A CHALLENGE FOR INTROVERTS TO
CELEBRATE WHO THEY ARE
In 2014 a powerful and introverted New York lawyer Susan Cain wrote an influential and popular book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking. She documents conclusively that in the last ninety years America has been developing a clear bias toward extraverted personalities. The other leading nations of the world all lean toward introversion: Germany, England, Japan, and China. Since virtually all our celebrities are outgoing and outspoken, introverts find it harder in America to find and keep their self-esteem. This article is for you.
Cain defines introversion primarily as being quiet and contemplative, and adds adjectives like reflective, modest, thoughtful, introspective, inner-directed, calm, solitude-seeking, and private. (By contrast, the traits of the extraverted “person of action” she gives as sociable, gregarious, assertive, dominant, excitable, risk-taking, flighty, active, outer-directed, light-hearted, and comfortable in the spotlight.)
I especially like the simple 3-question definition of Jane Collingwood at PsychCentral. She says you are an introvert if:
- You prefer spending time alone or with one or two close friends, especially when tired.
- You concentrate best when alone, and often give the impression of being quiet, calm and even mysterious.
- You feel that you gain energy and strength from being alone.
I have drawn up five questions to identify introversion, and those that ring true for any introvert can help explain to others how it feels to be him or her:
- I enjoy a big party best when I experience it as a series of quiet small group conversations with people I know.
- I prefer being a part of committees or task forces that get things done without many meetings beforehand to talk things over.
- I am just not very comfortable when personal issues are discussed, unless I know and trust the people I am talking with.
- I am at my best when I am alone, with one other person, or with a small group.
- My first and most comfortable response to conflict and anger is to get quiet.
To help introverts explain to extraverts how they don’t feel, and to help them understand how it feels to be an extravert, here are five are signs of EXTRAVERSION:
- I look forward to parties, because I almost always have a good time there.
- If I worked for a big company, I would rather be in sales than in production.
- No matter who I am with, I can usually show a side of myself other people can like and relate to.
- When people ask me something, I am usually fairly comfortable with my answer, even if it seems to disappoint them.
- I like meeting new people – I find them interesting.
By the definitions researchers use, most surveys put the percentage of introverted Americans around 35-40% (that’s if everybody is or isn’t, and it’s 25-30% if you account for the 20% who test out as “ambiverts”. The percentage of introverts in those other four countries is well over 50%).
An important thing to understand is that introversion and extraversion are inborn traits that do not change much despite the passage of time, changes in lifestyle, or efforts to change in counseling. It’s the way God made you to look at life and live it. It’s like your height or your skin color—best to learn to feel good about it, and see how it’s a strength for you and other people. What is open to change with education and effort is whether these traits are celebrated as a gift or bemoaned as a curse. Both attitudes are self-fulfilling prophecies, and more powerful predictors of happiness than the disposition itself.
If you are cursed with insecurity about your introversion, one way to change that attitude is to write down all the reasons you feel it’s a weakness (e.g., losing energy in social situations, slow making decisions, not saying much in meetings) and think (you’re good at that!) of ways each of these qualities is also a strength (working well in quiet solitude, seeing more sides of an issue as in risk management, hearing things others may miss like emerging consensus and new ideas from inside your brain).
Some biases against introverts are exposed by research to be myths. For example, research has shown us that introverts are NOT more likely to be agreeable/cooperative, conscientious, nervous, open to experience, or emotionally stable. Those traits can be acquired or avoided just as easily by introverts as by extraverts.
All of us need to appreciate that the quiet, thoughtful ways of introverts bring very important assets to any group. Because they think more and talk less, they don’t waste the group’s time. And because they think things through, what they do say is certainly more valuable to a healthy group or relationship than the chatter of those who say more.
Dr. Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown, Lexington, and Shelbyville (633-2860).