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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Introversion, Shyness, and "Quiet," The Book

My friend Karen recommended a book she loved: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
and then, a day later, I got a notice that it was ready for me to pick up from the library: I'd put a hold on it weeks before and had forgotten about it. Of course, now I REALLY wanted to read it: Karen said she loved it, and that was good enough for me.

I really liked this book a lot. Oh, sure: I did hate the focus on the business model, which I gritched about when I first starting reading the book. But even with that, it made me think about stuff. I'm not a deeply introspective person, I don't think. Or maybe I'm not insightful. Or maybe I *am* but I just can't remember stuff I figure out. Whatever. I'd always just thought of "shyness" and "introversion" as being more or less the same. Maybe introversion didn't have the blushing and sweaty-palm-ness of shyness, but they were linked together inextricably. So imagine how interesting it was to consider that you can be an introvert and not be shy. Whoa. That explains a lot.

Personally, I've always assumed there was something wrong with me. I think introverts do, and Cain explains why: we live in a society that rewards the hale-fellow-well-met glad-handing extrovert, the hearty, back-slapping schmoozer, the baby-kissing, hand-squeezing politician, the poised cheerleaders and student council presidents and class clowns. And we pity the quiet nerdy types with their noses buried in books. So if you grow up not being that out-going popular kid, you feel like there's something wrong with you, that somehow you're failing to be All That You Can Be.

I've written about this before: I don't remember a lot about my childhood because 1) I don't remember stuff generally and 2) childhood wasn't really all that interesting, I don't think. I was a fairly boring kid who lived in my imagination, peopled with dragons and peasants and animals that could fly.

But from what I've pieced together and what it seems I remember, I was an outgoing, confident kid until I was about 5 or 6, and then I turned into this horribly, painfully shy child. By the time I was in 9th grade, I would miss a week of school rather than stand up in front of the class and give an oral book report, and this lasted pretty much until I was in my 20s, when I worked at Animal Control and started doing public relations stuff for them. The first time I stood up in front of a group of officers wearing sidearms and gave a lecture, I was petrified--I hadn't slept a wink the night before. By the time I left AC and went back to school, I could pretty much stand in front of any group and talk about anything I knew well, from dog breeds to rabies to semicolons.

I assumed that, having married into a family of extroverts and living with one (although he wouldn't label himself that way), I'd somehow become one myself. But that didn't explain why I didn't really like having conversations with people and why I needed hours every day when I was completely alone and why I would almost always choose to be home working on something rather than going somewhere and being around other people. I figured it was some personality flaw I could fix if only I could pin it down.

Now I see it: I'm no longer shy, but I'm always going to be an introvert. I love talking to groups of people about stuff I love, but I have trouble having conversations because there are too many cues to monitor: what people are saying, sure, but also their body languages and facial expressions, word choices and inflection. In a group conversation, I get lost about what's just been said because I'm noticing who's copying whose body language and who else is distracted and who else seems hostile or sad. It's exhausting, and now I understand why. I understand why when we're at an art retreat or the international quilt show, I'm exhausted at the end of the day, even though I've had a fabulous time and I haven't really done any work, whereas The EGE is energized. After a day of talking and having fun, I need to go sit in a quiet room with a book, while he likes to have all the new people he's met that day all gathered around talking and laughing and getting to know each other. (Now I see that having handwork with me allows me to participate more comfortably in such situations, and so it all works out. Now I know why.)

I think it's an important book, not because it makes earth-shattering proclamations but because it argues something that should be self-evident--that there's nothing wrong with introverts--but that society doesn't really support.

It explains why some people you talk to seem to start some random conversation in the middle, and you have no idea where it came from. It came from where they were inside their own head. Introverts, I think, are in their own world, thinking about something that interests them. Some of them can switch from that into social intercourse easily, picking up cues and engaging in normal conversation. Others have trouble doing that and may just start in with whatever they were thinking. Perhaps many of the people we find eccentric are just introverts who don't bother with the veneer of social smoothness.

So I've been thinking a lot about this since I read this book. There's this guy we run into every so often. He's very nice but very, very awkward. He's the kind of person who seems to have read an instruction manual for Talking to People and seems to be following the rules, but as a robot would. He smiles and does the one-armed hug thing and will respond to questions and seems really glad to see you, but he always seems as if he's going through the list in his head:
--Say "hi."
--nod and smile
--hug if appropriate
--ask after their health
--make eye contact

Sometimes, too, the list gets jumbled up and out of order, and you can tell it's painful but that he wants to make the effort to be friendly. (This is not a person with serious issues; he has a white-collar job, a family, social activities.) He doesn't really seem shy; just awkward. When you realize that someone can be an introvert and not be painfully shy, more things make sense.

It's a book I'd definitely recommend. Not a perfect book, but a good one that will make you think, especially if you're an introvert, or if you know one or maybe--yikes!--live with one.



30 comments:

Linda Teddlie Minton said...

Gosh, you just described me to a "T." People don't believe me if I ever admit that I'm shy, and it's probably because I'm actually an introvert and an essential loner by choice, although I do enjoy family and friends. Now I'm going to have to get that book ... thanks for the review and for your take on it.

Ricë said...

Linda, I'd love to hear what you think of it after you read it!

SCquiltaddict said...

Great post....described me too except I think now I am borderline extrovert...but otherwise this could be me!! Just yesterday I was wondering why I was so tired after a fun day with friends making some fabulous paper beads...Linda M calls them Beadalicious...I was EXHAUSTED!!! My poor friends have a terrible time following my conversation at times because I have skipped from A to F in my brain and not told them B-E. :>

Ricë said...

Thank you! And that's it exactly: it explains things. It's so good to think of introversion as just another way of being instead of something you should have "fixed" long ago.

jinxxxygirl said...

Rice did you read the little introduction to myself under my picture on my blog.....lol.....it fits...I'am an introvert but also painfully shy.....i'm the 'listener' in conversations in a group setting and i'm not beyond contributing to the conversation when i feel i actually have something to add to it but in general i just listen...and you know what? All those talkers well...they need someone who will listen right? lol Hugs! deb

Carola Nix said...

If you want to learn more about introverts on a non-business level, get the book "The Introvert Advantage" by Marti Olsen. I too thought something was wrong with me all my life until I read the book when I was in my 50th. Talk about an eye opener!!! It changed my life when I realized there is nothing wrong with me, I am an introvert
and can love myself the way I am. I no longer have to feel less of a human being because I love spending time with myself!!

Tamara said...

I have read your blog for a long time but this is my first comment.

(...taking a deep breath because I am shy...)

I think this post has changed my life. In my 50s, so why didn't I know this? Why do I still think less of myself because sometimes I just can't keep up with the Bigger Personalities out there. I try coffee, but it just makes me shaky.
Must investigate further.

Thank you Rice. I love the quality of your writing, your stitching and all of it really! Because of you I realized just how much unsewn facings really really bug me. Now all of mine are stitched down.
Tamara L.

Ricë said...

Tamara, you made my whole day: if I posted something that sparked something for you, and if you read the book and find out something useful to you, then wow. That makes the internet worth it, doesn't it? (Never mind that some days I wonder why we all even bother, what with all the ads and flashing banners and auto-play music) Sharing stuff that I find out but figured everybody else already knew and then finding out other people are fascinated, too--that's just so cool! XO

Ricë said...

And I always felt guilty because I need several hours every day in a room by myself. Not doing anything secretive, just being in a room where I don't have to wonder how someone else feels or what they're doing or thinking or getting ready to do. Where I'm not monitoring someone else's existence and can just think.

Laurie said...

It was such a relief to me when I finally understood the difference between being introverted and being sad. It's all about where you get your energy from. I understand now. I had times of being shy too, and even crippling social phobias, but no one would ever call me shy now. I tend to think that it is because I no longer really give a shit what anybody thinks about me except for my mama. But I am definitely an introvert. I have always needed my solitude and I suffer when I can't get it often or long enough.

Laurie said...

*Shy not sad. Although that may be a Freudian slip.

just jen said...

serendipitous ... I had a conversation with my husband just this morning trying to explain to him why lining up 3 social engagements in a row just doesn't work for me. I need time to recoup. I can enjoy these outings but only if I have enough time in between to recover. people do not energize me. people exhaust me.

Ricë said...

Yesyesyes! I love having social engagements, too, but there MUST be down time (quite a lot of it) in between to recover and recharge. Hard to believe I'm just now understanding that this is perfectly normal and not A Major Personality Flaw.

Lisa said...

I always thought I was an extrovert because I could talk with people (I admit it has taken years of working on this skill though in various jobs and opportunities), I enjoyed people but I did really enjoy my alone time too. Then one day I read something that asked where you get your energy from: being with people or being alone and suddenly my eyes were opened! Being with a group of people is EXHAUSTING! I love the time with them (most of the time) but really really need a nap afterwards. The same is true of teaching for me. I can teach and be outgoing in front of the class but later I really need some alone time. I've added this book to my "to-read" list. Thanks for your great review!

Zom said...

I discovered some of this about 10 years ago, and it changed my self-view and life as well. Isn't it such a relief to stop trying to change your basic way of being in the world?
I am going to send you a link of my one and only stand-up comedy routine because it has a lot about being an introvert. Please be patient, it was my first time on stage and it does goes on a bit.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI0kCdn4wHY

Ricë said...

I loved seeing you do this, Zom! How tough was it for you to get up in front of an audience and do that? Did you enjoy it? (Not a lot, I guess, since you said it was the only time. . . .)

Zom said...

I did enjoy it, but I was so nervous (fortunately that went with my 'character' that it was uncomfortable. I was literally shaking with adrenaline by the time I left. The main reason I haven't done it again is that I have a horrible time memorizing my lines. As you probably saw, I forgot them once. I just have never had any luck memorising.

Caroline Berk said...

I am in the middle of Quiet, and learning a lot. I got over being shy and can talk to a group without a problem but still have trouble talking to people at a party. When I remember to try to put them at ease by asking questions, etc and being a good listener I am able to get through a party but I need major alone time afterward, sometimes even at the event.

Living in my head has some problems. I am knitting the Lizard's Ridge afghan and get inside my head and forget to count. Finding where I stopped paying attention and started daydreaming is a real challenge.

desdemona20 said...

Yes! This!
I am an introvert who enjoys time with a friend. One. Not multiple. More than one, maximum two people and I stop talking, and I am CHATTY! I like working retail, you have a customer at a time, sort of, you can have a quick chat with them and then move on to the next person. Perfect for me.
I worked in a student union years ago. I didn't mind having to get up in front of people (the entire first semester of our uni usually) to explain what we do, what I did,... But I'd be super nervous after! I'd do my thing, and then I'd sit down and not remember a single thing I'd just said. Nothing. And I'd panic because OMG what if someone asks me to clarify something and I don't even know what they're talking about?! But I loved talking in front of people about things I was and still am passionate about.

Also, I think what you/the book describes a lot of my "online friends" describe as "Aspie" tendencies.
I know what people with actual aspergers syndrome go through to get a diagnosis, and those "friends" think they can take an _online test_ that will be accurate in 20 questions or less.... ARGHHHHH They're just introverts with some kind of social anxiety usually. In some cases they're introverts with a very large ego and very little respect for others.

Karen Geney said...

I think of myself as an introvert with good social skills. Not because I like being social, but I do like it better than being awkward! Desdemona made me laugh by writing: "In some cases they're introverts with a very large ego and very little respect for others." I believe that's called a sociopath! Thanks for the shout-out rice. Hello to Earl from me. Karen

Maggie said...

Thanks for posting about this. My mother told me that when I was a kid, I'd play nicely with visiting children for a couple hours. Then at some point I'd abruptly tell them all to go home, that I wanted to play by myself. I still tend to do that, although I'm a little more polite about it now.

Introverts unite! At least for an hour or so, until we really, really need to be alone for a while.

lynners said...

Susan Cain has a very good TED talk which you can find on youTube. I sat through it saying "Yes!" and "Yes!" again. It's very difficult to be an introvert in an extroverted world; people get labelled as sick or snooty or shy if they don't conform to the extroverted norm. I married into a family of extroverts. They thought I was sick and stuck-up not to enjoy the endless family get-togethers with noisy people all talking at once, but it was torture!

kerin rose said...

interestingly...( and you know I loved this book too!) we all fall on a spectrum...its not 'either/or' kind of thing...
when I was a kid, my high extrovert momma, used to constantly tell me I needed to '"get over my shyness, or people would think I was a snob!" ...so I grew up to be an introvert (STILL) who is not shy...

my inherent nature never changed...and I still get 'fried' from too many people...

I thought the part about how couples who have completely opposite styles can be a great complement to each other, if they can just understand each others' way of moving thru the world

Rhondalyn said...

Laurie up there said: "It was such a relief to me when I finally understood the difference between being introverted and being sad." Then she corrected herself from meaning to say "shy" instead of "sad". But your first sentence, Laurie, is what hit home with me. I'm the woman who, when getting to the party, event, soiree, whatever, is the first to arrive because I believe being punctual is polite. But, I've learned, it's also so that I can park my vehicle closest to the "exit", usually facing the direction I want to leave toward. I've pretty much always considered that a practical matter--you know, being able to leave without having to make a huge production out of it by asking that cars be moved. After your post, Rice, I realize I employ this rather peculiar habit so that I can quietly fade into the background and disappear when I've absorbed all the usefulness and/or given all I can to the situation. I am usually the first to go. While there I am friendly and chatty (stopping just short of being sickening cheerful) though in constant assessment of both general and specific interactions among the folks in attendance. At some point, when the usefulness has been used up, whether giving or taking, I know it's time for "fresh air". If I don't depart at that moment, a second later I'd be writhing on the floor gasping for relief. Never happened, mind you, but I know it would if I didn't flee at that exact moment when my introverted self whispers "it's time...". Getting back to Laurie's first statement: this behavior has always left me feeling a bit sad as in there must be something inherently 'wrong' with me that I cannot suffer through the obligatory departure niceties. This blog discussion has helped me see that my fading into the background to be able to flee without attention in any given social situation is not a fault. It is my introverted being's need to remain true to myself rather than false to others. What a relief! Thank you so much for this, Rice...

Ricë said...

Maggie, you made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that. And Rhondalyn, that's so true for me, too: I hate leave-taking. It always feels awkward and false to me. And I don't like saying "good-bye," anyway. I just slip out. When The EGE and I go to someone's house, we take separate vehicles, and at that moment you mention--where you hear the little voice say "It's time"--I just slip out the door and go home. (And sit in a room by myself with a book, of course.)

Daisy Yellow said...

Ricë, Great post. This book has been on my to-read list but I thought it might be hokey. I truly thought that to be an introvert one must also be shy, and I'm not shy at all. I'm comfortable speaking in front of groups {after lots of practice}. A day with a friend is fun but zaps my energy, as so many of you mentioned. Shopping makes me dizzy. I love peaceful quiet time and cannot live without it.

Crazy for Art said...

This is a great book but you also need to real Elaine Aaron's book The Highly Sensitive Person! Really you need to look it up!

drchstudio said...

I'm glad to see any book come out that lets introverts know that there's nothing Wrong with them! I'm one, but I came from a family of them and I discovered CJ Jung's personality types in college, so I've known for years why I am like I am (wink). 'Gifts Differing' is a good book that describes Jung's personality type theory in understandable language

Angie Quinby said...

This book has been on my wishlist for awhile and has been recommended to me by several people. After your review, I know I need to get my hands on this book and read it.

I am an introvert, happily so. However, it does lead to me feeling awkward and out of place most of the time. Your description of the robot guy describes me to a T! I have to remind myself to stay in the moment, not go into my own head, which is a friendlier place than the world.

Carol said...

I'm reading this book now. I'm getting a little annoyed with the subtle extrovert-bashing, but other than that, I do like. I had read Aron's Highly Sensitive book a few years back. I am happy that the whole introvert-extrovert topic is being talked about as I'm technically an introvert too - but can handle myself in large groups and can do public speaking. The point of 'where you get your energy from" "how to do re-boot" is very important for people to know so that they don't feel 'less' in this loud world. I cannot do more than 2 social engagements in a week!