An Aversion to Introversion

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I’m listening to the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain. As about a two-thirds introvert and one-third extrovert, I’m finding the information useful to better understand myself, and I recommend it to all who are introvertedly inclined.

What are introverts? People who would rather read a book than go to a party; people who tend to study social situations before entering into them; people who are more comfortable writing than talking; people who are slow but creative thinkers; people who don’t like violent, gory movies. And did you know there are ambiverts? Those are people with an equal mix of introversion and extroversion.

The main thing this book does is dispel the societal myth that it’s bad to be an introvert. Introversion is seen as unnatural in our current society, which values sociability and boldness. Cain explains how the condition is biologically based (in the brain’s amygdala and elsewhere) and how it is valuable from an evolutionary and societal point of view.

I recall my parents pushing me many times as a child to be more assertive. I was urged to make my way to the front of the crowd, speak up for what I wanted, and criticized for my shyness. I don’t blame my parents. They were just trying to help me fit into our extrovert-loving society, and it is good to go beyond your comfort zone sometimes.

But their actions did make me feel like I was lacking. This book helps people understand that introversion is just a different and natural way of relating to the world and all the sensory input we receive.

“Quiet” gives various suggestions about how work environments can be modified so they are more introvert-friendly, from group brainstorming sessions to the physical layout of offices. I shared these ideas with my son (who is also rather introverted) as considerations when he takes a job after college.

And Cain’s tips for finding your “sweet spot” (the best emotional place for one’s self, offering a balance of stimulation and relaxation) really resonated. Even though I am introverted, I enjoy being around people and need it to feel happy, perhaps more than other introverts. I gained ideas on how I can change my environment to make that so.

As for a criticism: I couldn’t figure out why the topics were organized like they were, but that could be an artifact of listening to the book on CD instead of reading it.

“Quiet” covered a lot of ground. However, I found three things I wished it addressed. 1) The author cites a lot of brain research, but I would love to hear if there’s a link between right- and left-brain thinking with introversion/extroversion. The section on “flow” comes close, but not quite. 2) The nervous system research on babies made me wonder about the mysterious condition of colic and whether there’s any link between it and intro/extroversion. 3) I wonder if there’s any link between introversion and post-traumatic stress disorder. It seems likely that introverts would be more susceptible to PTSD, given their natural aversion to violence and its deep impact on them. If there is a link, perhaps only extroverts should go into battle??!

I’ve worked hard to develop more extroverted traits over the years – studying assertiveness techniques, taking public speaking classes, chairing national committees (on communications, no less!), even organizing and participating in conference panels. I’ve learned coping mechanisms, which have allowed me to become what the book describes as a “socially poised introvert.”

Even so, I’d still rather sit by a fireplace and read a good book. And you know what? That’s okay!

4 thoughts on “An Aversion to Introversion

  1. I am also introverted and enjoyed her book. I appreciate your comments about what you’d like to get out of it. I also suffered from PTSD and your thought on that makes sense to me. Depression and food allergies also – I wonder…

    My only regret is that the books I’ve read on this topic don’t discuss jobs for introverts in a more detailed description. I’m 48 and not going into college – I need job info for all skill sets. If that makes sense:-)

    • Sherri,
      Thanks for commenting! You have an interesting thought about whether introversion is connected to a set of physical/psychological issues. It would make for an interesting study! Best wishes on your job search. Wish I had some suggestions for you….

  2. I think the phrase “socially poised introvert” is brilliant. I try to be one of ‘those people’ but I think the condundrum is that a socially poised introvert can get twisted up with a heap of self-doubt and self-critique in social settings. I know I do! I’ve learned when that happens to just keep smiling and nodding my head…it seems sufficient.

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