Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Introversion and Extroversion Are Not “Symptoms.” They Are Gifts.

In I Put The Culture on the Couch on May 8, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Recently, the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) is in the midst of being updated. This occurs every few years. The DSM is used by clinicians in the Western world, to diagnose by traits and symptoms what pathology or mental, psychological, emotional, organic or characterological disorders might be present in an individual.

Curently, some on a working committee, have put forth the idea of calling ‘introversion’ a symptom of a larger disorder. The words introversion and extroversion are, according to nearly 100 years of analytical psychology, not in any way pathological, but rather, ways of perception and ways of processing what one experiences in life.

I wrote the following letter as President of a human rights Institute: La Sociedad de Guadalupe Heritage Institute which I founded in the early 1990s and which has as its mission literacy at all levels–spiritual, written, political, economic, cultural — for the souls of the world.

Here is the letter to the DSM working committee asking them to consider the gifts of introversion rather than tagging it pathological symptom.

La Sociedad de Guadalupe Heritage Institute:

Analyzing and Creating Solutions for Issues

of Immigrants, Refugees, Deportees and Victims of Torture Officers:

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.

Martha U. Urioste, Ph.D.

Mr. Marvell W. Lawson, M.A.

April 2, 2010

To: Our partners on the DSM-V Work Group about

Personality and Personality Disorders re Introversion

Thank you for asking for feedback on a tentative proposal to designate introversion a feature of certain kinds of personality disorder.

There is a critical cultural and sociological issue we would like to call the Work Group’s attention to. There is pathology and illness, to be sure. But it must, in our opinion, be carefully differentiated from natural psychological constitution.

It is true, in the past, that some dominant ruling cultures, wherever in the world, often believed all persons ought be categorized in certain ways mentally, physically and spiritually. Those fashions varied from decade to decade. Sometimes the ruling culture also erroneously held certain ‘ideas as fact,’ such as: all persons under their rule ought be carved to fit the dominant mold …or else be seen as ‘less.’

Our Institute is dedicated to raising the bar to invigorate a new view: first and foremost that the world has indeed changed and evolved in significant ways … and that as literally millions of members of minority groups– as well as members of the majority groups –find their voices worldwide, (often becoming more aware and active through education,) most all would like a say-so in how they themselves are characterized by those in the upper layers of science and arts, both locally and globally.

It is in that useful and cooperative spirit we write to you now.

We would like to ask that your final decisions about ‘introversion’ be weighed with the following considerations in mind. There is an encyclopedia’s worth of information to convey, but our points here will be brief.

History of the use of the word in analytical psychology:

The words introvert/ introversion/ introverted, are understood in the worldwide school of analytical psychology as a constitutional non-pathological reality in situ. The concepts underlying these words have been a part of analytical psychology since the early 20th century. These words and also the words extrovert/ extroversion/ extroverted, were used to describe a set of non-pathological ways an individual responded to his or her own perceptions of inner and outer realities.

As the world grows smaller and smaller via the digital world, and thus formerly silent people gain both voices and venues, it grows harder to define ‘one psychology only’ for all of the world’s people.

We’re sympathetic to this difficulty of attempting to find a consensual and accurate language for quantifying and categorizing all groups of the world in psychologically terms… for although the current dominant set of cultural and psychological views of psyche and mental health grew from essentially European and U.S. American roots… as you know, the psychological views of many peoples across the world regarding psyche and mental health, are diverse and differ from one another in significant ways.

We think introversion is seen differently– and not seen as an etiological symptom–by many cultures in the greater world. From our experiences cross-culturally, we see so much identified as ‘psychological health’ defined carefully by each culture and sub-culture according to their own views… which like ours, are influenced by language agreement, spiritual and religious beliefs, elders who lead; scientific observations, co-operative environs and institutions, migration, and like us, isolation from many other far away cultures …

Yet, and too, we see worldwide, at the present moment, that the hearts, minds and spirits, that is, the psychology of literally millions is also affected deeply and sadly, by exposure to the unspeakable: meaning the grief and horrors of memories from war, famine, disdain, dispossession, rape, kidnapping, maiming, murder, conquerings, foreign occupations, and being forced against one’s will into profound losses.

Thus, from the latter, we understand that traumatized people may take on a degree of introversion in order to withstand the initial shocks and to parse what has occurred to them at a deep level: In those cases, introversion is a set healing impulses (including in those traumatized persons who may have been ‘naturally introverted’ before the shock ever occurred).

Working with persons who have difficult life histories, our Institute’s over and over again anecdotal experience as professionals in psychology, education and post-trauma recovery …is that extreme reticence is a good and temporary defense against what one has suffered. But even more so, we find that ‘introversion’ and its accompanying reticences and deeper potential for reflective qualities, is often also prized as ‘a way of knowing’ rooted in many clan, tribal and heritage groups, long before the shock.

When introversion is constitutional, that is, when a person is born with introversion as their main constitutional manner for analyzing and parsing life…

Introversion, we believe, is not pathological, but rather is first and foremost constitutional (inborn). Rather than tagged as poor socialization skill sets, or backward in some ways when only viewed through a more competitive and a sometimes far more extroverted dominant cultural lens, introversion is highly valued in many of our groups who come from disparate villages and nationalities across the globe.

We think those who are introverted at birth may deepen this aspect of personality as part of tribal group conduct. Because such introverted persons may not be of ‘dominant value’ in the larger over-culture in terms of power and prestige, persons who are introverted ought not be disqualified in any way for their abilities of ‘inwardness.’ We think it an un-useful idea were we to allow the word in English, introversion, to be thought of as a negative trait, rather than one that is often associated with thoughtfulness, introspection, invention, innovation and analyses at many levels.

The word introvert for over 100 years has been used to mean, psychologically, to turn ‘toward the inside.’

Thus, our experience with our students, clients, and needful people who have made it here to safe haven from a world under duress, is that introversion—is a trait, one of ‘first focus’ on what the individual feels, senses, ‘sees’ and understands within oneself… and a reticence to speak of these private matters boldly.

A small précis for Introversion

Many souls, from whichever nations, appear to be born with the full set of gifts of  introversion: often early and easy talents for contemplation, self-analysis, quietude, deep thought and feeling, and more. It is true, that inner and outer life will bring– somewhere along the line– a need for the introverted person to learn some extraversion— often in order to protect or create something of value in the world. Most whom we call ‘introverted’ will then learn a good portion of extroversion in time, on their own time. Introversion is not in itself a symptom, nor a pathological state. Introversion is a gift that will eventually gain grace notes of extroversion as the psyche gathers more years.

A small précis for Extroversion

Many other souls appear to be born with extroversion as an innate manner of understanding and parsing the world. They are born with constitutions that carry gifts accordingly: reaching out into the world readily, displaying great verve outwardly, and often making connections easily ‘out there,’ being highly curious, often not fearing the new, but rather wanting to connect to all matters, and more. In life, there will come a time for them too, in which they’ll be called to learn some introversion. Then, they will turn to enrich their lives and abilities in some ‘inward’ ways, on their own time– often as family and challenges of magnitude urge them toward the inner psyche. Extroversion is not in of itself a symptom of anything pathological. Extroversion is a gift that too, will gain extra grace notes of introversion as time goes on.

Understanding and caring about differences:

Until there is balanced psychological knowledge that helps each introvert and each extrovert to understand those who are their opposites constitutionally, sometimes those who are introverted erroneously find those who are extroverted to be ‘loud, crass, pushy, know-it-all opportunists.’ Extroverts may, also erroneously, find introverts ‘shifty, maddeningly non-committal, harboring secret resentments and purposely opaque.’ Luckily for all of us, there appear to be in most persons, a natural prodding somewhere in life to develop some of one’s opposite constitution— and thus understanding comes to us all about the gifts of each. Learning some of the opposite way of parsing the world is not for naught, but rather because this allows one to strengthen and fan one’s hopes and gifts outwardly, to come to fullest fruition as un ser humano, a true human being.

In closing…

We wish you well in your endeavoring to map a psychological and cultural territory that as with a rushing river– over the decades of profound change in human knowledge and culture– one cannot step into the same water twice.

It’s a challenging endeavor. Know too, that all of us who have served administratively and collaboratively for any good idea, know the travails and triumphs of trying to come to a consensus in ways that are sensitive, sensible, and useful to all.

We hope too that someday all convening commissions that decide important matters for the masses, will expand to include ‘the people’ of the many diverse groups of the world so they can contribute too– not as tokens who have been edited by the more dominant culture– but as valued experts on what matters of soul and psyche, adaptation, health and culture mean from their many points of view. Another subject for another day.

Thank you for your patient reading of our comments to you. If there is any way we may assist you further, please do not hesitate to call upon us.

With kindest regards,

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.

–President: La Sociedad de Guadalupe Heritage Institute

–Post-trauma Specialist, Jungian Psychoanalyst, Senior Member IRSJA, USA; IAAP Zurich

–Deputy Managing Editor: themoderatevoice.com political blog, most recently online with Newsweek magazine during the last Federal Election cycle.

Martha Urioste, Ph.D.

— Director and Trustee: La Sociedad de Guadalupe Heritage Institute

Change Agent for court-ordered desegregation of schools

North and South and Central American Immigration Advisor: Fuerzos Latinos

Marvell Lawson, M.A.

— Director and Trustee: La Sociedad de Guadalupe Heritage Institute

— Principal: Meaningful Work, Inc.

— Teacher of Cross-cultural Communications for Minorities/ African-American Roundtable



The DSM is a thick book of diagnostics also used by insurance companies to code disorders, some of which insurance companies  reimburse the patient and/or clinician for, and some of which they do not. Over the 40 years I’ve practiced, I’ve watched for instance, some things be ‘declassified’ as pathologies in the DSM.

For instance 40 years ago, ‘homosexuality’ was considered deviant behavior. Then, as time passed and people saw there was no science to support an essentially religious position, ‘homosexuality’ as a disorder in and of itself was dropped from the DSM. Although some today still lobby for it to be added back in. Additionally, material has been changed or nuanced in the DSM regarding women, such as those who suffered from physical abuse– being called ‘depressed’ without witness to the eitiology of that depression.

  1. As an introvert, this is very disturbing. I hope that they don’t decide that introversion is a pathology/disease, it is most definitely not!

  2. Thank you for your activism and your love. May the ancestors protect you and lead you with strength.

  3. Feelin like I gained some grace notes too through the understandings that come from reading this.

    Thank you once again, for protecting and creating likeyado.


  4. I adore you Dr E….a woman after my own heart….introversion certainly IS a gift!!! This DSM issue is a subject that really gets me going…I think of ‘creative adjustments’, not ‘pathology’.
    I support you all the way in this. love Roni x

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