What is it about introversion that makes us so uncomfortable? It’s a question I haven’t been able to answer convincingly! Let me tell you a little about myself – most of my friends would say that I’m a ‘people’s person’-I’m chatty, funny even! In a crowd, I’m likely to be the one having a very lively chat with one or more people. I enjoy engaging with people- it’s never filled me with dread or apprehension. I entertain at home and we’re invited out a fair bit! But, on every single personality test I’ve done, I’ve unfailingly been identified as an introvert (though even some of my closest friends would rather believe that the earth is flat, and inhabited by winged horses in pink tutus who jump through hoops of candy!) What qualifies me as one is that for every day I spend with people, I need three with myself. I value silence, I enjoy solitude, I can go long periods of time without speaking to anyone and I don’t need social interaction as much as some people might! Introverts aren’t people who hide in secluded corners, convulsing with fear that they’ll be asked to interact or craving to be part of a crowd that they’re just too fearful to approach!
My daughter Rahel has always been a quiet girl. She went through nursery – the entire year, speaking three words ” I need the toilet” to her teachers. As a parent, that filled me with dread and I went through every listed syndrome trying to make sense of why she won’t incessantly chat about fairies and dolls and giggle excitedly with her friends at the sandpit, like every other ‘normal’ child! Every playdate I organised for her was a playdate for me, and for my younger daughter who is the complete opposite of Rahel. We had to keep our little guest busy and entertained because Rahel would not talk, well not much anyway, she preferred to be read to or play on her LeapPad, all the while enjoying the fact that she had company! She’d dress-up in costume and play with her dolls, but quietly, speaking infrequently – not something a lot of extroverted children associate with a ‘fun’ companion. We ran around in circles wondering what we could do to make her more out-going, personable, gregarious…an extrovert! Why we viewed it as our personal failing that she wasn’t? I’m not sure other than the fact that that’s what parents do, every success and every failure is our doing, the great legacy of parenting :)!
I wasn’t alone in what I felt as I came across scores of parents who were researching the same things, plagued by the same insecurities of how to make space in this world for our little angels who just seemed powered by a different fuel!
Living in a culture that views silence, thoughtfulness – a quiet personality as a sign of inherent weakness might be where I foremost assign blame. The idea that introverted people are underconfident, even though that premise couldn’t be further from the truth; viewing introversion synonymously with an anxiety-ridden shyness where a person feels sickeningly trapped in a mind that longs for social interaction but is incapacited to reach for it, is another tragic blow to those who don’t feel the need put themselves “out there” immediately!
I was speaking with one of my friends recently after Rahel won a Math competition about why are people naturally attracted to and choose to hang out with extroverts? Is it because extroverted people always seem to have something to talk about? He came up with a answer that made me laugh…like so many things nowadays, it went back to our times of being hunter-gatherers (I’m seriously resisiting the urge to use #paleo anywhere here or related to this post :)) The survival of nomadic man depended on his being hyper-focused, hyper-attentive and being able to communicate to a large number of people at most times. Being a beta-male, or what we can extrapolate to being introverted, meant death. The ‘leaders’ were those who were vivacious men – party animals and backslappers, the sort who stand at the bar, ensconced within the chatter of other mixers and pub crawlers! 😀 But not much seems to have been said of the thinkers, the great creators – the artists, the scientists, the inventors who brought us into civilization. That small group who need a little bit of silence in a constantly chiming world! Research however shows that the approximately 30% of introverts that we have in our population may probably wind up a whole lot more successful than everyone else and are a whole lot happier than we assume they are <Try Googling ‘List of Successful Introverts’>
Any parent like me, who’s had to deal with the stereotyping finds it frustrating that their child is viewed as being a silent sufferer! What people fail to see is that there is a marked and fundamental difference between a crippling fear of social judgment and just finding overstimulation exhausting and choosing to be alone or in the company of a select few people.
I can see Rahel’s neural circuits thrive in the company of a few friends, a good read, time where she’s been allowed to choose what she wants to do! She loves ballet and gives it her all…when I got a letter from her previous dance school saying that she was identified as a ‘gifted’ dancer, I couldn’t believe my eyes or the fact that she had been noticed at all! I held back the tears as I watched her first performance in front of about 50 parents, where she showed me her quiet confidence. Being her mother, I’ve learned that the same thirst for solitude can bring with it an ability to focus for long periods of time. I’ve learned that a margin of introversion is necessary to becoming a great musician or scientist or businessperson. Again, research indicates that introverts listen better, they assess risks more carefully, they can be wiser managers. Our children have so much to offer not despite their introversion, but because of it!
Writer Susan Cain said on Ted Talks that it’s an oversimplification to divide people into slots as definitive as “extroverts and introverts” as we’re all a mixture of both elements or ambiverts. Both Rahel and I fluctuate between the spectrums of introversion, she being the truer representative of it than I. Though she is no longer as “anti-social” as she was as a pre-schooler, I do think she seems to get her conviviality and energy from from quiet time and contemplation. More power to her, I say!
I’ve always believed that the uniqueness and beauty of the human race is our diversity of personality….something that our current world of social-connectivity-overload is slowly beginning to threaten. Our school models, our extra-curriculars, are all so focused on the extroverts that we’re beaten into a cookie-cutter mould of interaction, leaving less space for the individualism we all crave. I’m not trying to change the world, I know I can’t and I understand why the focus is so… I only wish to hold up a mirror to society highlighting the different sorts of people there are, it’s our collective strengths that define our success.
Two years ago, I, like parents before me, resigned myself to believing that my child was never going to be the life of any party, that they’re condemned to the life of a wallflower at best, but how steadily Rahel proved me wrong. From going from strength to strength in her academics and extra-curriculars and just being the ever-happy 7 year-old she is (with a fair few best-friends-forever in tow)- I’d say that she and her sort are comfortably the very soul of it!
If you liked what you read, could you please nominate me for writer, fresh voice or photo over at BritMums , many thanks!
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