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Are you energized by spending time alone? In meetings, do you need to be asked for your opinions and ideas? Do you tend to notice details that other people miss? Is your ideal celebration a small get-together rather than a big party? Do you often feel like a tortoise surrounded by hares?
The good news is, you’re an introvert. The better news is that by celebrating the inner strengths and uniqueness of being introverted, The Introvert Advantage shows introverts how to work with instead of against their temperament to enjoy a well-lived life. Covering relationships, parenting—including parenting an introverted child—socializing, and the workplace, here are coping strategies, tactics for managing energy, and hundreds of valuable tips for not only surviving but truly thriving in an extrovert world.
“Filled with Aha! moments of recognition, Dr. Laney’s book will help millions of introverts understand why they are misunderstood, learn to appreciate who they are, and develop a just-right life in a world where extroverts once ruled.” —Paul D. Tieger, coauthor of Do What You Are
“In a world of shock jocks, screaming rock stars, and sensational journalism, this book dispels the myth that only the loud and flamboyant get ahead. Its clear, step-by-step advice will help introverts recognize and capitalize on their unique strengths.” —Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci, author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach
The Introvert Advantage
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World
WORKMAN PUBLISHING • NEW YORK
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.
—William A. Ward
To my husband of thirty-eight years, Michael, who dragged me out into extroverting and enlarged my universe. I dedicate this book to you for coaching me to keep breathing through the long labor of the book birthing process. And you are awarded the Highest Medal of Husbandry Honor for devoting so many hours to read page after page about introverts (more than any mortal extrovert should ever have to). Last, but not least, a final thank-you for delivering nourishing meals to me as I sat staring and pecking at my computer.
To my daughters and their families, whom I love very much and who have enriched my life in countless ways:
Tynna, Brian, Alicia, and Christopher DeMellier
Kristen, Gary, Kaitlin, and Emily Parks
I also dedicate this book to all of my clients who have courageously let me into their lives.
It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.
Growing up, I was often puzzled about myself. I was full of confusing contradictions. An odd duck. I did so poorly in first and second grade that my teachers wanted me to repeat, yet in third grade I did very well. Sometimes I was very animated and talkative, making crisp, informed comments. In fact, if it was a subject I knew about, I could talk someone’s arm and leg off. Other times I wanted to speak, but my mind was blank. Or I would think of something to say in class, raise my hand—thrilled that I might improve the 25 percent of my grade that was based on class participation—but when I was called on, my comment would disappear into thin air. My internal screen would go dark. I wanted to crawl under my desk. Then there were the times when my remarks would come out in some halting, unclear form, making me sound much less knowledgeable than I was. I developed all sorts of techniques for avoiding the teacher’s eyes when she was scanning the class for someone to answer a question. I couldn’t rely on myself; I never knew how I would react.
Confusing me further was that when I did express myself out loud, people often told me I was well spoken and concise. Other times my classmates treated me as if I were mentally disabled. I didn’t think I was stupid, but I didn’t think I was sharp as a tack either.
The way my brain worked puzzled me. I couldn’t figure out why I could think of lots of comments after the fact. When I gave my opinion about something that had happened earlier, teachers and friends would ask, in an irritated tone, why I hadn’t spoken up before. They seemed to think I was purposely withholding my thoughts and feelings. I found my thoughts were like lost airline baggage; they arrived some time later.
As I grew up, I began to think of myself as a stealth person, running silent, deep, and invisible. Many times I would say something, and no one would respond. Later, another person might say the same thing and he or she would be acknowledged. I would think there was something wrong with the way I spoke. At other times, when people heard me speak or read something I wrote, they would look at me with a stunned expression. It happened so many times that the “look” had become very familiar to me. It seemed to say, You wrote this? I felt mixed about this reaction because I liked being acknowledged but I also felt overwhelmed by the attention.
Socializing was also a confusing experience. I enjoyed people, and people seemed to like me, but I often dreaded going out. I would go back and forth deciding whether to show up at a party or public event. I concluded I was a social chicken. Sometimes I felt awkward and uncomfortable; at other times I felt okay. Even when I was having a wonderful time, I was eyeing the door and fantasizing about snuggling in bed in my pajamas.
Another source of pain and frustration was my low energy. I got fatigued easily. I didn’t seem to have the same stamina as my friends and family. When I was tired, I walked slowly, ate slowly, and talked slowly, with lots of agonizing gaps in my conversation. On the other hand, if I was rested, I could chat so fast, jumping from thought to thought, that the people I was with may have felt blitzed. In fact, some people thought I had a lot of energy. Trust me, I didn’t (and still don’t).
Yet even with my slow pace I trudged along until I ended up accomplishing most of what I wanted with my life. It took me years to discover that all of my puzzling contradictions actually made sense. I was a normal introvert. This discovery brought me such relief!
Democracy cannot survive without the guidance of a creative minority.
—Harlan F. Stones
Remember when we were kids and compared belly buttons? Back then it was considered better to be in “innie” than an “outie.” Nobody wanted a belly button that stuck out, so I was glad mine went in.
Later, when “innie” came to mean “introvert” in my mind, and “outie” came to mean “extrovert,” it was the opposite. Extrovert was “good.” Introvert was “bad.” Since no matter how hard I tried I didn’t have those extroverted qualities, and I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t understand many things about myself. Why did I feel overwhelmed in environments that thrilled other people? Why did I come away from outside activities feeling as if I were gasping for air? Why did I feel like a fish out of water?
Why Are Outies the Cultural Ideal?
Our culture values and rewards the qualities of extroverts. America was built on rugged individualism and the importance of citizens speaking their minds. We value action, speed, competition, and drive.
It’s no wonder people are defensive about introversion. We live in a culture that has a negative attitude about reflection and solitude. “Getting out there” and “just doing it” are the ideals. In his book The Pursuit of Happiness, social psychologist Dr. David Myers claimed that happiness is a matter of possessing three traits: self-esteem, optimism, and extroversion. Dr. Myers based his conclusions on studies that “prove” extroverts are “happier.” These studies required participants to agree or disagree with such statements as, “I like to be with others” and “I’m fun to be with.” Introverts don’t describe happiness in the same way, so they are perceived as unhappy. For them, statements like “I know myself” or “I’m comfortable in my own skin” or “I am free to pursue my own path” are the benchmarks for a feeling of personal contentment. But they are not asked their reaction to these statements. An extrovert must have developed these studies.
When extroversion is taken for granted as the natural outcome of healthy development, introversion can’t help but become the “dreaded other.” Somehow introverts have failed to achieve appropriate socialization. They are doomed to isolated unhappiness.
Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen are psychological consultants who use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (more on this later). In their book Type Talk, they discuss the plight of the introvert: “Introverts are outnumbered about three to one. As a result, they must develop extra coping skills in life because there will be an inordinate amount of pressure on them to ‘shape up,’ to act like the rest of the world. The introvert is pressured daily, almost from the moment of awakening, to respond and conform to the outer world.”
I think the playing field of life needs to be evened out a little. Extroverts get most of the good press. It’s time that introverts realize just how unique and special they are. We are ripe for a cultural shift toward the okayness of introversion. It’s all right for us to stop trying to fit in and to “shape up.” We need to appreciate our own shape as it is. This book aims to help us do this. In it you will learn three basic things: (1) how to determine if you’re an introvert (you may be surprised); (2) how to understand and appreciate your introverted advantages; (3) how to nurture your valuable nature with numerous useful tips and tools.
Nothing Is Wrong with Me, I’m Just Introverted
What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
When I was in my thirties, I made a career change from children’s librarian to psychotherapist (two introverted occupations that require social skills, you may note). Although I enjoyed many aspects of being a librarian, I wanted to work on a more personal level with people. Facilitating individual growth and development to help others live more satisfying lives felt like a gratifying life purpose for me. In graduate school, I learned about the phenomena of introversion as a distinct temperament or style for the second time. As part of my coursework, I took a few personality tests, and, on several of them, I came out as an introvert. I was surprised. When my professors discussed the results, they explained that introversion and extroversion are on opposite ends of an energy continuum. Where we fall on that continuum predicts how we derive our life energy. People on the more introverted end of the continuum focus inward to gain energy. People on the more extroverted end of the continuum focus outward to gain energy. This fundamental difference in focus can be seen in practically everything we do. My professors emphasized the positive aspects of each temperament and made it clear that each was okay—just different.
The concept of different energy requirements clicked with me. I began to understand my need to be alone to recharge my batteries. I didn’t feel quite as guilty for wanting breaks from my children. It finally dawned on me that nothing was wrong with me; I was just introverted.
As I became informed about the strengths and weaknesses of introverts, I felt less ashamed. When I learned the ratio of extroverts to introverts—three to one—I realized I lived in a world structured for all those “outies.” No wonder I felt like a fish out of water. I was living in a sea of extroverts!
I also began to have insights into why I hated the large staff meetings I was required to attend every Wednesday evening at the counseling center where I was an intern. I understood why I rarely spoke in group supervision, and why my mind would often vapor lock whenever I was in a room with more than a few people.
Being an introvert in a world geared toward extroverts affects all aspects of a person’s life. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed theories about introversion and extroversion and thought that we are attracted to our opposite to help strengthen and complete what’s missing in each of us. He thought introversion and extroversion were like two chemicals: When they are combined, each can be transformed by the other. He also saw this as a natural built-in way for us to appreciate complementary qualities in one another. This concept doesn’t apply to everyone, but it has certainly proved true in my marriage of thirty-eight years.
Initially, my husband, Mike, didn’t understand my introversion, and I couldn’t comprehend his extroversion. I remember when the two of us went to Las Vegas after we were first married. I staggered through the casino, my brain numbed. Colors danced everywhere, and lights exploded in my eyes. The clanking of winners’ coins tumbling into metal catchers pounded in my head. I kept asking Mike, “How much farther is it to the elevator?” (They do that tricky thing in Las Vegas, making you walk through a maze of shiny machines, misted in cigarette smoke, to get to the elevator and the quiet oasis of your room.)
My husband, the extrovert, was ready to rock and roll. His cheeks were rosy, and his eyes sparkled—all the noise and action excited him. He didn’t understand why I was heading up to the room. I was pea green and felt like a trout I once saw lying on a bed of crushed ice in a fish market. At least the trout got to lie down.
Later, when I woke up from my nap, I was surrounded by two hundred silver dollars Mike had won. Obviously, extroverts have many charms. And they are a good balance for us introverted types. They help us go out and about. We help them slow down.
Why I Wrote This Book
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.
One afternoon, Julia, an introverted client, and I were brainstorming about how she could manage an upcoming training workshop. “I am dreading it,” she told me. We developed several strategies to help her get through it, and, as she got up to leave, she lowered her head and looked me intently in the eye. “I still hate schmoozing, you know,” she said. As if she thought I expected her to be a social butterfly. “I know,” I said, “I still hate it myself.” We sighed together in a knowing way.
As I closed my office door, I thought about my own struggle with introversion. In my mind’s eye I pictured the faces of all the introverted clients I have worked with over the years. I thought about how where a person falls on the introvert/extrovert continuum affects all areas of life. I heard clients blaming themselves for qualities they have that they don’t like. I would think, Oh, I wish they realized that nothing is wrong with them. They are just introverted.
I remembered when I first ventured to say to a client, “I think you’re introverted.” Her eyes widened in surprise. “Why do you think that?” she asked. Then I explained that introversion is a collection of traits that we are born with. It’s not about disliking people or even being shy. She looked so relieved. “You mean there’s a reason I’m like this?” she said. It’s amazing how many people are introverts and don’t even know it!
As I discussed my ideas about introversion with other therapists, I was surprised to discover that many didn’t really understand the original theory of introversion. They thought of it in terms of pathology, not temperament. When I submitted my dissertation for my psychoanalytic degree on the subject, I was moved to tears by the incredible response I got, and I was excited by the comments I received from many of my colleagues. “I am now looking at all of my patients in terms of the introvert/extrovert continuum,” one said, “and it has really helped me to understand and not pathologize the ones who are more introverted. I realize I’ve been looking at them through an extroverted lens.”
I know how powerful it can be when the shame of being introverted is lifted. It’s a great relief to stop trying to be who you’re not. Once I made this connection, I realized I had to write a book to help people understand introversion.
How I Wrote the Book
Quiet people are often found to have profound insights. The shallow water in a brook or river runs fast: The deep water seems calmer.
Many introverts don’t feel as if they know enough about a subject until they know almost everything, and that’s the way I approached this project. This happens for three reasons. First, introverts can imagine the vastness of any subject. Second, they have had the experience of their brain locking, so in an attempt to avoid that awful blank-mind moment, they overprepare by accruing as much information as they can. Third, since they often don’t talk about what they are thinking, they receive no feedback to help them gain perspective about how much they already know.
Although I had worked with introverts for years and studied introversion in depth, I wanted to know what new research was available about the physiology and genetics of introverted brains. My first step, as a former librarian, was to check the Bio-Med Library at UCLA. When I typed in the subject heading of introversion, I was surprised to find that more than two thousand journal citations appeared in the fields of personality, temperament, neurophysiology, and genetics. Most of the research had been conducted in European countries, where introversion is more accepted as a form of inborn temperament. In Chapter 3, I will discuss some of the research findings that explain introversion in terms of genetic and physiological endowment.
My second step was to check out the Internet, since I thought lots of “innies” might hang out there. I found several hundred sites about introversion. Many of the websites were linked to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a widely used personality assessment based on four aspects of temperament. The first and most statistically valid of these is the introversion/extroversion continuum. Developed by Isabel Myers and Katharine C. Briggs, and based on Jung’s original theories, the main strength of this inventory is that it does not pathologize any personality type. Rather, it looks at innate preferences. Introversion is also included on several sites about giftedness, as there is a correlation between introversion and intelligence. (And in case you’re interested, there’s a rock band named Introversion—its performance schedule can be found on the Internet.)
The library and Internet research were very useful and illuminating, but I learned the most about introversion from my own experiences and those of my clients, and from the people I interviewed for this book. I interviewed more than fifty people from many walks of life including writers, ministers, therapists, historians, teachers, artists, college students, researchers, and computer professionals. (Names and some identifying details have been changed.) A number of interviewees had taken the Myers-Briggs Inventory, and so they knew they were “innies.”
Even though they were not selected with any specific career criteria in mind, a surprising number were in what Dr. Elaine Aron calls “advisor class” positions—people who work independently, who wrestle with decisions, who have had to learn how to put themselves in other people’s shoes and communicate with people. These workers are creative, imaginative, intelligent, and thoughtful. They are observers. Their work often impacts many people and they have the courage and perspective to say unpopular things. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Aron states that the other class, the warrior class, are the doers of the world. They need counsel from the advisors, and the advisors need warriors to take action and make things happen. Many theorists feel that that is why only 25 percent of the population consists of introverted people—fewer introverts are needed.
In many interviews, I heard introverts criticizing themselves for their introverted qualities, especially if they didn’t even know they were introverted. They were confused about why they felt disregarded and unseen. Since I know introverts like to have time to think about their experiences, I did follow-up calls several weeks after the interview to see if the person had any further thoughts he or she wanted to add.
I was surprised and encouraged to find that after our conversation many felt much better about who they are. “Just by learning that my brain is different and that I live in a sea of extroverts, I feel calmer about being me,” many of them said. Having proof in the form of scientific research that it’s okay to be different was a powerful force that reduced guilt, shame, and other negative views people had developed of themselves. These experiences fueled my motivation to get this book published.
I am writing this book primarily for introverts. I want innies to understand that there are valuable reasons behind their sometimes-puzzling temperament. I would also like them to know they are not alone.
However, there are two valuable reasons for extroverts to read it, too. First, they can gain an understanding of those mysterious introverts in their lives. Second, extroverts, especially as they enter midlife, need to balance the physical limitations of aging by enhancing their pause-to-reflect self. This book can open the door to a whole new way for extroverts to think about introverts and to develop self-reflective aspects of themselves.
Read It Your Way
No furniture is so charming as books.
Since introverts often feel as if something is wrong with them, they try to figure out the “right way” to do things. Although we live in an extroverted world, the right way isn’t always right for innies. So read this book cover to cover, or dip into it anywhere you like. Learning to break new information into bite-size pieces is one way to manage feeling overstimulated. By this I mean a physical and mental feeling of too muchness, of being keyed up like a car with the idle set too high, leaving you unable to take in any more stimuli.
I have designed this book in small morsels. You can read it chapter by chapter. Or let the book fall open and just read that page. Personally, I like to start books at the end. It’s a habit that shocks some of my friends. Use the book any way you feel works best. Remember, it is meant to be a helpmate to you.
If the information in a given chapter seems relevant to you, great. If something seems less pertinent, that’s okay, too. This is a tool for you to understand yourself and any introverts you may know. Play means creating a space for something new to happen. This book, like life, is meant to be played with.
Once you understand your own introversion (or the introversion of someone close to you), it is such a relief. So that’s all it is! You are not weird or hopeless or alone. There are other introverted fish in the sea.
This book will help you learn how to recharge yourself. You can create a plan for tackling everyday life—maybe not the way extroverts do it, but the way that works for innies. Celebrate your introvert advantage.
Points to Ponder
• 75 percent of the world is extroverted.
• Being introverted affects all areas of your life.
• Nothing is wrong with you.
• Introverts feel drained and overstimulated.
• Being introverted is something to be celebrated.
A Fish Out of Water
I am what I am.
What’s an Innie? Are You One?
The exception that proves the rule…
Introversion is at its root a type of temperament. It is not the same as shyness or having a withdrawn personality, and it is not pathological. It is also not something you can change. But you can learn to work with it, not against it.
The strongest distinguishing characteristic of introverts is their energy source: Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions. They are energy conservers. They can be easily overstimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of “too much.” This can feel like antsyness or torpor. In either case, they need to limit their social experiences so they don’t get drained. However, introverts need to balance their alone time with outside time, or they can lose other perspectives and connections. Introverted people who balance their energy have perseverance and the ability to think independently, focus deeply, and work creatively.
What are the most obvious characteristics of extroverts? They are energized by the external world—by activities, people, places, and things. They are energy spenders. Long periods of hanging out, internal contemplation, or being alone or with just one other person understimulate them. However, extroverts need to balance their time doing with intervals of just being, or they can lose themselves in a whirlwind of anxious activities. Extroverts offer much to our society—they express themselves easily, they concentrate on results, and they enjoy crowds and action.
Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge. This is what a less stimulating environment provides for introverts. It restores energy. It is their natural niche.
Extroverts are like solar panels. For extroverts, being alone, or inside, is like living under a heavy cloud cover. Solar panels need the sun to recharge—extroverts need to be out and about to refuel. Like introversion, extroversion is a hard-wired temperament. It cannot be changed. You can learn to work with it, not against it.
The Main Differences Between Innies and Outies
Appreciate your uniqueness.
Energy creation is the most salient difference between introverts and extroverts, but there are two other primary differences: their response to stimulation and their approach to knowledge and experience. Extroverts thrive on a variety of stimuli, whereas introverts can find it too much. Similarly, outies generally cast a wide net when it comes to accruing knowledge and experience, whereas innies like a narrower, more in-depth focus.
Let’s talk a little more about energy. As I said earlier, the primary difference between introverts and extroverts is how they recharge their batteries. Extroverts are energized by the outer world. Most extroverts like talking to people, engaging in activities outside of themselves, and working around people, activities, and things. Contrary to most of our perceptions about extroverts, however, they are not necessarily more outgoing or lively than an introvert, but their focus is outside themselves.
- On Sale
- Feb 1, 2002
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Workman Publishing Company