Quiet Time

I saw a woman at the park the other day who held forth to a group of her friends, no kidding, for at least an hour solid. I kept looking up from my book, in astonishment – Yep, she’s still talking. Her friends seemed content to be her audience. I was equal parts amazed and exhausted, watching her. She was still going, when I left.

It was like watching a creature from another planet. But let me explain.

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A couple of weeks ago, I went to a bookstore to use a gift card I’d been given. New books are a rare treat for me, these days, as I do most of my shopping at used bookstores.

Right away, a Susan Cain book on the new-releases table caught my attention. The cover had Quiet spelled out in big red letters, with the subtitle “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.”

I bought the book and started reading it when I got home. By a few pages in, I was crying. I told my husband, “I’ve never felt so understood in my life.”

In modern-day America, the extroverted personality is seen as the “ideal.” Most gregarious people are proud of their personalities – and others speak admiringly of how much “fun” those people are, of how “nice” or “friendly” they are.

Introverts are made to feel as though there’s something wrong with us. We are encouraged to learn to be talkative and outgoing. If we’re reluctant to go to a fun social outing, we’re seen as a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and the guy from A Beautiful Mind.

Yet nearly half the population is born introverts (although many of us learn to play extroverted “roles” when we’re out and about) and most of the great innovators, thinkers, scientists, and artists in history have been introverts.

Studies have proved: introverts working alone get the most things done. Many other countries, especially Asian ones, still value quietness. America used to – but early in the twentieth century, as salesmen became ubiquitous, Dale Carnegie’s courses helped usher in the “culture of personality.”

This article at Big Think recently stated:

Picasso was right. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” So was Steve Wosniak, who in his memoir explained that, “most inventors and engineers… live in their heads… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Extroverts cannot relate to how much (and why) introverts need “alone time” – just as it’s impossible for me to relate to people who have a need to talk and talk, who get antsy if they’re left alone.

It’s simply a biological thing. Introverts are “highly reactive” – we have very active amygdalas (the organ in the brain that receives information and controls emotions and responses.) Our circuits are overloaded by lots of sounds and stimuli and too much novelty.

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If you’re an extrovert who has an introverted child, it’s vitally important that you understand them – and here is a good Time Magazine article about them, by the author of Quiet.

In a nutshell, here are some of the traits of an introvert:

  • They seek out quiet corners to read or work on things
  • They balk at constant play dates or parties
  • They tend to hang out on the perimeter in new situations
  • Social activities seem to drain them
  • They’re highly sensitive to disturbing images
  • They have an unusually strong conscience
  • They were fussy, loud babies (introverted babies get overloaded by lots of sights and sounds)

(If you don’t know whether YOU’RE a true introvert, here’s a quiz.)

Whatever your own personality type, you almost certainly have friends or family members who are biologically and chemically wired towards classic introversion. Here are a few important points.

Introversion is not a “lesser” personality. It is a trait, like blue eyes or curly hair, and it has survived the rigors of millenia of evolution because it is necessary for the survival of the human race. (Yes, there is scientific data for this and yes, introversion appears in the animal kingdom, too.)

Introversion is not the same thing as shyness – although many introverts are shy (as a child, I was painfully so.) Introversion does not necessarily describe how a person acts – it describes how their brain functions. Some introverts are very charismatic, and some extroverts are actually shy.

Introverts do NOT dislike other people. We simply enjoy them in smaller doses, and we usually prefer to “go deep” in conversations, faster. An introverted child may not want or need dozens of friends – they may be content with one or two good friends, and this is okay.

Introverts physically NEED quiet time to recharge – and some need a great deal of it. Many extroverts don’t understand this, because their brains are wired to recharge by interacting with other people. If you have an introverted child or spouse, they need spaces of time where they can sit alone – reading, working on a puzzle, playing an electronic game – without being yakked at. If they don’t get this, they will feel constantly overwhelmed and over-loaded…which is exhausting and emotionally distressing.

To an exponential degree.

So if you have an introvert in your life, provide them with what they need most – quiet time. And if you are an introvert, take heart.

Isaac Newton. Albert Einstein. Rosa Parks. George Orwell. Frederic Chopin. J.M. Barrie. Charles M. Schultz. Dr. Seuss. J.K. Rowling. Steven Spielberg. Eleanor Roosevelt. Mahatma Ghandi…

You’re in excellent company.

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17 thoughts on “Quiet Time

  1. Interesting quiz! I’ve always described myself as an extrovert (perhaps because I’m the opposite of shy and don’t at all mind being in a spotlight), but I had more trues than falses on the quiz. I guess I’m an ambivert? Anyway, I married an introvert and had two (out of three) introverted children. By comparison, I’m the life of the party. 😉

    Love you.

    • My hubs is an extrovert, my oldest is an introvert, and I THINK the youngest is an extrovert. Let’s just say I TOTALLY get my oldest! He gets all the little quiet corners he needs. But I feel so proud when he gets brave enough to approach other kids, etc. 🙂

      Love you too! I would party with you anytime. XO

  2. *raises hand*
    Introvert here! Not sure how extreme I am but sometimes I feel like I’m in the top %5 tier.

    Related story: I’m an INTJ. My brother in law is an ENTJ. We get along really well and have almost identical interests, but he talks WAY more than I do when we get together and is generally more “open” than I am. He’s an academic advisor so it suits him well.

    • I’m definitely in the top 5%!

      Of course, as a child I had TONS of alone time…and then for the first 17 years of marriage (before kids) I had TONS of alone time…so over time, I grew to need more quiet time than ever.

      Which made it SO hard, once I had babies and they were with me 24/7…but that’s a post for another day!

  3. People often assume I’m an extrovert because I am outgoing and social, but are shocked to find out otherwise. I actually get refreshed by being alone, escaping in a book, and especially quiet surroundings. I, too, dread constant “social” interaction that some people feel is necessary (sometimes I wonder who the “playdate” is really for!), and avoid it when possible unless I am meeting with ONE friend. When I get home from work, Joel asks me about my day, but I would rather crawl in a corner and hide because I am sick of talking, just as my kids want to climb all over me, and I just want my physical space. The only way I survive in my super-social job is by 1) doing a lot more listening than talking, and 2) only having 1 client at a time. Some of these gals I work with double book – that would be the epitome of awful! My oldest is a quiet introvert, as is my husband. I am very consistent about giving them both plenty of alone time… My younger two, however, are energized by people and love social attention and interaction, especially my middle child. The dynamic in our house between my older son and my younger son is difficult, to put it lightly. One wants nothing more than to be left alone; the other wants nothing more than to be accepted and constantly invloved with his introverted brother. It doesn’t help that he’s only 5 1/2, and doesn’t understand its not that his big brother doesn’t like him (although even at 11, my oldest doesn’t get his reasons why he actually needs alone time either – he sees it as complete annoyance and that’s it!). 🙂

    • I would have thought you were an extrovert, too!

      It was so fascinating, reading this book…American culture has virtually DEMANDED extroverted behavior, in public. So many introverts have learned, as you have, to play extroverted “roles.” Which can have its uses…but it’s a crying shame that so many introverts have felt so “less” for so long.

      Susan Cain’s book is getting lots of attention…probably because so many introverts are, at long last, feeling validated.

      (I think my youngest is an extrovert…from 10 months old, he would hang onto my legs and sob while I was trying to make dinner, so great was his need for companionship! Which was so foreign to me…)

      • You know what’s nuts to me??? That if you are quiet and keep to yourself, people see you as rude, or a social misfit, or a loner. It’s funny to me that one on one friendships are seen as a problem (ie, like Facebook – when it first came out, people were having competitions as to who had the most “friends” – um, does the person you met once through another friend in the Starbucks line call you a “friend”? The term is used so lightly I’m surprised it hasn’t floated to space!!) Even “shy” is the commonly nice word for “Oh, they don’t like to talk with anyone, don’t have any friends, and by the way, don’t invite them cuz they don’t even have fun… if they come at all!” etc, etc. I used to be (yes, seriously, I was!!!) very quiet and reserved, but I realized being that way got me dumped on, and taken advantage of continuously, so I made a very conscious effort to come out of my shell in front of people and make it look like I could hold my own in any situation. Honestly, there is good and bad to this. Finding some freedom from the terror I felt in social situations has been amazing, and I don’t dread gatherings nearly as much for fear of people talking to me! Flip side is, I’m so drained by the end I can hardly stand it. And afterward I don’t want to see anyone for at least a week!!!

      • You are singing my song, girlfriend. (BTW, I meant, above, that my youngest was EXTROVERTED.)

        I just know that from the time I was little, I was being pushed forward, told to speak up, told to smile, told to be friendly…and if not told directly, I certainly GOT that message…from EVERYONE. Society at large. Even today, I sometimes overcompensate in social situations, and get incredibly chatty…simply because I am trying so hard not to be myself. Cause “myself” wants to talk about things that other people don’t…like space and philosophy. 🙂

  4. Cathy – so surprised you didn’t tag me as an introvert to read this!! Ha!! Let me affirm this whole thing – extroverts like myself may be fun, yes, but we are also mouthy and nosey and usually find ourselves thrown under the bus because we can’t seem to shut the heck up when the time is inappropriate to keep going. We can be annoying, too loud, too pushy and not only exhaustING, but exhaustED trying to keep it all up. I have changed a good bit since my divorce 5 1/2 years ago. Where I used to need to be in a group of people to feel fulfilled, I now find myself craving a movie alone, a quiet dinner in my favorite Thai place and alone time to read whatever book I’m poured into at the time. I have discovered that I can gain just as much strength (if not more) from being alone and comfortable in who I am without affirmation surrounding me as I can with a group of my fun friends. I have learned to appreciate an introverted lifestyle from time to time!!

    • Extroverts definitely have an easier time of it, in society…I’m just glad that with this book, introverts are getting their due (not to mention, understanding themselves….I never did!)

      Glad you’ve learned to appreciate alone time…it’s honestly my favorite thing, so it’s impossible for me to imagine that it’s not, for some people! Funny how little biological things make us all so very different…and necessary! 🙂

  5. Well, I didn’t score a 19 out of 20 (that’s pretty amazing), more like 15, but I’m definitely an introvert.

    Reading through this helped make sense of something though: I quit teaching high school math 25 years ago in large part because I was going home exhausted and with a headache nearly everyday. I’m realizing now – being an introvert doesn’t help; it’s difficult to force yourself to be “on” and explaining stuff to large groups all day long. The kids thought I was great, and I think I did a good job of explaining the material, but I was constantly wiped out afterwards. Makes more sense now — it wasn’t necessarily that I was doing anything wrong, it’s that it was difficult for me to address 30 kids at a time all day long.

    • Exactly. One of the reasons why I would make a TERRIBLE teacher. In my former career, although I had to talk to clients on the phone, I was mostly at my desk, in front of my computer…which is one of the reasons why it suited me so perfectly. You do what you have to, but I feel like I could never be, say, a barrista. TOO much interaction! It would just drain me to my toes.

      Then again, mothering drains me to my toes, because I’m never alone. 🙂

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