I got a little carried away with myself this week and ordered about 10 books off Amazon. On some completely random topics. LIke books of poetry, books about writing, a book about Narnia, a collection of ancient Egyptian literature, a book on physics/science, and then the one on introverts. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I started reading that one at the library before I had actually received the book, so that was the first one I read when my long-awaited package came. Ok, a disclaimer. I had to wait about 48 hours, since I got free two-day shipping. So not a crazy long wait. Just 48 hours too long. 🙂
I immersed myself in Quiet for the next couple days and then emerged, I hope, a better introvert. There are several points that I found interesting in the book.
1) According to several studies, introverts are more sensitive to stimulus (like sounds, colors, motion, etc…) than extroverts. Or more accurately, less stimuli will excite an introvert the same as a greater amount of stimuli would an extrovert. For instance, there was a study done with a group of introverts and extroverts which involved giving them puzzles or problems to solve while listening to different volumes of music. It turned out that the introverts and extroverts were about equally good at solving these problems when the introverts could have the music about 20 decibels lower than the extroverts. In other words, their minds were stimulated to problem-solve with roughly the same output as the extroverts when there was less sound stimulus. I’ve always thought of my mind as something like an old-fashioned switchboard, and in certain situations, the switchboard just gets swamped with too many demands and it can’t keep up with it all. Extroverts seem to have a nearly infinite switchboard (at least in my mind, maybe they would disagree) and so no matter how many demands and calls are placed on it, they can handle it fine. I can’t really go into the scientific details, but it seems that introverts end up receiving more stimulus in their brain whereas with extroverts, a lot of this never makes it to the brain. While this probably isn’t the correct term, it is like the neural pathways of the introverts are wide open, whereas the extroverts have closed their pathways down somewhat so that less will get into their brain. So that while X stimuli will be the perfect amount for introverts, extroverts need Y because X simply isn’t enough since it isn’t all reaching their brain. So this slightly different way of looking at it made me realize that there’s not a deficiency in introverts, which is my default assumption since we don’t have an infinite capacity for stimulus, but that introverts and extroverts simply receive and process the stimulus in different ways. Hence an extrovert at a party and an introvert having coffee at a quiet cafe with one or two friends are being stimulated in probably about the same amount.
2) This different way of thinking helped me understand extroverts too. I think one of the most important things I learned in Quiet is what extroverts need and why. The examples and explanations in the book give me more insight into why extroverts are constantly seeking more stimulus. When I’m ready to say, “hey, let’s just sit down and read a book, ok?” they’re trying to create a party and that’s because they simply don’t get enough stimulus out of reading a book because well, let’s face it, reading is boring. At least for the extrovert 🙂 It also helped me understand that extroverts and introverts have a different “ideal” type of conversation. The extrovert is seeking that stimulus, so they need lots of movement, fast-paced conversations with lots of people on many topics. Whereas the introvert is stimulated in a different way, so they would rather talk to one or two people on just a few very deep and detailed topics. Example, which is taken a little from the book, but is mostly me elaborating on it.
Person 1: I just got a new dog! He’s a black lab and we’re having a hard time getting him to not dig up the yard.
The extrovert would respond more like this:
Extrovert: My great-aunt’s friend’s granddaughter’s boyfriend’s cousin had a pomeranian who was so adorable! He would roll over and do all kinds of tricks for you!
And the introvert would respond along these lines:
Introvert: That must be really annoying to have your yard in such a mess. What have you been doing to try to stop him? I’ve found that doing….has sometimes discouraged my dog from ruining my garden.
And then maybe the introvert would want to launch into a deep discussion of why dogs want to dig, the different ways people use to stop them, and what those methods reveal about the different perceptions people have about animals. And the extrovert might go on to tell a hilarious story about this pomeranian or some other dog that they’ve known or heard about. So this is really a very accurate way to describe the differences, at least in my mind.
So I’m trying to get it into my brain that extroverts need that random, skimming the surface, fast-paced, let’s-talk-about-everything-in-five-minutes kind of conversation just as much as introverts need the slow, thought-provoking, philosophical, deep discussion of our existence, our purpose, and all other things existential. Also, I don’t like to talk until I’ve thought something out completely. I do my thinking in my head, I can mull over something for days on end, and then finally once I’ve figured it out, I’m ready to talk about it. Whereas extroverts need to talk about things to find out what they think. They need to express their thoughts, although they might be incomplete and needing some clarification and refinement. They need someone to hear them think. It is hard for me to understand that sometimes.
3) Introverts can and do act like extroverts. The funny thing about this book, Quiet, is that there’s some complicated word for pretty much every kind of behavior. So there’s a fancy word for this, but basically it comes down to, if an introvert has a passion for something or is deeply committed to a principle which they want to share with the world or which requires social interaction, they will act like an extrovert for that ideal or universal cause. This I think helps explain why I don’t have a problem giving speeches or talking about economics and liberty because this is something I believe so strongly about. So I’m sure there are people out there who could never believe I’m an introvert and there are probably others who see me giving a speech and realize I’m an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. Of course this brings up a question of identity. If I’m an introvert, then is it wrong to pretend I’m not? I don’t think my introversion is the entire definition of who I am. If my deeper principles and beliefs require that I be more extroverted, then I’m being true to myself by acting like an extrovert. I’m not trying to deceive anyone, because if in the middle of a speech someone were to ask if I were introverted or extroverted, I would tell them the truth in a heartbeat. We can be more extroverted for a cause, for a principle, and even for other people if that’s what they need. If close family members or friends are extroverts, they may be confused and hurt when their aloof introverts just continue to withdraw into their own world. If we care about them, which we should, then we need to make an effort to reach out to them, to find the energy to communicate with them so that they know we care.
4) And lastly, this introvert/extrovert distinction, or really any kind of personality distinction, should not give us an excuse to fail in our duties to God and those around us. “I don’t want to be kind to my neighbor because I’m an introvert.” or “I’m not going to talk to my family member because I’m an introvert and I need to be left alone.” I think there’s a fine balance between being aware of our personalities and using it to escape from what we need to do. I think the encouraging thing about Quiet is that it gave me more confidence that I’m not some completely crazy neurotic anti-social creature, but that I’m just different and there are ways to structure my life so that I don’t have so many burned-out, totally socially exhausted, “don’t you dare talk to me” moments, and that in turn, if I’m able to reenergize myself more often, if I’m less exhausted, it will be easier to reach outside my comfort zone and be there for people who need me. And in the long run, I’ll be happier because I won’t feel so depleted and my family will be happy because I’ll actually be there instead of being the ubiquitous hermit buried away in her books.
And I just realized I’ve spent almost this entire Saturday morning holed up in my room writing this blog post, speaking of interacting with my family, haha. Maybe I’ll go say hello to them 🙂