Saturday, March 9, 2013

Introverts are not just failed extroverts!

So worshiped in our society is the Extrovert Ideal, author Susan Cain capitalizes it in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. We tend to associate most successes with the Extrovert Ideal, but Cain presents research giving us reasons to rethink that assumption. A century of influences such as Dale Carnegie’s admirable salesmanship and society’s campaign to prevent children from developing insecurities Alfred Adler called inferiority complex are slowly being replaced by science-based appreciation for sensitivity, highly developed conscience, solitude necessary for invention and creativity, intentional practice, and other attributes of introverts.

Information I found fascinating and broadly applicable was Cain’s chapter on biological bases for temperament. Thanks to studies by scientist Jerome Kagan, we know careful, reflective people (introverts) are likely to be “high-reactive” and more relaxed, confident people (extroverts) “low-reactive.” Cain’s discussion of further research in this area and its implications is enlightening.

Cain best describes the beauty of this new research: “Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality—neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making. You can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call ‘optimal levels of arousal’ and what I call ‘sweet spots,’ and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.” [pages 124, 125]

Cain gives military, Wall Street investment, cross-cultural, work productivity, and marriage applications, driving advice, parenting counsel, career guidance, and public speaking tips. She also gives examples from history, such as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s contributions viewed through an introvert/extrovert lens.

As a lifelong introvert, I found this book highly affirming. In addition, Susan Cain’s well-documented case for the strengths of introverts is a fascinating read in easily accessible story style. Quiet changed my understanding of my own feelings and relationships and filled in so many affirmation gaps I hadn’t even realized I had. Jumping when I hear a loud noise is not abnormal … I am having a good time even though I’m not laughing my head off … My sensitivity has benefits … I am not just a failed extrovert. Thank you, Susan Cain.