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.
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.
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.