Monday, May 21, 2012

Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

I have always been considered quiet, as I have very little patience for small talk.  I hang back in new social situations and look for people to approach me, and I am a terrible mingler.  I always feel that if I leave one group to join another that the first group will think I am rude.

Growing up, my mother always corrected people who called me shy, because to her shy implied being afraid of new people and situations, being meek, which was not the way she saw me.  She and my Dad are introverts too so she saw my quietness as a positive attribute.  I didn't need a crowd of friends to feel validated.  I had a few core friends, but was also perfectly happy being by myself.  I remember going on long bike rides by myself after school.  My extroverted sister thought I was strange, but Mom never questioned it.  I realize now that that was part of finding what in this book is called my restorative niche - more on that later.

I had seen this book advertised a few places, and debated reading it for a while before I did.  I rarely read non-fiction and when I do it's almost exclusively biographies.  I wasn't sure that I would learn anything new from this book and since I have a hard time making time to read, wasn't sure if it was worth my time.

But the more press I saw about it, I figured I would give it a read.  I had to wait a while for a copy to become available from my library and just finished it.  I enjoyed it and did learn a bit about myself.  I took a Myers Briggs training class during my first job out of college, and no surprise was labeled an introvert according to that test.  While that label seems a little better than shy, and less timid than quiet, I liked some of the others used in this book instead.

There are numerous scientific studies and other theories cited in the book, the main one being that introverts are "high-reactive", meaning that they tend to react more to stimuli.  As babies and toddlers, they would cry or pump their arms and legs when presented with new stimuli.  Low-reactive kids were more quiet.  There's a lot of science that I won't get into that explains why this is the case, but basically the brains of the high-reactive kids got more excited (possibly almost overwhelmed) by the stimuli.  One theory that was extrapolated from this was the "orchid hypothesis". Low-reactive kids may wilt easily, but can also grow strong and magnificent if given the right conditions.  High reactive kids are likened to dandelions as they can thrive anywhere.  Personally, I'd rather be compared to an orchid :)

High reactive people also tend to be more sensitive than others.  Not just sensitive to how they are treated but also to how they treat other people, or how they see others treated.  They notice subtle differences in their environments and the people around them, that others may miss.  I know this is the case for me.  Often after a social situation I'll talk to my husband about how someone reacted to a comment directed at them (positive or negative).  He usually doesn't notice, and often if the comment was negative says I am over thinking the situation.  Which brings out the guilt that highly sensitive people feel.  If I feel like I have done something to hurt someone else's feelings I feel bad about it for a long time, often even after that person has assured me that no offense was taken.  I still feel bad about something I did in middle school to get the attention of a boy a mutual friend and I liked.  I embarrassed her greatly and still feel guilty about it despite a quick rush of excitement because he talked to me.

Also I get mentally tired from going to parties sometimes.  If we are with a group of friends, I have fun, but if it's a networking event for my husband or a place where I am meeting a lot of new people, I tend get overwhelmed.  It feels like work.  I now realize that's part of my high-reactive nature, processing all these new stimuli. Twice while my husband was in training he was sometimes on call on holidays.  One year he was on call for Thanksgiving.  I purposely didn't tell any friends that I was going to be alone, and spent the day on my own, walking around a very quiet downtown.  I window shopped along the closed storefronts, and really had a very nice day.  When I went back to work, people asked what I did.  When I told them some felt guilty and said that they would have included me, had they known.  Honestly, I would have been miserable.  Going to a full bustling home where probably the only person I knew was the host, would have been introvert hell.  Whereas ten years later, I still remember that Thanksgiving as a great day. 

When we moved to our new town 8 years ago, we didn't have any kids, but were planning on starting a family.  Our block was very welcoming and everyone in town told me that it would be easy to make friends, especially once we had kids in activities and school, because you meet a ton of people.  While it's true I have met a lot of people, I don't really feel like I have a lot of friends.  Part of that is my adult interactions tend to be at dropoff/pickup and basically means a lot of small talk, which I don't like and don't feel I'm particularly good at.  I'd rather have a meaningful conversation about something.  I feel like a lot of these conversations are people talking at each other, and waiting for their turn to speak and not really listening to what the other person is saying.

As a mother of 3 young kids I often talk about needing time to myself.  While my husband tries to help me, it often means me leaving the house while he stays with the kids.  Now that I understand more about the high-sensitivity I realize that's not really what I need.  I need to find what is referred to in the book as my "restorative niche.  The place you go to return to your true self".  There are many times I wish I could just have my house to myself and just do whatever I want (or nothing at all).  When my husband was in training he used to have to take in house call, so while some nights I would meet him for dinner, we would part ways in the evening and he would work/sleep at the hospital and I would go home to a quiet apartment.  That's no longer the case. I'm not saying I want him out, but I do enjoy my quiet nights when he is on the occasional business trip.  Luckily as my kids are getting older, it will be easier for me to have free time during the day.  I often feel like the reason I snap at my kids, is that I haven't had that time to recharge.

Overall it was an interesting book, and I think more so as it was written by an introvert who includes stories about her own experiences.  I found myself taking notes along the way, and thinking about passages I had read throughout the day. While most of the conclusions drawn by the scientists and psychologists cited in the book were not new to me, the reasons behind why I act the way I do were. I would recommend it to the introverts out there or extroverted managers/parents to introverts to help them understand how we all tick. 

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