As both an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I am someone who needs a lot of quiet and solitude. If you want a fascinating overview of this topic, please check out the podcast/video I did on this topic:
One of my all-time favourite books that helps people like me and my clients is QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
QUIET is a journalistic treatise which painstakingly examines the origins of how our present-day world became more celebratory of extroverted personality styles, while shedding light on some fascinating well-known introverts throughout history, along with their struggles as well as their triumphs.
Here is a quote I love from the book which I feel is quite radical and applicable to our present-day culture:
Introversion- along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
Introversion as a Continuum
What struck me profoundly in QUIET was the explanation that there are many types of introverts with incredibly confusing combinations. Before I read this, I was myself confused about my own personality and that of many of my clients who were technically introverts, but also displayed more extroverted behaviours on occasion or within certain situations. What QUIET helped me sort out is that just as with hair colour (endless variations), personality is also much more of a continuum, rather than an extreme of either introversion or extroversion. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense considering how varied and complex humans are in the first place. Why should personality be any different?
In conclusion, I’ve come to realise that we are mostly one or the other- introvert or extrovert, with a ‘light dusting’ of the other personality style and that it is very important to know your core personality makeup and how to best work with it to maximize your quality of life.
Pushing Myself to be Extroverted When Needed
I am at the core an introvert, but I love helping others in therapy, through my writing and via my podcast and YouTube channel. Some people mistake me for an extrovert if they see me on YouTube or listen to my podcast- predominantly extroverted forms of getting oneself ‘out there’ for sure.
What they don’t know however is that while I do these things regularly, it is incredibly painful for me and causes me a lot of dread and anxiety leading up to it. That’s why I keep these ‘exposure therapy’ events to a minimum- I’m much happier and at ease when I’m hidden away in my office seeing clients one at a time or quietly tapping away at the keyboard of my computer in solitude. Also, I need a lot of alone time to ponder and decompress and to find my equilibrium after a long day of talking with others.
This passage from the book validated my experience:
So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.
I was shocked to find out through reading QUIET, that my personality wasn’t always such a tough sell in North America. Cain points out that less than one hundred years ago, we used to be a culture based on ‘character’, and with the rise of the industrial age, we increasingly became a culture of ‘personality’. In other words, ‘inner virtue’ was replaced by ‘outer charm’. This all ties into the phenomenon of mass production and mass consumption of household products and the need to sell, sell, sell so that the masses will then buy, buy, buy…well look where it’s gotten us…
Feeling Confident About Yourself as an Introvert
I know personally how hard it is being an introvert in a world where extroverts are highly valued and celebrated and introverts are considered ‘different’ or even ‘weird’ and have a hard time finding their way. But thanks to books like QUIET, we introverts can learn about how our personalities are actually an asset to this dog-eat-dog world and how to be exactly who we are without shame and proudly take our rightful place in society.
To sum it up in Cain’s beautiful words:
We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.