On Being Quiet

id-10062569When my daughter was just a toddler, our pediatrician recommended that I read the book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. His reasoning for recommending the book was not because my quiet, gentle daughter was withdrawn or having difficulties (and she certainly wasn’t that way with us at home.) It was because my outgoing husband was anything but. He loves to talk to everyone, enjoys having friends over, does not hold back opinions, and often (but not always) loves being at the center. Our pediatrician did not see any issues between them, but just wanted to provide me with a better understanding of the characteristics of both sides and knew I was interested.

Besides understanding my daughter, however, the book actually helped me understand myself. For example, when after an exhausting, busy week, I crave solitude and am in need of quiet. My husband after that same week, however, will be calling everyone we know and organizing a party. The truth is that I actually love having friends over and am always happy we had some sort of get-together celebrating the joys in life – it’s just that I also need time to recharge. And the book made me realize that my need for this is okay and I should honor it.

In explaining the differences between the characteristics of introverts and extroverts, the author states that extroverts,

“… 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 enjoys crowds and action.” (Laney, 2002, p. 19)

Introverts, on the other hand,

“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.” (Laney, 2002, p. 19)

He compares extroverts and introverts to energy sources. While extroverts are like “solar panels” that need to be outside in the light in order to work,

“… 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.” (Laney, 2002, p. 20)

This made so much sense to me and actually has given me insight over the years in helping my daughter. I remember a garden birthday party we took her to when she was still a baby, where there were excited children running around, a lot of happy adults, and a big bouncy moon walk. She screamed the entire time and I felt I was at my wits’ end in wanting to help her calm down. My husband thought we should just ignore her and let her cry it out, the others looked at me with sympathy being the “new mother” that I was, and my instincts, which I finally listened to, told me to take her somewhere where there is no noise or stimulation. And guess what? My solution worked immediately!

When she was 3 years old and would come home from our wonderful Montessori school in Mexico City, a playdate with a lot of other children, or even a shopping trip, she would just begin to cry from exhaustion. Nothing bad had happened, but she was tired, irritated, and miserable. After reading the book, I discovered that if I took her to her bedroom; sat down and read with her; and then left her to quietly continue reading or playing—after a half hour or so she would emerge from her room happy, rested, and content. That’s all it took. She needed to recharge.

Just recently, I came across a new, insightful book on introverts called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. In her writing, Cain takes on the societal bias of introversion by discussing how our extrovert world undervalues the intelligence and power of introverts. We need to honor the importance of contemplation and deep thought in our society. She coins the term ambivert describing individuals who carry the two characteristics equally, and explains that there is truly no one person who is entirely an extrovert or introvert.  In a talk Cain presented at a TED conference, she ended with a call for action in a society that values the “man of action vs. the man of contemplation”:

  1. In both schools and the workplace, we need to stop the constant group work and provide environments that give individuals privacy, freedom, and autonomy to allow them to engage in deep thought. Solitude is a crucial ingredient for creativity.
  2. As individuals, we need to take the time to “go into the wilderness” and allow ourselves to unplug in order to get inside our own heads—away from the influence of others.
  3. She recommends that all of us (but especially the introverts who tend to keep their work and ideas to themselves) look at the things we carry in life, and try to occasionally share our gifts, talents, and thoughts—the world needs us and our ideas.

You can see her talk in the following video:

How does all of this translate into helping both of my children remain true to who they are?

  • I want to give them the time to think, explore, read, write, and create—alone if that is what they need. After having lived overseas for almost 6 years, being back in the often over-scheduled, busy lifestyle of the USA doesn’t always provide us the opportunities for downtime. I want to make sure that both of my children have unstructured time in order to recharge and have the opportunity to think and create.
  • I want to have the courage to say “Stop!” when we have too much going on, even if it means missing certain “really, really important” social, educational, or cultural events. We are involved in various activities outside of school that take up a lot of time, but support our multi-cultural heritage. When we need it, we rest. Isn’t that called a “mental health day?”
  • I want to help my daughter recognize her own M.O.  (i.e., the modus operandi she uses to approach new situations and activities) and if need be, help her teachers recognize it as well. She will always bloom—she needs the time to take it all in, observe, and when ready, take the plunge. This does not mean that she is shy. This is how she works.

This article was written May 2012, by R. Puskorius.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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