Quiet–Part 3: A Few Myths About Introverts

Myth #1: Introverts don’t like people. Yes, I’ve been stabbed with this accusation too many times. Um, tell me again how “not liking people” fits with the fact that I would rather spend hours talking about significant life issues with a few friends over a cup of coffee than to spend the same amount of time at a noisy party making meaningless small talk with fifty different people. Actually, we introverts like people a lot. We just like them in a different way than extroverts. Give them to us a few at a time please. And give us a few weeks to get to know them; better yet, a year.

Myth #2: Introverts don’t like to talk. Actually, many introverts love to talk. They only dislike meaningless small talk and talking in large groups. But get them started on a subject they really care about, and you may get an earful! Extroverts simply have no idea how much energy it takes for us introverts to make small talk about things we don’t care about, especially with people we don’t know. Making small talk is an art I’ve tried to teach myself, because it really is necessary sometimes. You would probably laugh at the ways I’ve studied this. What comes naturally for some people takes enormous amounts of brain power and emotional energy for others.

Myth #3: Introverts are snobby, unfriendly, and reclusive. Ok maybe sometimes we are, or at least we appear that way. But what extroverts need to understand is that while they thrive on social interaction and are energized by it, we introverts are quickly drained by it. It’s not that we don’t enjoy it. But see what I said in the previous post about being easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. We have to conserve our social energy and use it wisely. We can’t afford to waste it on meaningless interaction.

Myth #4: Introverts are quiet because they are trying to hide something. They are not being genuine. Please don’t buy into this assumption! While many other cultures see quiet people as wise and introspective, Americans have come to regard silence with suspicion. Many times we introverts are simply oblivious. You may need to remind us to talk.

She’s not talking. She must not like us. Actually, I was busy reflecting on a previous conversation and didn’t hear a word of the conversation going on around me.

She’s not saying anything. She must disapprove of what we are doing. Uh, sorry—I was just staring out the window, mesmerized by the beauty of the sunset.

She didn’t tell us about the plans and expectations we should have known about. She is a poor communicator. Well, I wrote you a very detailed notice with my plans laid out precisely. You didn’t read it? You ignored it? You forgot about it? That’s ok if you did. Just don’t blame me for the breach in communication.

Ok, maybe I’d better stop. What did I say in a previous post about getting defensive :)?
Please feel free to chime in here and add your thoughts (whether in the comments, by private message, or in person). I’d love hear what you have to say on the subject, and if my perspective is skewed, I want to know. In my next post, I’ll look at the way Christianity plays into this.

Quiet–Part 2: A Hidden Strength

So—back to this discussion about introverts. What I am writing comes partly from the book called Quiet, but I am adding thoughts from my own experience. I hesitated to write this series of posts, maybe in part because it feels like I am being defensive. But maybe some defense is needed.

You may be wondering what all the differences are between introverts and extroverts. Of course no cut-and-dried rule exists, since degrees of introversion and extroversion vary with people. The extremes on either side are easiest to pick out. Introverts are thinkers and extroverts are talkers. Introverts feel drained if they need to be around a lot of people too much of the time, while extroverts are energized by plenty of social interaction. Many people have characteristics of both introverts and extroverts, and neither side appears to dominate their personality. Those people are ambiverts. If you don’t know what you are, you’re probably an ambivert.

One chapter in Quiet has a list of twenty statements such as the following: “I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. I often prefer to express myself in writing. I enjoy solitude. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in-depth about subjects that matter to me.” The more of these statements are true for you, the more introverted you are. (Just in case you wondered–I could write true for all twenty statements, and for many of them I could write it with an exclamation point. It’s disarming to have a book describe me so exactly, but it is nice to have the feeling that at last someone understands. So if you had any doubts about where I fall on this introvert/extrovert spectrum, there you are:)).

The author includes detailed research on the differences in the way our brains are wired. Introversion is often linked to keen sensitivity. We introverts don’t need much to turn our senses on, but then we are also easily over-stimulated. In other words, it’s like we have much bigger pipes than extroverts. Turn the faucet on a little bit, and the sensory stimuli flood our brains. For many extroverts, you need to open the faucet completely in order to make an impact. It’s surprising to find that my aversion to things like bright lights and loud noises is tied to the same brain wiring that is partially responsible for my quiet personality.

Sometimes I’ve thought it’s unfair because it seems like extroverts have so much more fun than introverts. They’re always partying and Doing Things. But I have come to realize that I probably get just as much of a thrill out of a quiet walk through a snow-clad forest as what some people get from going snowboarding.

Come back for part 3, in which I will attempt to erase some common myths about introverts.

Quiet–Part 1: The World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  Just the title itself made me want to read the book.  I had heard good things about it, and a friend had recommended it to me, so I checked it out at the library.  In it I discovered a gold mine.  The only thing I don’t like is that it is not written from a Christian perspective.  Oops—now maybe I’ve already lost some of you.  But I believe the subject this book addresses is one that Christians need to consider, because (whether consciously or subconsciously) we’ve bought into the crazy American idea that extroverts have the ideal personality. 

Quiet is written in classic introvert fashion: detailed, meticulously researched, not flashy but just quietly convincing.  Extroverts will probably find it much harder to read than introverts will, but they should read it too.

The basic idea of the book is that this world would be a much happier place if only the extroverts would shut up for once and actually listen to the quiet people 🙂.  The author is not saying that introversion is better; she points out that all personality types are valuable and needed.  But the reason this book needed to be written is because Americans have idealized extroversion.  Somehow, we’ve come to believe that the talkative, energetic, go-getter personality is superior.  Noise is necessary.  Silence is suspect.

So we introverts grow up feeling as though our quiet nature is a weakness to be overcome, a character flaw that ought to be mended.  We learn early that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Some of us learn how to put on a good act and play extrovert, because that’s what is expected of us.  Some of us stage our own little rebellion against the whole extrovert culture and in a weird irony become even more withdrawn than we would be if we felt as though our quietness was valued.

Please know that I am not trying to place blame on individuals here.  That is the last thing I want to do.  I am blaming no one except the common enemy of our souls, who of course will do all in his power to keep us from being all that our Creator made us to be.  And I am blaming a culture that has ceased to value quietness.

Americans are loud.  When I lived in Kenya, occasionally I met small groups of foreigners in town.  Before I was close enough to tell by their language and accent whether they were Americans, I could almost always tell by how loud they were.  I am not kidding.  Americans don’t know what to do with silence. 

As you can probably tell by now, Quiet hit a sensitive nerve for me.  Look for more on this subject in the coming days.