June 3, 2021
She’s elusive. Barely noticeable at times. She slips in and out of a room, grocery store, or meeting without being noticed. Her words are few, but powerful. Her thoughts are complete and robust. Little slips past her without notice. Relationships are deep and meaningful, but few. You’d be lucky to be included among them. There is a quiet power that rests in her, if only she recognized it.
Instead, she experiences the world as a misfit, socially inept and perpetually awkward. She finds herself skipping aisles at the store to avoid an interaction with a known acquaintance. She battles self-doubt and insecurity. Why can’t she just speak up during those meetings? Is she really that dumb and inarticulate? Why is it so hard to make that phone call or engage in small talk with that person? Is there something wrong with her? There must be.
Thirty years ago, the APA considered adding “introverted personality disorder” to its manual. To be introverted was to be considered pathological. Ever since, introverts have struggled to exist within the preferred and prevailing extroverted culture, resulting in up to 40% of the population feeling inept, undervalued, unappreciated, and unseen. Albert Einstein once said, “…If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” And so it is with introverts in an extrovert world.
Sadly, many introverted people do not understand their own introversion, opting instead to painstakingly present, appear, or act more extroverted than they are. Often, they desperately want to be extroverted, even convincing themselves that they are. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking “explores Western culture’s shift from a culture of character to one of personality in which an “extrovert ideal” dominates and introversion is viewed as inferior (and pathological). The result has been a colossal and tragic loss of talent, leadership, and ideas.
The challenge presented to introverts is this: First, understand what introversion is and is not. Then, create a life that harnesses those strengths. Allow introversion to work for you, not against you.
Introverts value quiet time and space. Solitude is not only desired, but necessary. They are exceptionally deep and complex thinkers. The inner world of an introverted person is vibrant and rich and full of ideas. They possess the ability to think in incredible depth and detail. Depth is always valued over breadth in relationships and thought. They spend their time in the deep end of most things and can feel like they are drowning in the shallows. They rarely speak until they have a fully developed, robust thought. There is little need or desire for superficial small talk. In fact, it’s quite boring and uninteresting for most introverts, not to mention a total drain of their emotional and social energy.
Introverts possess the power of quiet persistence. The energy they have for something they are passionate about is boundless. Once they achieve a state of “flow,” they can remain deeply immersed for hours.
The power of introversion resides in its profound depth and capacity for brilliance and connection. It’s not a state of brokenness or ineptitude, as often perceived. As Cain suggests, “There is no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” In our loud, noisy, over-stimulated culture, those not talking are the ones thinking. And from that thought comes the ideas to propel us forward.
Introverts: Stop working against your introversion and let it work for you. Enjoy solitude. Schedule time to hang out with yourself. Say ‘no’ to those social invitations, and if you do go, keep it time limited. Sometimes “I’m busy” means you are busy introverting or hanging out in your own head. Set boundaries around your time and allow ample time for decompression. Your energy does not come from other people, it comes from within. You DO NOT have to be the most outspoken person in the room, and it’s okay if you’d rather not engage in small talk. Free yourself from all the shame, guilt, and self-doubt you’ve carried for years and unapologetically own your introversion. ⯁
Andrews & Associates Counseling is owned and operated by Dr. Stephanie Wick, who is a long time resident of the Manhattan area. She is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist (LCMFT) and Licensed Clinical Addictions Counselor (LCAC) in Kansas.