Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking entered my life at a particularly low moment. Allow me to set the scene: I had been on vacation for a week and a half. We were in Colorado, visiting my husband’s family, some of whom I had met before, others whom I had not. I knew I wasn’t going to be entirely comfortable being around people the whole trip- I’m a huge introvert and I’m self aware enough to know that I need downtime, and quite a bit of it, to feel as if I’m functioning normally. But I didn’t realize that my husband, who is just as introverted as I am and who I was counting on to help me through all of the introductions, dinners, conversations, etc, was going to immerse himself in Pokemon Go a majority of the time and essentially leave me to my own devices. As Susan Cain would say, he found a “restorative niche” for himself in a digital world. It was hard on me as I didn’t have that escape.
So, here we are, visiting a friend’s home and my daughter, who strangely enough is a huge extrovert (the exact opposite of her parents), is struggling. She’s tired, out-of-sorts, and throwing a sulk every ten minutes. I’m meeting yet more people, trying to hold trite conversations, and steer my child, all the while just wanting to retreat into a cave and not talk to anyone for a very long time. Honestly, I felt that way before we reached the party, but things seemed to get much, much worse the moment we arrived. It had been building over the course of the vacation, but that day, my internal clamor reached a boiling point. My husband was oblivious to my growing discomfort as he’s catching Pokemon, again. (I don’t mean to sound bitter here, but I suppose that I am.) I had forced myself for ten days to be social, keep the smile on my face, keep everything flowing smoothly. To my horror, I realize that I am about to have a panic attack in the middle of this crowd of people, more than half of whom I don’t even know. I grab my keys and leave.
I drive a couple blocks away, castigating myself for not being able to handle it and just pissed because, once again, like many times in my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, I feel like I’m failing at life because I’m not a social butterfly. I can’t stand to be around strangers for extended periods of time. I’ve always been this way- overly sensitive to others, noise, motion, events. I really dislike groups, parties, places where I have to circulate with a bunch of people who don’t know me or care about anything that I have to say. The tears fell down my cheeks as I opened up my tablet and began reading this book. And I discovered that about half of all people are just like me. Thank you, Susan Cain. Your book gave me the courage to drive back to my friend’s house and face the rest of the evening. I am not a pariah. I am an introvert and perhaps I can do a better job figuring out when I’ve reached my socializing limits before I meltdown.
Many of the positive attributes of introverts which Susan describes, I totally have, I’ve just never considered them as worth the trade-off of the extroverted personality. I notice small details, have a great memory for conversations and events, long past the time when others forget such things. I think carefully about problems and people, devoting time to taking apart small nuances of books and movies, that other people don’t even consider, which makes me a good reviewer of media- perfect for my job as a librarian. Susan nailed my general feeling about myself in the introduction: “Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” pg 34 ebook. Yes!
My role at the reference desk calls for an extroverted personality but I muddle through it, because I care about the job and helping others. Usually, I come home from work, totally worn out and in need of quiet time to unwind. Susan helped me understand that sometimes “faking it” is worth it, if it for a cause that means something to you and that others do the exact same thing that I do. Pull out the mask for the job, but then allow yourself the freedom to be who you really are at home: “According to 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.” pg 391 ebook.
My favorite parts of the book were about sensitivity and social situations. Take this passage: “…maybe we didn’t choose … social accessories at random. Maybe we’ve adopted dark glasses, relaxed body language, and alcohol as signifiers precisely because they camouflage signs of a nervous system on overdrive. Sunglasses prevent others from seeing our eyes dilate with surprise or fear; we know from Kagan’s work that a relaxed torso is a hallmark of low reactivity; and alcohol removes our inhibitions and lowers our arousal levels. When you go to a football game and someone offers you a beer, says the personality psychologist Brian Little, “they’re really saying hi, have a glass of extroversion.” pg 277 ebook. I may use that in my life. “Please hand me that glass of extroversion.”
I also really enjoyed learning the differences in thinking: “Introverts and extroverts also direct their attention differently: if you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what’s happening around them. It’s as if extroverts are seeing “what is” while their introverted peers are asking “what if.”pg 323 ebook. Yeah, I do that too.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It saved an evening for me, but more importantly, it changed the way that I view myself. There is power in knowing that you’re not alone. Again, thank you, Susan Cain. Some read-alikes: The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling (for introversion) or Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (for more instances of social anxiety).
Thank you for reading!