The Quiet Leader: The DSM 5 and My Near Diagnosis Experience

This post is number five in a series on Quiet Leadership. You can join the Quiet Leadership Facebook Page here or add your name to the email list by clicking the FOLLOW button on the right. Please “Like” the article and share it. Get ready to become part of the Quiet Revolution.

Check other articles in the series on Quiet Leadership here: the Quiet Leadership Manifesto, The Imposter Syndrome, The Top Ten Reasons Listening is Better than Talking and Seat Work (boring title, but amazing post… so says my Publicist/Daughter).


What you don’t know can kill you, or at least, it can maim you. In some circumstances, what you don’t know is both funny and stupid at the same time.

Recently, I found out that I was nearly diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. I like to think of it as my Near-Diagnosis Experience.

The roots go back to my childhood. I was an unusually quiet child who liked being alone and who was sometimes shy. It carried through to adulthood where I recharge more by being alone and I prefer smaller groups of people, I have a rich inner world, and I enjoy my alone time. Sounds sick to you? Yea, I know. Just imagine what it is like to BE that person.


The recent edition of the DSM 5 had planned to create a new diagnosis for people like me. The Globe and Mail has an interesting read that discusses this topic in the article When Shyness is a Mental Illness. Part of me finds it really funny that quiet people in offices want to create a diagnosis for other quiet people in offices. Hmm…

The new diagnosis would use the following criteria:

  • A preference for withdrawal from other people and social interactions
  • Those who prefer to being alone rather than others
  • Reticence in social situations
  • Avoidance of social contacts and activity
  • Lack of initiation of social contact

In other words, many Introverts would now be mentally ill based on their personality, their preference to be alone to recharge, and their reluctance to be socially extroverted. I would like to diagnose the authors of this diagnostic embarrassment with being Stupid.

“In some circumstances,

what you don’t know is both funny and stupid at the same time.”

Maybe we should create a Stupidity Disorder? Diagnosis would occur with two or more of the following: Failure to use common sense, lack of forethought, not listening to other people, thinking you speak for everyone, not acknowledging both sides of a discussion, denial that you are part of the problem and being stupid.

It turns out the World Health Organization’s version of the DSM, the ICD, has been diagnosing Introversion for years. The intent of the diagnosis is to identify and treat people with debilitating personality characteristics. Crushing anxiety, avoidance and isolation are painful and can be devastating for those who experience it. What I am concerned about is the diagnostic creep that can make us see personality type as an illness.

A Psychology Today blog on the introverted personality diagnosis included some insightful comments on the proposed diagnosis. Anonymous wrote: “The only time I feel my introversion is a problem is when I read stuff like this….” Artie shared: “I never hear introverts accusing extroverts of being ‘too social’ or ‘too outgoing.'”

Has Psychology lost itself?

I have worked in the Psychology field for almost 20 years and I have always understood that the goal is to try to understand the underlying cause of behavior or problems. Is there a new psychology that looks at the surface rather than asking questions about the motivation? Maybe the authors of the proposed diagnosis need some counselling?

I think that what drives our behavior needs to be explored more than the actual behavior. A person can be more introverted or more extroverted. Regardless of their personality, they may be driven by (underlying) avoidance, or anxiety, or shyness, or fear, or insecurity, or pain. Different personality types express their underlying needs differently.

I wonder if the real disorder here is a deficit of insight? Are we so immersed in our world (and our worlds) that we cannot step back and really see? All of us, even the Introverts, could use a little more real and nurturing solitude. Interestingly, one comment discussed how we should all “be more concerned with ‘solitude avoidance’ than with ‘social avoidance.’ “

Society seems to have bought into the idea that we should aspire to being (or becoming) more outgoing, energetic, inspiring, influencing and sociable. I greatly admire and love people who sociable and more extroverted. But for me, it can be draining to continuously put myself out there. I prefer smaller groups and I need my alone time.

Susan Cain in her book, Quiet talks about The Extrovert Ideal. For years I bought into the Extrovert Ideal and I tried to change parts of my personality. I felt that I needed to change myself and become more like others who were more socially outgoing. I ended up minimizing my natural strengths and other gifts and I ignored the ways that I naturally connect with others.

Thankfully, I have come back from my Near Diagnosis Experience with very little side effects. In fact, I am proud of my Close Encounter with a Disorder. I know myself and my strengths much better than the PhD’s ever could imagine. Thankfully the DSM 5 decided to withdraw it’s proposed disorder. Perhaps they finally listened to the Introverts in their group who were quietly working all along?

Keep it real.

5 thoughts on “The Quiet Leader: The DSM 5 and My Near Diagnosis Experience

  1. What a good article – what a ridiculous idea that being an introvert can be a mental illness. No foresight whatsoever. Good read, well done!


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