I recently finished a book that actually made me sad when it was over- to me that is the measure of an amazing read. Its author is Susan Cain and the title is, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. This is one of those rare books which I will actually keep in my therapy room to share with clients as I am certain it will help so many of them. I recently read that the majority of people seeking psychotherapy are introverts or of what Dr. Elaine Aron calls “The Highly Sensitive Personality”. If you are in this category, I suggest you also run out and get most or all of her incredible books. Up until I read QUIET, the only book I recommended frequently was The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. Now I am happy to say that I highly recommend TWO excellent books on this subject.
Here is the major difference between the two: QUIET is more of 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. The HSP book is based on the long-term and methodical research of a psychologist (Dr. Elaine Aron) who formulated her own prototype of personality style which she dubbed “the highly sensitive personality”. Her book helps you figure out if you are an HSP yourself and gives invaluable support for this personality type and hands-on tools on how to thrive as an introvert living in a predominantly extroverted world.
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 (or HSPs), but also displayed more extroverted behaviors on occasion or within certain situations. What QUIET helped me sort out is that just as with hair colour (endless variations), personality or temperament 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. For example, I am at the core an introvert or HSP, but I love helping others in therapy and through my writing. Some people mistake me for an extrovert if they see me on television or hear me on the radio- predominantly extroverted forms of getting oneself ‘out there’ for sure.
What they don’t know however is that while I do these things from time to time, it is incredibly painful for me and causes me weeks or even months of dread and anxiety leading up to it. That’s why I keep such 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.
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…
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.