By Susan Cain
This book has changed my life. If you’re an introvert or in any type of close relationship with one, it may just change yours too.
In this world introversion is treated as a desease. As if something is wrong with the quiet thinking people. In the book it is explained why so and why this is wrong.
Without introverts our world would lack:
- the law of gravity
- theory of relativity
- Peter Pan
- Harry Potter
And much more. These people shaped these ideas, formulas, stories and worlds not inspite of their introversion, but because of it.
I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork; for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding. – Albert Einstein
The book explaines how an introvert’s mind works, more specifically, how their brain functions. Also in comparison to that of an extravert. The author conducted an extensive survey, including interviews with scientists specialised in this psychology area. Every argument is based on scientific research. It accurately describes lifestyles of intro- and extraverts; how they differ, what they like, what they do and also different levels of personalities. Because we’re all somewhere in between both types, we just lean more or less towards one or the other.
Introverts are often described as quiet, calm, modest, refrained, kind, polite, etc. Regardless the descriptions it doesn’t mean these people are timid. They just prefer to avoid overly stimulous environments. Timidness is in its nature painful, introversion isn’t. In some cases though, these two features coincide. Which can explain why they’re both at times thought of as one and the same.
According to research, amygdala has more control in extraverts, while neocortex has more control in introverts. Some scientists claim that this is, in fact, the reason we are intro- and extraverts in the first place. Extraverts are more prone to getting rewards, as their amygdala, specifically the nucleus accumbens or »reward center« in the, so called, primary brain, dominates over the neocortex. It is typical for extraverts to have a tendency to seek rewards, like social status or cash splendor. In general they have higher economical, political and hedonistic ambitions. Even their sociability is just one of the susceptibilities for rewards, meaning they socialise because interpersonal integration goes hand in hand with satisfaction. All this simply because the dopamine ducts are more proactive in extraverts (dopamine is released by aforementioned amygdala). Meaning they feel extremely good when reaching goals and getting rewards, while introverts don’t get such strong feelings in similar situations.
Before we continue I would like to explain the previous paragraph as it may sound very harsh. I like extraverts, I admire them. I also like introverts as I relate to them more. The claims in the book are based on surveys and from an introvert’s point of view. Some extraverts can see this as a criticism, but it’s not, unless it’s constructive. The reason I added these words follows in the next sentences…
Introverts don’t like to argue. In any way possible they avoid conflicts. When there’s an issue, they deal with it calmly, reasonably and more or less effectively. If the person on the opposite side has a tendency to argue loudly, the introvert will retreat and wait until the situatiton is more suitable for resolving. Extraverts do in general speak louder and more often raise their voice if they are excited for whatever reason. It’s normal to them. This is one area where we can have trouble understanding eachother. Specifically in a moment of argument. We can read all the books about it only to realise what we did wrong later. So we have to be careful to remember our differences.
Talking about arguments, here’s one of the cases where the introverts’ strengts come up – being a listener, one has the advantage of taking the time to think. This way one has the time to ask questions instead of making statements which may not have a firm ground. Furthermore, by actually listening to the interlocutor one has the advantage of not missing out on any information hiven to them. This is how anyone can get their way and strengthen their arguments in all types of conversations.
For example, let’s take an introvert having to run a meeting. Public speaking represents an over the top stimulation for this person. It has been scientifically proven that hyperstimulation distracts attention and short-term memory. Even if one is an expert in their field, the overdose of stimulation will block their line of thoughts. So the reason for not doing well in public speaking is in many cases not stage fright, but blocked concentration. The only way this can be solved is by always being well prepared for such events if in any way possible. So people, relax, there are many of us with the same problem. And now science has proven why it exists. There’s nothing wrong with us, public speaking or networking isn’t for everybody.
There is a term »highly sensitive« which also includes introversion. Highy sensitive people are often attentive observers, who organise their lives in ways to limit the possibilities of surprises. They are often more sensitive to visual and auditory stimuli, scents, pain, coffee and feel uncomfortable when being watched (at work, musical performance) and evaluated (dates, interviews). They are prone to approach their issues on the philosophical or spiritual way. They don’t like hollow chatter. They like music, art, nature, phisical beauty and experience distinctly strong emotions. They process information from the environment extremely intensive. According to research, 70 % of highly sensitive people are introverts and 30 % are extraverts.
Following, both types require significantly different levels of stimulations for optimal operating on a daily basis. Research shows that introverts are highly reactive to stimuli like loud sounds and strong emotions; their bodies have a proven stronger response. It’s not far from the truth when we say people have thick or thin skins. It’s literally true in this case. It’s proven that extravert’s skin is less sensitive to external stimuli and has measurable lower temperature.
Introversion isn’t just about observing the outside world. It’s also about introspective, observing oneself better. This way introverts throughout their lives get to know themselves very well and along the way it becomes very clear to them what they want and how they want to live.
Introverts focus on the inner world of thoughts and feelings, extraverts on the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on observation of the happenings around them and phisically move away from it all, while extraverts enter developments themselves. Introverts fill their energy reserves in solitude while extraverts quickly lack socializing. Basically introverts are »made to examine« and extraverts are »made to do«.
The new culture calles introversion »inferiority complex«. It’s treated as a desease. It has been discovered that people, who are seen as charismatic by the directors, receive higer income, but are in fact not as distinctly efficient in their business decisions. Our current culture clearly rewards aggressive people, extortioners. One has to be a good spokesperson and has to know how to attract attention. C. G. Jung called introverts educators and units of culture, who teach about the importance of inner life, which our civilisation so drastically lacks. He also stated that their restraint and seemingly unjustified distress triggers a variety of expected prejudices against this personality type.
The most common preconception is that introverts are asocial and extraverts are prosocial. None of these arguments are true. We are just social in different ways. The first prefer small companies of close friends and family whereas the latter feel very comfortable in large groups of people they may or may not even know. When introverts socialise, they listen more that talk, many fear and/or dislike small talk but very much enjoy deep conversations. They like parties but also like to leave early. Note that introverts react highly, not just to new people, but also to new environments, scenes and events. Their aversion is towards novelties, not interpersonal contacts.
Introverts like to get up early in the morning so they can calmly enjoy time to themselves. They also excel at making plans and sticking to them. Overall they are very disciplined. They love reading because there is nothing more exciting than fresh ideas. Very often they feel they express better in written form than by speaking. When a person’s thoughts are complex, then talking about the weather or where someone’s been on holidays just isn’t as interesting as a conversation about scientific discoveries and moral values.
If the culture is so fond of extraverts, how have introverts from the evolutionary point of view even survived to this day? Science has an answer:
- the sensitive and and reactive type will form accurate strategies before engaging in an activity, which means avoiding danger, failure and senseless waste of energy. All this planning requires a nervous system, qualified for observing and identifying small differences.
- The opposite is the active strategy, a type who wants to be the first no matter the price and even though he/she doesn’t have all the information she/he needs. Meaning this one’s willing to risk.
There are many species of animals that are divided between »those who wait and observe« and »those who go and do«. Until today this has been proven with more than 100 species and I dare say this number is much higer. There is a very basic reason both types exsist – they have different survival strategies. With environment constantly changing, there are periods which favour one and there are periods which favour the other. Where the food is scarce, those who dare to collect it, will more likely survive than those who wait for the moment of safety, because that moment might never come. But at times of abundance, the »go and do« types will continue to put themsleves in danger even if there’s no need for that. Evolution has kept the attentive and thoughtful individuals because someone has to avoid danger.
The obstacles we have to face and overcome in this world are much higher for introverts than for extraverts. Not because we could choose one way or the ther but because of who we are. It’s how our brain and bodies function. It goes all the way down to genes and biochemistry. Yes, there’s a gene for extra- or introversion. A gene for serotonin transporter (SERT) or 5-HTTLPR, which regulates the function of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects the state of mind or temper. The short allele of this gene is connected to high reactivity and introversion.
For more than half my life I thought I was weird for preferring to be quiet, to listen, for not wanting to hang out with my friends more than twice a week, for not being excited about meeting new people. I used to force myself to be more outgoing, because I thought I was wrong by not wanting to be all that. This book opened my eyes and made it a lot easier to accept myself. Now I’m here – I like who I am and know a lot clearer what I want and who I like. I know what kind of contacts to avoid and how to handle them when encoutered with them. I love my very colorful inner world of fantastic beats, I consider it gift (now) and wouldn’t change it for all the speaking capabilities in the world.
In conclusion – stay true to yourself. If you like doing things peacefully and systemathically, don’t let others impose you with feeling like you have to rush evrything and everywhere. If you enjoy deep thoughts, dont force yourself to go wide. If you prefer to carry out tasks one after the other, insist on your own pace. Since gaining rewards probably leaves you cold, this gives you the endless power to firmly follow your path. It solely depends on you, whether you will effectively exploit that independence. Knowing yourself well and accepting yourself is the key to living a fulfilling life. Whether in the limelight or in the background you can achieve amazing things, just be honest with yourself and you will know what you want, what is best for you and, in consequent, everyone around you. Find out what it is that you can contribute to the world and make sure you do so. Even if that includes doing something you’re not a fan of, go through with it, towards greater accomplishments and you will feel great with every step.