social psychology

Why Young Lives Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose V: Faking it to Fit in

By M.K. Styllinski

The Wallflower or Attention Seeker?

“The fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside — you were a fraud. And the more of a fraud you felt like, the harder you tried to convey an impressive or likable image of yourself so that other people wouldn’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person you really were.”

— David Foster Wallace


Reading time: 10-12 mins

Another aspect to consider in this overview of happiness is the introvert/extrovert poles and the mix of both, classed as ambivert. This is a useful starting point from which to guage how imbalance can manifest and impressions start to depart from who we really are, to become camouflage rather an expression of our essential nature. The trick is to become internal auditors of our self-awareness – an introspective quest of self-observation. With the help of others, we begin to employ an objective analysis as best we can, which is where Eurich’s “imaginary therapist” comes in.  Equally important is an extrospective quest or external auditors to increase our self-awareness with other people and to discover how they really see us. Once we have both introspective and extrospective quests covered then we are in a good position to start the climb toward greater awareness and a bigger vista from which to make further progress.

Of course, you can excel at one and not the other. That means introverts may be better at seeing what many of us miss, but suffer when it comes to externalising and applying those discoveries. For instance, they might have a harder time establishing that supportive circle of true friendships that can house the creativity for community, although they harbour a greater understanding of the covert psychological strategies at play, mostly due to their bid to remain under the radar and away from the spotlight. Generally, extroverts will have more difficulty with sufficient introspection since they are often more comfortable with an external focus. Such people usually have no problem creating social circles but they will a) likely have friendships that enjoy their charisma and entertainment value but seldom have friends that get close enough to access their real nature outside of that “larger than life” persona, b) the large amount of friends they may have is due to the possibility that these contacts can only stand them in small doses c) imbalanced extroverts tend to suck the energy out of a group or gathering in their bid to be the centre of attention which ultimately leads to friendship fatigue and/or accumulated tension, jealousy and conflict. (Unless of course, their behaviour is due to the Dark Triad which is a whole different ball-game).

For the imbalanced introverts who are immersed in a culture that unfairly values extroversion, such people often feel lonely, anxious and depressed. The imbalanced introvert will likely believe she does not have the courage or the likeability to engage sufficiently with others and will think that people would probably misunderstand her anyway, especially if her social skills have atrophied. Acute shyness seldom recedes if these fears aren’t addressed. Many introverts who are concerned about their personality type (whether such an expesssion is natural or artificial) place too much importance on what others might think of them and are locked into erroneous fears about the impressions they might engender should they have the courage to properly exchange. Social exchange is harder for those naturally preferring solitude, peace and one-to-one relationships but the sensitivity and perspicacity that often goes with introversion is much needed in our culture. Imbalanced introversion can lead to the kind of self-pity which produces the Damsel-in-Distress or Little Boy Lost Syndromes which seeks to ellict attention in manipulative way. Neither ploys evoke long lasting relationships.

The imbalanced extrovert doesn’t place enough importance on the art of exchange and may place great stock in his own perceived value – or at least, his need to operate in such a way that delivers what he needs i.e. required energy through attention – which may or not be in synch with others’ needs. His or her self-concept can be limitless and they can thrive in situations of pressure, risk and responsibility. They can be the life and soul of the party or a heavy jack-boot on true exchange, hogging the conversation and dominating all those in his presence whether at a board meeting or the pub. God help us if he isn’t entertaining and charismatic. Behind all that bravado however, they can be as insecure as the timid introvert, preferring to use a different mechanism to fill up the emotional tank of the ego. Obnoxious behaviour with minimal social skills will gradually deliver the extrovert to the same place as the introvert who is busy wallowing in her own shadow. The only difference is that the imbalanced extrovert will refuse to believe it and attempt to “entertain” amid uncomfortable smiles and polite excuses to catch the last taxi home.

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