for instance, the higher artistic and intellectual pursuits. The excessive extraversion of a Rajasic nature now prevailing results often in a barren agitation, in endless rush and feverish activity which deplete and shatter the vehicles. It is urgent to counteract this general trend by emphasising the value and necessity of periods of relaxation, meditation and silence, in one word, of introversion. This will give the necessary rest and respite to the vehicles, will allow the spiritual forces to vitalize them and will enable us to see the Light, to feel the peace and bliss of the Self.
Thus we shall be equipped for a higher phase of extraversion, for a wiser and more efficient service.