Back in August, I published a post called “Social Hermit: A Personal Definition” (link HERE) in which I pointed out that I was an introvert. I went on to describe my personality a bit and I reflected on how introversion played a major role in the way Alan and I travel and the activities we enjoy. Much to my surprise, that post garnered a lot of attention and I received a number of comments, texts and emails about it. (No phone calls, though, because, as it turns out, most introverts don’t like using the phone.) The post continues to draw readers even though it was published over two months ago.
Please note that I don’t have any type of background in psychology and I’m not receiving any compensation from the authors (or anyone else) for publicizing these books. What I plan to share with you today are simply pieces of information from the books I read and my comments and observations about that information. You may agree with me or you may not. But, if you’re interested in understanding introversion (and extroversion) and the way introverts fit in today’s society (or don’t), I’d encourage you to do some reading of your own. In addition to “Quiet” by Susan Cain mentioned above, I also read “The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World” by Sophia Dembling and “The Irresistible Introvert: Harness the Power of Quiet Charisma in a Loud World” by Michaela Chung. Why did I choose these two additional books? Because they were the only two books on introversion that were available in my library system in addition to Susan Cain’s “Quiet.” I have a feeling that there are, most likely, many more books available on this topic, but my curiosity did not extend to spending money and my frugal heart was happy with exploring what I found through the library.
“Quiet” was an excellent book made so, in my opinion, by Cain’s depth of research. An attorney by trade, as well as an introvert, my feeling was that Cain left no stone unturned when delving into her research on introversion and extroversion. She didn’t just study the research, she met with the researchers. As Mary Gill had suggested, this book provided not just an understanding of introversion, but a definite validation for the social hermits among us. We are not “broken;” we have made and will continue to make countless, lasting and important contributions to society. More on “Quiet” in a bit.
Dembling’s book, “The Introvert’s Way,” didn’t add much to what I had learned in “Quiet.” It wasn’t a bad read, but it wasn't what I'd call exceptionally noteworthy and it’s not a book that I would particularly choose to recommend.
Chung’s book, “The Irresistible Introvert,” actually rubbed me the wrong way, although I’m sure that was not the author’s intent. This book felt more like a self-improvement book to me because it provided suggestions for improving confidence and communication. If you are seeking that particular kind of information, the book may certainly prove helpful. I wasn’t – I was simply looking to understand the world of introversion better – so I found myself uninterested throughout most of it and I actually skipped several chapters. I like me just the way I am, thank you very much.
Getting back to “Quiet,” let me share with you some of what I learned . . .
Despite all of the research that has occurred in reference to introversion and extroversion, a standard definition of these two tendencies has never been agreed upon. Apparently, there is such a wide variety of factors involved, that it has been impossible, so far, for psychologists to nail down a “one size fits all” definition.
There does seem to be agreement within the field of psychology that approximately 30% to 50% of the population can be considered introverted. That surprised me, but would explain why my first “Social Hermit” post struck a chord with so many people.
Psychologists do agree on several important points regarding introversion and extroversion. One is that “introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well.” Boy, ain’t it the truth?! A big night out for Alan and me is meeting one or two couples for dinner, then getting home early enough to read in bed before it’s past my regular bedtime. I readily admit that this certainly wouldn’t be considered a fun-filled evening by my more extroverted acquaintances.
Another point that psychologists agree on is that introverts and extroverts work differently. “Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions and are comfortable multi-tasking and risk-taking.” Definitely not my style. I need to do a completely thorough and diligent job, researching as many details and decisions possible within the allotted timeframe for the project. I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy travel planning so much. It gives me the opportunity to get in the flow on a project that involves something I love (travel planning) which leads to something I love even more (travel itself). “Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration.” What was interesting about the different ways introverts and extroverts tackled work is that, elsewhere in the book “Quiet,” it became obvious that each style had its advantages and disadvantages. If introverts and extroverts were able to work together, I would imagine they’d make an awesome team. But, then, we introverts don’t like to work with others, do we? And our extroverted team members would probably lose patience with us. Introverts tend not to like the team-building exercises and open work spaces that extroverts seem to thrive on and in. As far as I’m concerned, open work spaces lead to more interruptions and I wish people would just . . . Leave. Me. Alone. So I can get my job done. And, please, yank that phone out of the wall on your way out.
A third point psychologists agree on is that “our personalities also shape our social styles.” Oh, definitely! Extroverts not only bring life to your party, but they often are the life of your party. They seem to enjoy small talk, mingling and chatting with as many fellow guests as possible. Introverts? You’ve got to be kidding. Although introverts are often excellent listeners and good conversationalists when we make the right connections, small talk is excruciating for us and the more people in attendance at a party (assuming that you could, of course, get us to attend one), the sooner we want – and need! – to head home to our books, our music, our solitude and ourselves. It has often struck me that extroverts get their energy from being around other people and, therefore, need to socialize on a regular, if not constant, basis. But, as an introvert, I find myself physically and mentally drained when dealing with a large number of people at once. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be a large group of people that sends me over the edge if it’s an exceptionally gregarious or boisterous group. Extroverts recharge by going out in public; introverts recharge by staying in.
Research has proven that introverts are often both highly sensitive and highly reactive. Introverts generally don’t like sudden loud noises, blaring music or scary faces. Interestingly, while I love fall and the harvest decorations that abound at this time of year, the celebration of Halloween just rubs my nerves raw. I cannot stand walking through a store and having a witch cackle at me when I pass by. Gruesome masks turn my stomach and today’s creepy and gory costumes are just way too much for my psyche to comprehend. But then, I was also the kid who held my hand on the Jack-in-the-Box lid until I heard it click and could let the clown up slowly. No surprises for me, no, siree! To this day, popping balloons scare the life out of me and I remember hating fireworks as a child because we were way too close to all that noise. But being highly sensitive is a plus in other situations. Introverts are often extremely empathetic, kind and conscientious, and make a serious effort to work well with others. As a group, we tend to be successful at the things that matter to us which often are NOT the same things that matter to society in general.
I believe that an extrovert simply can’t understand the introvert’s need and desire to be alone – just as it’s impossible for an introvert to understand how an extrovert can be drawn to so many people and so much activity. We like being alone. Not all the time, of course. Each and every one of us needs some level of social interaction to keep loneliness at bay. But an introvert’s preferred level of social interaction is tremendously different from an extrovert’s preferred level of social interaction. True story: When our son was in first grade, I received a call from his teacher – an absolutely lovely woman who remains one of the best teachers to ever have graced our local school district. She expressed her concern that Ryan was playing by himself during breaks or recess and not interacting with the other children. I asked if he was working cooperatively with the other students in his class when he needed to. When she responded that he was, I practically begged, “Then just leave him alone. Please.” On the other hand, our daughter, Kyra, is definitely more extroverted. She couldn’t wait to join a sports team every season and was thrilled when she was old enough to attend our town’s summer camp program for kids. (Ryan refused to go.) As an introverted parent of an extroverted child, I have a hard time understanding Kyra’s desire for so much interaction and I’m sure I held her back from some activities without realizing how much she needed to participate. (Mea culpa, kiddo.) Reading this book truly opened my eyes to the extrovert’s perspective.
Both introverts and extroverts may enjoy an event or a party, but we enjoy them for different reasons and in different ways - simply because our needs are different. A quote from author Sophia Dembling in her book, “The Introvert’s Way,” resonated with me because it made so much sense: Of introverts, she said, “We don’t watch because we long to join the fun. We watch because that is the fun.” It brought to mind a comment Ryan made when he was young, after attending the birthday party of one of his classmates. He didn’t leave my side throughout the party but, when we were in the car on the way home, he happily commented, “That was a fun party.” Introverts are excellent observers and absorbers and we can enjoy ourselves quite nicely if left alone on the periphery of the crowd.
If we – as introverts, extroverts or any type of person in between – are allowed and able to balance the level of stimulation we require, then we’re able to find purpose and contentment in our lives. As I said, I have no experience in the field of psychology but, it seems to me that if introverts and extroverts respect each other’s temperaments and make an effort to understand and support each other’s preferred level of social interaction, it would go a long way toward making today’s world a more caring and agreeable place. I can see honest communication being an extremely important component of any relationship between an introvert and an extrovert whether that relationship is built on friendship, love or business.
I realize this has been an exceptionally long post but, please, bear with me for just one more point. (I REALLY learned a lot from all of my reading!)
I have always wondered why (and how) I was able to present a (very highly rated) two day seminar on successful hiring practices to a room full of bank managers back when I was working in the field of Human Resources. Many people have difficulty with public speaking, but it’s often exceptionally difficult for introverts. We just don’t want to be the life of the party or the reason for the meeting or the center of attention. In fact, it’s because we dislike attention (unlike extroverts) that standing at a podium facing a sea of faces staring at us and waiting for us to say something is completely unnerving. Introverts tend to speak more slowly than our extroverted counterparts because we often think more deeply before responding. We don’t think on our feet as quickly as extroverts and generally are more successful with presentations when we know our subject well and practice our delivery. After reading “Quiet,” I have come to believe that my success was a result of the “Free Trait Theory,” a fairly new theory in the field of psychology. “According to the Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits – introversion, for example – but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects.’ In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.” I found this to be fascinating and, most likely, an accurate explanation for my success at something I never would have dreamed that I’d want or be able to accomplish. Although I honestly can’t remember, I’ll bet I went directly home or to my hotel room, got in my pajamas and grabbed a book as soon as the last attendee was out the door. And I’m pretty sure there would have been chocolate involved, too.
In closing, I’ll echo my friend Mary Gill’s suggestion: If you’re at all interested in delving into the intriguing world of introversion, you may want to check out Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” It’s a well written, thoroughly researched and thought provoking book that substantially increased my understanding of the differences between introverts and extroverts. Just don’t ask me to stand up in front of your book club to discuss it.
This would have made an engaging topic for a conversation around the campfire. Not only did I enjoy educating myself about the topic of introversion, but I’m looking forward to your comments. To those of you who actually revel in the upcoming holiday, best witches for a Happy Halloween!