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Barbara Bradley Bolen, Ph.D.

IBS and Introversion

By September 6, 2011

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I came across this excellent article written by Jonathan Rauch and I want the whole world to read it! It is called:

Many of my private practice patients have heard my sermon on "introversion in our society". It is my personal belief, nicely echoed by Mr. Rauch, that as a society we extol the virtues of extroversion, leaving those of us who are introverts to feel that there is something wrong with us. In my opinion, this bias contributes to social anxiety and low self-esteem.

To illustrate this point, I went to an all-girls high school in which their was a flower shop right next door. It was a tradition that girls would buy corsages for their friends on their birthdays. You can imagine that the cheerleaders would have a gazillion corsages pinned to their uniforms, while the more introverted or shy girls would have only a few. This dynamic has certainly come into the digital age, where people feel badly if they don't have hundreds of facebook friends!

One of the things that I liked about Mr. Rauch's article is that he made a distinction between being shy and being introverted. In my experience, one can be shy and be an extrovert, or be socially confident yet still be an introvert. It is also my opinion that shy people can learn to be more comfortable in social situations. Introversion is more about personal preference - do you thrive in the company of others or do you prefer to balance your social time with time spent alone.

I do not know if anyone has found a direct link between introversion and an increased risk for IBS. What I do know is that feeling badly about oneself can lead to anxiety in social situations and that anxiety can exacerbate the severity of IBS symptoms. I thus declare that it is time to embrace your inner introversion! Introversion/extroversion should have no more significance than if you are left-handed or right-handed. You can significantly reduce your social anxiety if you let yourself be who you are without passing negative self-judgement. Try it! Let me know if it has a positive effect on your IBS.

If you struggle with significant social anxiety, visit About.com's social anxiety disorder site.

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September 11, 2011 at 6:04 am
(1) Private says:

I am at peace with my introversion, and treasure my privacy as a spiritual experience. However, I still suffer with IBS! There may be a correlation between the two (as there is between IBS and fibromyalgia, allegedly), but I don’t believe the etiology of either syndrome to be “social anxiety” or introversion, per se.

Though either condition may LEAD to more anxiety, or course!


Incidentally, some of us introverts are still pretty good with small talk! It’s an acquired skill. I can handle it for about 5 minutes, myself. Then I walk off…

September 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm
(2) Dr. Bolen says:

Thanks for giving us five minutes!

September 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm
(3) yellowRose says:

It was definitely a struggle when I was first got IBS because it changed me physically and mentally. I will say I became MORE introverted after I was hit with the IBS syndrome, because I never know when I might need to go off by myself to take care of any issues, which means I don’t like being involved in events/people/situations that would create additional anxiety for me.

I also don’t like being “judged” or criticized, so that is also an issue with IBS since people cannot understand all the manifestations it can take. So, my close family understands and can tolerate my needs at that moment. Everyone else I keep at a comfortable emotional distance.

September 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm
(4) Dr. Bolen says:

Hi yellowRose, thanks for posting. You make an excellent point about how IBS can make it hard to be around other people. My hope is that someday IBS will be seen as matter-of-factly as asthma or diabetes and therefore minimize the effect that it has a person’s relationships.

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