Are you an introvert? Or do you love someone who is?
Last week I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I checked it out on an afternoon and had finished it by the next morning.
My own personality hovers around the middle of the introversion/extroversion continuum. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs personality test many times, and I flip back and forth between “E” and “I”.
Or perhaps I’m the kind of introvert that Cain describes, who can easily operate as an extrovert when the occasion calls for it.
As a child, I was definitely quiet and shy, the kid who clung to her mother’s side. While I enjoyed people and made friends easily, I preferred not to be the center of attention and loved quiet activities – most of all, reading. As an adult, I’m very happy with my own company and still love reading (and writing – a typically introverted career choice!), but I find that I get gloomy if I don’t extend myself socially.
While I generally dislike personality tests, and labels in general, I do believe it can be helpful and enlightening to understand the differences and needs of this basic distinction.
Appreciating Your Introverted Spouse
For example, Quiet gave me insight into my husband’s experience (he is most definitely an introvert). Because I’ve typically been attracted to extroverts, it took me awhile to understand his style. But the longer we’re married, the more I appreciate his quirks and his more subtle sense of humor.
I love that he and I can be together and enjoy one another’s company, even without a lot of conversation. He has a quiet strength typical of introverts, and is admiringly patient and long-suffering.
I still enjoy being with extroverted people, but they tend to wear me out. For me, extroverts are a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Communicating With An Introvert
One of the most helpful parts in the book for me was the description of an argument between an extroverted husband and his introverted wife. Let’s just say it sounded very familiar! My husband and I have only had a handful of arguments, but I debate like a classic extrovert (passionately!) and he like a classic introvert (think: turtle shell). Our different styles have been a source of misunderstanding and hurt feelings between us (usually, more upsetting than the topic under discussion!).
This is also why my introverted son will accuse me of “shouting at him” when I’m not – because to him, a firm raised voice IS shouting.
Now I understand why he reacts the way he does, and I’ve adjusted my style to avoid overwhelming him. Introverts literally feel things more – their nervous systems tend to be more sensitive. They’re more reactionary – even if they’re quite good at hiding it.
The Nature Of Introversion
This difference shows up during infancy.
Babies who will grow up to be extroverts react little in response to flashing lights, new noises and other stimuli, but the would-be introverts’ bodies get very excited. They may cry or kick more in reaction to things that leave the more outgoing tots saying, “Meh. Bo-ring!”
This book had fascinating research into the minds, habits and even physiology of introverts, who are decidedly less celebrated in Western culture. One thing I especially like about Quiet is that it honors introverts but doesn’t go the other extreme to denigrate extroverts. There are beautiful things about each personality and we can all learn from one another. Of course, extroverted people are usually noticed and heard more, so the cautionary tale is: listen to the quiet one, s/he may have something profound to contribute.
When it comes to contribution, while we typically think of extroverted types being the leaders, movers and shakers. But introverted people have the focus and attention span that allow them to create. They don’t spend all their energy partying, so they have more energy to devote to hobbies and achievements. They’re also likely to stay the course and not get distracted by shiny objects.
Raising an Introverted Child
Something else I appreciated about Quiet was the chapter on raising an introverted child. At least two of my kids (it’s hard to tell before a child is around 10 or so) are definitely introverted. As an introverted child all grown up and in the throes of parenting, it’s easy for us to over-worry about our introverted child(ren). We may worry that they’ll make the mistakes we did, or suffer the same pains due to our social anxiety.
I can definitely recognize this tendency.
When I was 12, I experienced a painful event because I was too shy to speak up. It wasn’t a major tragedy or anything, but I regret it to this day. I tried never to make that mistake again in my life, and I’ve probably fought my introversion ever since.
If you’re an introvert forced to engage in an extroverted way, you might need a tool in your pocket. Cain refers to something called a “restorative niche”. It’s a safe place you can go to to recuperate from acting out of character. It could be a physical place, or just a quiet break you create.
For me personally, establishing a daily “quiet time” has been key to my sanity raising 7 children and homeschooling. I think it benefits them tremendously too.
Are you an introvert? What’s your “restorative niche? How have you learned to appreciate the introverts in your life?