Read an Excerpt
“Re-examine all you have been told. Dismiss what insults your soul.” —Walt Whitman
If you haven’t been to a mosh pit, you’ve probably seen one in movies. A mob is crowded together, body to body, dancing and slamming into each other, usually at a live music club or concert. Occasionally, someone dives into the pit from the stage and “surfs” on the upraised arms of the crowd. The challenge of “moshing” is to work your way as close as possible to the band while avoiding getting trampled. Security guards keep watch in case such a thing happens, but any mosher will tell you that the pit is dangerous.
I’ve come to see the mosh pit as an apt description of American society—and of my childhood home. I was number nine of ten creative, mostly LOUD kids competing for airspace. My dad, a pastor who built pipe organs as a hobby, had wall-sized speakers in the living room that blared out classical music. When the family sang together, we sang five-part harmonies of the uncompromising Handel’s Messiah. On Christmas Eve, we had a talent show and family service, and later tore into our presents all at once, paper and ribbons flying everywhere and voices crisscrossing the room shouting out “thank you!” and “just what I wanted!” These are happy memories, because there was a part for each of us. But instead of ripping paper and shouting, I sat in my corner with my pile of gifts and handled each as a treasure, slowly and carefully opening them, preserving the paper and lingering in the delight of discovery. I was meditating in the mosh pit.
However, when there were no gifts to open and everyone was competing for airtime, I felt invisible and became over-stimulated and anxious. My anxiety was not about the pressure to socialize; there were more than enough bodies to take care of that. I became anxious because I couldn’t think, and, without my own mind, I felt like I was disintegrating. My solution was to retreat to my room and write. In my solitude I could regain contact with myself and become solid again.
I had a vivid imagination; I wrote science fiction and developed secret codes with my little sister and a neighbor girl. Though the mosh pit was stressful, I knew that retreating was an option.
I lost this freedom when I entered school.
In first grade, I got scolded for hiding out in the bathroom with a couple of girls during recess. We were sprawled out on the floor, quietly engaged in the subversive practice of—yes, coloring. That’s when I learned that my desire for quiet and solitude was bad.
I adapted. Years later, as a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, I didn’t tell anyone that I was intimidated by the prospect of sitting in the room with a stranger. I wanted to be under the surface—not to have to get there through social exchange. Again, I adapted, found success as a psychologist, and had practiced for almost ten years when I first admitted to my analyst (and myself) how taxing the “social exchange,” particularly with new clients, had been for me. This was the first time I had acknowledged the simple truth: I am an introvert.
My confession of introversion allowed me to rediscover the treasured self I had buried when I first stepped on the school bus. My analysis provided me the time and space I had craved, and I entered a personal renaissance. I took my first-ever personal retreat, letting my husband and little boys handle things while I indulged in the privacy of a remote B&B in the woods. I began an active period of writing, learned to craft candles, discovered poetry, and, for the first time, saw a world beyond the constrictions of my profession. Predictably, as I came alive, people around me—even my closest family members—got worried. What if I relinquished my hard-earned career to sell candles on the art fair circuit? What kind of crazy ideas was I getting from my analyst? It hurts when the self you most value becomes a source of worry. But once you tap into that self, the worry won’t stop you.
What kept me going was the energy I discovered. For the first time since my carefree childhood days, I experienced flow. When I took my solitary walks, I felt I could walk forever, basking in the ample space for thought and imagination. I discovered the sky and drew on its vastness as a source of comfort.
The world opened to me during these walks, and I began to envision new possibilities for my life. The image of a piano keyboard came to my mind, and I recognized that I had only learned one note—I was an expert on that note, but there were so many more to discover. The sky reminded me that there was so much more than the limited corner of the world I had come to know. I was filled with desire, and that desire led me to new notes and new places.
I had befriended my introversion and was transported by its power.
Since that opening, I have tasted the novelty of working as a model, savored the power of holding an audience captive as a stage actor, written and directed mixed-media performances, and discovered a more energizing focus for my therapy skills—helping writers excavate their “inner book.” Most satisfying of all, I have realized my desire to become an author, which has allowed me to connect with introverts—privately and quietly—across the globe.
Here’s a well-kept secret: introversion is not defined by lack. Introversion, when embraced, is a wellspring of riches. It took me years to acknowledge this simple reality, to claim my home, and to value all it offers.
Perhaps you also feel most at home within. But you’ve probably also felt the pull to abandon this home—to set up house in the world of social interactions. Even if you only enjoy an occasional visit inside yourself, you may struggle to justify such an indulgence. Because extroversion lines up so well with American values, we introverts often deprive ourselves of what we most enjoy and thrive on. So, for all of you who draw energy from inside, behind, underneath, or away from it all, welcome home.
AMERICA THE EXTROVERTED
There’s a lot to love about America—freedom, the melting pot of diversity, individualism—all attractive concepts, especially to an introvert. In fact, the introverts were probably the first to feel crowded in England and to daydream about all the space they would find in the New World. Peace! Quiet!
Fast-forward to the new millennium—and it has been a fast trip forward—in which we are more likely to associate America with office space than with “spacious skies.” We have become an outward and upward society, conquering, building, competing, buying out, improving—extroverting. The squeaky wheels get greased, the ones who snooze lose, the best team wins, and the winner takes all.
In this culture of competition, it is no wonder that those of us who prefer introversion feel anxious. We are expected to “think on our feet,” but we think best when we’re still. We’re pressured to join and keep up, when we’d rather follow an inner guide. And with the ever-multiplying multimedia—and smart phones we can access anywhere, bathroom included—the competition finds us where we live. After a day of fending off intrusions, even a friendly greeting or eager query can leave us feeling like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch (whom I’m convinced was a misunderstood introvert), covering our ears and bemoaning the “noise, noise, NOISE!”
When introverts sense invasion, we instinctively shut down to protect our inner resources. We’re no longer “all there,” but we still have to manage the incoming stimuli. We feel split: one part on watch, the other back at headquarters (an apt name, if you think about it). If communications between headquarters and the field break down, we lose access to ourselves. From this defensive position, we may feel that our only options are to practice extroversion, go underground, or go crazy.
Could it be that there’s another alternative? Perhaps we could draw on our personal and communal strengths to assert introversion in our culture. Sound like a paradox? Yes—as paradoxical as meditating in a mosh pit.
Defining Our Terms
Introversion is an inward orientation to life, and extroversion (spelled extraversion in clinical and academic literature) is an outward orientation. Though you probably use both introversion and extroversion, one of these orientations usually feels more like home—more comfortable, more interesting, and more energizing—than the other. Introverts prefer introversion; we tend to gain energy by reflecting and expend energy when interacting. Extroverts have the opposite preference; they tend to gain energy by interacting and expend energy while reflecting.
INTROVERSION FOR ALL—OR NONE
According to the psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, Carl G. Jung, introversion and extroversion are two opposing forces, or attitude-types, within an individual. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs, who developed the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), built on Jung’s idea that we all use both attitudes, but introverts are naturally more attracted to the world of concepts, ideas, and inner experiences, whereas extroverts prefer to focus on the outer world.
The Big Five personality system, which came into prominence in the 1990s, put a slightly different spin on introversion and extroversion. Extroversion is one of the five—the Big Five—traits identified to describe personality. Rather than seeing individuals as possessing both attitudes and preferring one to the other, the Big Five sees individuals as having more or less of a single trait called extroversion. Each of us falls somewhere along a continuum between the least extroverted and the most extroverted. And though people who fall on the “less extroverted” end may be referred to as “introverted,” the word carries no meaning independent of extroversion.
Introversion is no longer in the vocabulary.
In this single-trait model, terms describing extroversion are simply reversed to measure introversion. This simplicity is attractive, measurement is easy, and the model has generated a wealth of important research. But something essential has been lost. When extroversion descriptors like “talkative” and “outgoing” are reversed, the resulting descriptors for introversion become negatively worded apologies: “I have little to say” and “I don’t like to draw attention to myself.” Anyone attentive to language can see that associating the self with negations such as “little” and “don’t” is problematic. Calling the factor “extroversion,” though its continuum encompasses introversion and extroversion, to me, is fraught with the same problems that occur when we refer to men and women as men. When we see the word “man,” we envision a man, even if we know the adjective is meant to be inclusive. When we see the word “extroversion,” we envision an extrovert. When we read discussions of “less extroverted” individuals, we envision “less.” When we have no separate language to describe introversion, we stop seeing introversion.
“Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language—this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.”
—Adrienne Rich, from
On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose
In Jung’s type theory, introversion and extroversion are opposites, but they are both viable in their own right. Contrast the negations in the Big Five with this MBTI® description of introversion: “interest in the clarity of concepts, ideas, and recollected experience; reliance on enduring concepts and experiences more than on transitory external events or fleeting ideas; a thoughtful, contemplative detachment; an enjoyment of solitude and privacy; and a desire to “‘think things out’ before talking about them.”
Jung believed, and research has affirmed, that there is a strong biological component to the preference for introversion or extroversion. Though he used the term “preference,” he didn’t believe that people chose their attitude-type. Rather, he saw that people generally preferred to act in the way that came most naturally, just as someone who is right-handed prefers to use her right hand.
But whether you prefer I, or you identify most with E, every one of us uses and relies on both approaches. Jung wrote, “Just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification.” When a culture devalues introversion, we lose access to a vital life source, and we all end up feeling a little sick.
The way personal growth is supposed to progress, according to Jung, is that we spend the first part of our lives developing the specialty that is most natural and compelling—introversion or extroversion. Specialization works well until later life, when the individual gets bored, wants to expand his or her range, and, perhaps with the help of a midlife crisis, begins to explore the shadow side of his or her personality. The extrovert finds himself mapping a solo pilgrimage, while the introvert gathers friends together for a weekend trip. Type theory assumes that, although preferences remain constant across the lifespan, early specialization gives people the strength and confidence to branch out later in life. But what happens when the young introvert is discouraged or, worse, prohibited from practicing her specialty?
The introvert may adapt and act extroverted, but she walks around with a nagging sense of homelessness. She won’t need to wait until midlife to become bored—she’s bored already! It’s hard enough to be in a career that doesn’t fit, but for many introverts, the life doesn’t fit.
For the many frustrated introverts out there, what is needed is not a move toward extroversion, but as a friend of mine put it, an opportunity to “melt into introversion.” This book is not about finding balance—we are really tired of doing that! Besides, finding balance assumes that we have been allowed to be fully introverted. We have not. This book is about embracing the power of introversion. It’s about indulging, melting into, drinking in, immersing ourselves in the joy, the genius, and the power of who we naturally are—and not just on the occasional retreat, but in the living of our lives. Ironically, balance will only come to us if we forget about extroversion for a while, and balance will only come to our society when we see and respect the introversion in all of us.
THE BIG LIE
Thanks to Jung and his successors, we have the tools to understand these qualities. We have personality tests to measure introversion and extroversion. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® has generated more than fifty years of data on introversion and extroversion, and since its development in the eighties, the NEO Personality Inventory has facilitated an explosion of research on the Big Five dimensions. Popular literature has emerged to explain how each of us can understand our personality preferences and use them to our advantage. But lies about introversion are so imbedded in the fabric of our culture that even the literature geared toward correcting misconceptions inadvertently promotes them.
The biggest lie is that introverts are in the minority, making up one-Fourth or one-third of the population, depending on what you’ve read. Any introvert who has done a quick web search, attempting to find some company, has probably run across and even quoted these figures. But not only are these figures floating around the Web, they are also repeatedly quoted in self-help books many of us use as resources.
When I started my research for this book, I wanted to know where these estimates came from. I wanted to find the research the books were quoting. So I went to the source: MBTI®. In the half-century since the first MBTI® Manual (© 1962) was published, continued sampling and test development by its publisher CPP and ongoing research and literature review at the Center for Application of Type (CAPT) have generated a staggering amount of data. And though Big Five personality measures are generating additional data, these instruments do not provide cut-offs to distinguish introverts from extroverts. So I dug into the current MBTI® Manual (© 2003), a regularly updated compendium for the research on introversion, extroversion, and the other personality dimensions measured by the MBTI®. I thought those oft-referenced minority estimates would pop right up. But what I found was quite different.
The Manual reported the results of the first large-scale U.S. population study of MBTI® frequencies. The results? Introverts comprised 50.7 percent of the representative sample; extroverts came in at 49.3 percent. This study, the largest to date, was published in 1998. Studies on either side show similar ratios. The Manual references a 1996 sample, indicating, “Introverts were slightly more common [than extroverts] for both genders.” The most recent sample, reported in the MBTI® Step II Manual (© 2001), had a proportion of 57 percent introverts to 43 percent extroverts.
It took me much longer to find the source of claims that introverts make up only a fourth or third of the population. These estimates were made by Isabel Myers during the formative stages of MBTI® development—circa 1957.
How can we be so far off ?
As much as research shows the contrary, the belief that introverts are in the minority has stuck. After all, in America, extroversion is what we value. And we see what we value. So we see extroverts everywhere, and we no longer notice the introverts everywhere. Sometimes we even miss the one looking back at us in the mirror. We might tell ourselves that introverts are naturally less visible than extroverts. This lie is as insidious and damaging as the lie about our numbers. Perhaps a better way to put it is that we are less seen in America. Go to Japan, for example, and, despite the massive population, an introverted businessperson is more likely to be noticed than a “fast talker.”
In America, we think of introverts as withdrawn loners, quiet and scared. We readily diagnose a preference for looking inward as stemming from depression, anxiety, or antisocial tendencies. We don’t know what introversion really is, and we interact with introverts all day without realizing it.
We’ve got it all wrong.
REVIVING YOUR INTROVERSION
From a young age, most of us are taught the value of social skills. We learn how to introduce ourselves, how to smile and be polite. We are told to be friendly and make friends. These are all useful abilities to develop. But how many of us are taught the value of solitude skills? How many of us are taught to protect our boundaries, to foster imagination, to be alone? How many of us are encouraged to withdraw from social activity and nurture the life of the mind?
This book is here to provide that missing training and support. We’ll examine how introversion may have gotten away from you, and how to get it back. We’ll deconstruct the extroversion assumption, and see how it manifests in everyday conversations, judgments, and ideas about work and play. As you are freed to reclaim your preference, you will be amazed at the power you feel. Life will flow in a way you hadn’t thought was possible. You may find yourself asking: “Is this okay?” “Can things be this easy?”
As this transformation occurs at the individual level—this simple reclaiming of your home—you’ll notice your world changing. I think you’re going to like it.
Introvert Power provides an alternative to the extroversion training you’ve been receiving all your life. As unnatural as extroversion has felt to introverts, we’ve gotten used to it. Rather than putting a thin coat of introversion over layers of extroverted thinking, Introvert Power asks you to strip down your thinking first and then dip into your true colors. The book is divided into five parts, each essential to our retraining and best experienced in sequence.
In Part One, Antisocial, Weird, or Displaced?, we take on—and take apart—the beliefs we’ve adopted about introversion, along with our culturally determined assumptions about what is healthy. We look at mistaken associations between introversion and mental illness, and confront our society’s taboo against solitude. You’ll meet two introvert styles, represented by Shadow Dwellers and Accessible Introverts, and learn how these styles have developed in the context of an alienating society. Then we start looking at what’s real: our numbers, our influence on current trends, and the economic power we exert. Finally, we’ll expose the serious downside of society’s mandate to get happier.
Part Two, The Introvert’s Wish List, is the melting into introversion section. In these chapters, we’ll take a tour through societies that favor introversion, then indulge in our wishes for private space, time to think, routine retreats, passionate observation, and real intimacy. Though the process may feel like a guilty indulgence, we’ll see why such pleasures are in fact essential to introverts and healing to society as a whole.
In Part Three, Standing Still in a Loud World, we move into the areas that have become defined by extroversion and look at how to bring an introvert tempo into the mix. You’ll learn how to create space in conversations and how to just say no to parties—or how to hang out, introvert-style. We deal with work and the people who interrupt us. We sort out how to be there for the people we love while remaining loyal to ourselves. And we confront the downside of introversion, and how to know when we need a window out.
The final section, Outing the Introvert, takes us one step further, from introvert restoration to introvert renaissance. We take ownership of our society, educating rather than apologizing, acting with introvert integrity rather than conformity or indifference, and expressing, in our own way, the richness within us. We consider when extroversion is natural for us and, fully rooted in introversion, we relinquish the defensive stance that once restricted our freedom. We begin to meditate in the mosh pit, and as we do, the pit transforms into a house of meditation; the extroverted slamming no longer pushes us off balance, and the rhythms of introversion and extroversion complement each other in a new dance.
My voice will always be limited in capturing your private experience, so I supplement my words here with the voices of a diverse group of introverts. I polled the introverts in my world, as well as subscribers to my website, http.wakingdesire.com (see also http.introvertpower.com), and the Introvert Power page on Facebook. A group of voices emerged: a college student from Puerto Rico who makes films in her spare time; a minister with a generative mind and minimalist lifestyle; a high school sophomore who obtains permission to doodle in her classes; a sampling of accountants, artists, government employees, musicians, conservationists, comedians, health professionals, and writers. These contributors welcomed the opportunity to write their thoughts—extroverted techniques were not used in the making of this book—and struck me with their honesty and insight. Many appreciated being asked. The voices of introverted heroes—literary, historical, popular, and lesser known—also enrich the pages ahead.
Regardless of how many introvert perspectives I can provide, however, it is your voice that I hope to inspire.