Growing up, I always knew I was quiet, more so than my classmates, preferring to read in a corner instead of playing with other kids, but I grew up with Gilmore Girls as my shelter, so I always assumed my behaviour, like Rory’s, was normal, until I got older.
I soon realised that shy kids were expected to grow out of it and become full-grown outgoing adults. If not, “there was something wrong with you”. But I’ve always kept to myself, still preferring to stay at home reading instead of joining in social activities, and choosing to have a small group of friends instead of a bigger one. I thought that was just my way of being, getting too tired whenever I went to a party or work event, or having extreme headaches that would appear after being forced to talk to people I barely knew.
But then I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and realised that all these things were completely normal and caused by my introverted brain. Isn’t that fun? After reading this book I can now say, “look, I’m not a weirdo, yes my head hurts after 30 minutes of conversation, and I really need to go home so I can have some tea and lay down on my sofa and not talk to anyone for the rest of the weekend, but that’s because of how my brain works, you see?? It’s my brain! I’m completely sane, I’m just tired. Goodbye!
At least that’s what I got from the book. I finally have an excuse for being the way I am. But as Cain mentioned, we live in a social world that favours extroverts over introverts, which is why I’ve spent a lot of time thinking I needed to fix myself, become more social, try harder at acting extroverted, when really, I’m okay being the way I am. I just need to stop comparing myself to the “Extrovert Ideal”. This cool, outgoing person that loves meeting new people and being the centre of attention. That’s not me, and that’s okay.
What’s an introvert?
Throughout the book, Cain gives multiple definitions of introversion, but I think this one sums up what it’s like:
The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.
Introversion and extroversion refer to where we get our energy. Introverts feel more energised by spending time alone or with a small group of friends and get tired the more time they spend socialising. In contrast, extroverts get their energy by interacting with people.
The book explains that from the young age of four months old, babies start to show signs of introversion. Babies that overreact and cry over most stimulations will grow up to be introverted, as they have a high-reactive nervous system.
Other characteristics that I found interesting were:
- Between 25% and 40% of the population are introverts, though some manage to hide it by living as the “extrovert ideal”
- Finland* has the most introverts in the world
- Introverts have thinner skin and tend to sweat more than extroverts
- They’re more sensitive to their surroundings, can get easily bothered by lights and noise
- Studies show that introversion is, in part, genetic. Some studies say it’s 50% genetic, combined with our environment growing up
*when I tried to fact-check this, every entry on Google said a different country, but in the book, it’s Finland.
Being an introvert in an extroverted world
Reading Quiet made me feel less alone. I mean this in a non-dramatic way. It made me feel seen. Cain says at least one-third of the population is introverted, though they vary by country. And growing up in Spain, where people are primarily easy-going, friendly and loud, I always felt out of place. My calm personality never seemed to match the people around me.
Introversion- along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in 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.
I live in England now, where people seem to really love small talk, they will find any excuse to talk about the weather, the best way to make tea, your weekend plans… After almost four years living here, I’m still not used to it. In Spain, people will ignore the small talk, either by not talking at all or just moving into a full-on conversation. I should probably move to Finland, maybe introverts are more appreciated there.
Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to. Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy. Skip the committee meeting. Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.
I enjoyed this book, though it felt long and boring at times. I think it had too many studies, but it shows all the data was well researched, and it had lots of insight into personal stories of real introverts. It’s an old book from 2012, but I would’ve liked a chapter on social media and being an introvert in a hyperconnected world.
Overall, I think this book is perfect for any introvert out there who wants to know more about why they are this way and how their brain works. It definitely helped me understand myself better.