Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Introvert Power

This past week I read "Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength" by Laurie Helgoe. It's a great read, especially for people just starting to figure out their introversion, what it means, and how it affects their interactions with people around them. Helgoe offers lots of advice for introverts in dealing with extroverts, carving out their own space, how to get alone time, and how to, in general, use introversion as a strength rather than a weakness. A lot of this is stuff that I've puzzled out on my own over the last several years, but there's also plenty that I read and thought, "Oh! That is such a good idea! I should do that!" Overall, excellent reading for introverts. And extroverts who want to understand introverts.

I wanted to share a few of the (many) quotes I highlighted in my Kindle copy of the book:

An introvert may feel asocial when pressured to go to a party that doesn’t interest her. But for her, the event does not promise meaningful interaction. In fact, she knows that the party will leave her feeling more alone and alienated. Her social preference may be to stay home and reflect on a conversation with a friend, call that friend, and come to an understanding that is meaningful to her. Or she might indulge in the words of a favorite author, feeling a deep connection with a person she has never met. From the perspective of a partygoer, this introvert may appear to be asocial, when, in fact, the introvert is interacting in a much different way.

For an introvert, interacting in a group setting does mean missing out. Where there is too much input, the introvert misses his mind, his subjectivity, his freedom, his very potential. The high-stimulus social environment, the “where it’s at on a Friday night,” this apparent “more,” becomes a prison to the introvert. He can’t wait to be free—to get out and away from the noise, the talk, the interference with his inner process.

Although most introverts seek time alone as an alternative to people and competition, solitude is a power source for the introvert. And for someone wanting to exert control, solitude is indeed threatening. Many sales schemes rely on “today only” impulse purchases because “sleeping on it” will help you realize that you don’t need the product. Cults gain their power by depriving members of any time alone. Clients in my office comment on what a difference it makes to have time to think, and value psychotherapy for its attention to inner processes.

One of the teens I worked with told me about how she loves to take tests, because it is quiet and everyone is occupying their own space.
I loved this because I completely concur. Taking tests is oddly stress-relieving for me. It's such a beautiful thing to sit in a room full of other people and have silence.

In an extroverted society, we rarely see ourselves in the mirror. We get alienating feedback. Alienating feedback comes in the form of repeated encouragement to join or talk, puzzled expressions, well-intended concern, and sometimes, all-out pointing and laughing. Alienating feedback happens when we hear statements like, “What kind of loser would be home on a Saturday night?” Alienating feedback happens where neighborhoods, schools, and offices provide no place to retreat. Alienating feedback happens when our quiet spaces and wilderness sanctuaries are seen as places to colonize.

(About interaction)
I’m not so sure that live is always better. It is part of the extrovert assumption to value interaction over inner action. Most introverts savor live time with a close friend, because they know there will be plenty of inner action for both of them. But much of what we call “social” in America allows for very little inner action. Emailing a friend or posting a blog entry will probably feel much richer, and help us feel much closer, than being up close and impersonal.
This is absolutely, 100% true for me. Written communication, 90% of the time, makes me feel *closer* to the person I'm talking to than if I spoke to them in person. Truth be told, I only prefer in-person communications for people who I already feel very close to. Otherwise, I prefer to converse with them in written form, where 1) I don't have to fight for attention, and 2) I feel more comfortable sharing my thoughts.

We have an assumption here in America that the kind thing to do is to be “friendly,” which means being extroverted, even intrusive. The Japanese assume the opposite: being kind means holding back.
I had a mini-discussion with Sarah the other day about this, because now that I'm living for awhile in the southern US, friendliness is the norm. People I don't know strike up conversations with me for no apparent reason and with alarming regularity. This is no place for an introvert... :-)

Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.

For introverts, the best associations start with ideas. If you don’t feel a part of your neighborhood association or the happy hour regulars after work, don’t force it. The community that surrounds you may not be your community.
There's something very beautiful about that - "the community that surrounds you may not be your community." I am not limited to relationships with those I am near.

In “America the extroverted,” relationships are good, and even if they are very bad, they are better than no relationship. Introverts don’t think this way. Many of us want and have great relationships, but we generally prefer “no relationship” to a bad one. Quality matters. We conserve our relationship resources, because we know they are limited.

Introvert conversations are like jazz, where each player gets to solo for a nice stretch before the other player comes in and does his solo. And like jazz, once we get going, we can play all night. Extrovert conversations are more like tennis matches, where thoughts are batted back and forth, and players need to be ready to respond. Introverts get winded pretty quickly.
I. Love. This.

Extroverts want us to have fun, because they assume we want what they want. And sometimes we do. But “fun” itself is a “bright” word, the kind of word that comes with flashing lights and an exclamation point! One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “fun” is “violent or excited activity or argument.” The very word makes me want to sit in a dimly lit room with lots of pillows—by myself.

Isn’t it refreshing to know that what comes perfectly natural for you is your greatest strength? Your power is in your nature. You may not think it’s a big deal that you can spend hours immersed in something that interests you—alone—but the extrovert next door has no idea how you do it.

1 comment:

  1. I finished reading Introvert Power just last night. It was a real eye-opener, perhaps mainly because I've never really thought about introversion before. I mean, yeah, I've always known that I like my alone time, and that the bigger the party the less fun I'll have. But if you'd have asked me if I was an introvert? I'd go "Huh? Umm... Yeah, I guess? I dunno. I am many things. Maybe that's one of them. *shrug*"

    I had read most of your blog posts on introversion and had recognized a lot of what you were saying as something that applies to me too. So I decided to find out more, which lead me to Introvert Power. And yeah, I'm an introvert alright. Other insights: "Oh, so this is why [Extrovert Friend] likes those things." "Aha, now I know why hanging out with this person is so enjoyable." And then I just started realizing more things about my past experiences and my preferences, as well as trying to figure out which of my friends are introverts and extroverts, and on and on and on. Highly rewarding.

    I'm hoping to be able to use what I've found out in that book to make my life more enjoyable in the future. If I could, I would just throw the book at everyone in the entire world and tell them to read it. It would make things easier for everyone.

    One thing that stood out to me - unsurprisingly - was the part about the Nordic countries. At first I found it funny how the author depicted my part of the world as some kind of introvert utopia. This certainly isn't true, as the extrovert assumption very much dominates life here too. But eventually I realized that yes, Swedish society IS probably more accomodating to introverts. For instance, I've never reflected upon how our guarenteed yearly paid (well, paid for with taxes) vacation time is something not everyone in the world has. I became aware that I'm glad I don't live in the US, and that I'm fortunate to live in quiet ol' boring Sweden. Your post on When Introverts Go Shopping further cemented this idea. I've never ever had an employee come up to me in a grocery store from out of the blue asking me whether I need any help finding things. That sounds really annoying.

    So thank you for writing about introversion. It has been a big help.