Introversion as Physical Reality

Introverts the world over are waking up. It’s not merely a psychological classification, it’s a physical reality.

Backgrounding the Story

At one point in seminary we had to learn our Myers-Briggs type. I considered it complete hogwash and wanted nothing to do with it. But, when I had to do a hospital chaplaincy that everyone loathed, dreaded and feared, I noticed that our instructor was very into it. So, I decided, if I put time into it and learned about it, my life might go a bit easier during my chaplaincy.

My goal was decided! I would learn about my Myers-Briggs type and how it affected my religious leadership style. Was I in for a life lesson, and no we don’t want to put all of our eggs in the psychology basket.

What I learned is that I’m in INFP. That means I’m a type of introvert, and I go on about that sometimes. But it’s rare and most people consider us unusual. As a leader it can work very well, but I also learned that I can drive people nuts if they aren’t aware of it and if I’m not being what I consider to be remarkably over-organized and meticulous with schedules, meetings, plans, etc. One of my friends in the chaplaincy was also an INFP and we had a lot of laughs because we both went through exactly the same things in life and he used a phrase I’ve often quoted, “It’s a recipe for disaster!”

But it’s actually a recipe for success in life, even though introverts have to cope with living in an extroverted world, and telephone calls, and parties, and meetings, and talking, and spending time with other people, and leaving the house for hours on end.

I’m kidding of course, I love other people. Most of you at least.

And if I don’t, you know who you are. 🧐

But my guess is that if you probably think I don’t love you, I actually do, with that impersonal impartial love that goes along with wanting the best for someone.

Where were we again?

So, being aware of the characteristics of my personhood is one thing, but realizing there’s actually a physiological cause for them is another thing completely.

Yes, that’s right, and while introverts the world over are still stuck in the “there’s something wrong with me, I have to change, I need a therapist, I must have ADD, I need a drink” trap, we’re in truth perfectly fine and only need an air conditioner and some books to keep us perfectly happy. And work, and hidden adventure, and friends, and plenty of time to be non-stimulated.

It’s old data by now, and street knowledge. But live science has some of the beta:

Individuals with this highly sensitive trait prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk, research suggests.

Study Sheds Light on What Makes People Shy
By Live Science Staff April 06, 2010

There’s actually science showing that blood flow to the brains of introverts takes a longer and more complex route through the brain. It doesn’t mean we’re more intelligent then the talky, babbly bunch, but it does explain why we can often say something like “Oh” in response to a five minute conversation while we look upwards and consider things some more, then go home and read.

More recently there’s more info on brain chemistry that’s coming to light:

The best way to explain the differences between introverted and extroverted brains is by bringing attention to three key chemicals in our brain: dopamine, adrenaline, and acetylcholine. Let’s start with the “feel good chemical”: dopamine. We love dopamine because it rewards us with feelings of happiness when we engage in certain behaviors. These pleasurable effects reinforce and motivate us to repeat behaviors that stimulated the release of dopamine. Now, if we throw adrenaline into the mix, which is sparked by things such as risk taking, novelty, and physical and environmental stimulation, even more dopamine is released! Herein lays our first difference between extroverted and introverted brain. It turns out that extroverts have more dopamine receptors in their brains than introverts do! This finding means that extroverts need more dopamine to feel happy because they are less sensitive to it. The more they talk, move, and engage in stimulating activities, the more extroverts feel dopamine’s pleasant effects. In contrast, introverts are sensitive to dopamine, so all of that stimulation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious.

Much like dopamine, acetylcholine is also linked to pleasure, but its effects are much more subtle. Acetylcholine makes us feel relaxed, alert, and content. It also fuels our ability to think deeply, reflect, and focus for long periods of time on one thing. When we engage in activities that are low-key, calming, and mentally engaging, we activate the release of acetylcholine. For extroverts, the pleasurable effects of acetylcholine pales in comparison to the jolt of happiness they experience from dopamine. However, introverts crave acetylcholine. So, while extroverts are out and about enjoying the benefits all those extra dopamine receptors, introverts are happily lounging at home with a book and a pleasant dose of acetylcholine.

Introverts and Extroverts: The Brain Chemistry Behind Their Differences
By: Melissa Hansen, Psy.D. | December 16, 2016

Is there even a story here?

My parents, God rest their souls, would have sighed with relief at this knowledge. Tucked away in my room reading or studying, out in the garden planting something or other, polishing the silver, inside on weekend nights raptly watching old movies while ignoring the parties down on the corner, waxing the floors. Later in life, hours in lap pools, alone at keyboards, all kept them wondering what was up with me.

But being an INFP also helps describe some of my decision making processes, which were usually emotionally based on ideals, and open-ended both in terms of the time frame and in scope. Being introverted, and not understanding it, helped me to not seek out help when I needed it, and not talk about things I really did need to talk about. (And finally did, of course, as I learned about myself and sought both self-knowledge and knowledge of Christ.)

Point Being

If you’re an introvert you’re not alone. And if you’re an INFP you’re definitely not alone though you probably feel a bit weird at times in our extroverted, rational, deadline-oriented world as you type up 5-page e-mails, letters, and texts to the wonderment and/or exasperation of everyone who receives them. In any case, you’re no doubt most often alone or with close friends, but that’s healthier for you anyway.

Prayer for the introverted INFP type tends towards Adoration, silent prayer, unstructured prayer, reading, and meditating on Sacred Scripture. It’s a recipe for holiness when we understand it’s our strength.


The Rev. Kenneth Allen