I’ve always been regarded as quiet. I revive myself through quiet time, reading, listening to music, or journaling. I have never enjoyed big parties, really loud music, or talkative people. While I appreciate these things on occasion, I derive much of my identity from time spent alone, with close friends and family, or through introspection.
It’s amazing how so many people see introverts or quiet people as distant, overly private, or even depressed. I cannot express how often I have been labeled “really private” or “too serious” just because I would rather spend Friday evenings with family watching something entertaining as opposed to hitting up the new restaurant down the street with people I barely know. My grandmother, an outgoing person, has always perplexed me. I could never understand her ability to mingle for long periods and still have enough energy to get up the next day and do it again.
Even more perplexing is the fact that extroverts seem to follow the leader. Most quiet people are loners and rather independent. Outgoing people are sometimes people-pleasers. They utilize their personality to manipulate the world. I have found two things that extroverts use to their advantage:
- Social status. The famous Stanley Milgram experiment provides one example. Milgram was a social psychologist in the 1960s who examined the idea that people will follow whoever has social status or power. The study involved research participants who administered electrical volts to another human being at the request of a research scientist. Milgram found that people obey those with high social status out of a desire to appear cooperative or out of fear. Of course, not everyone will follow those with high social status, but Milgram found that the majority will. Outgoing people tend to turn on their personality to attract people they can manipulate. Does the name Bernie Madoff ring a bell?
- Cooperation. Outgoing people are usually cooperative, or followers. They rarely go against the grain of a group milieu or group decision. The process by which a similar group of people (such as in the workplace or on a sports team) have an inability to evaluate alternative options for fear of reducing unanimity is called groupthink. Personalities and thinking become so diffuse that members go along to get along. I refer to this type of thinking as the “sheep syndrome” because sheep unconsciously follow each other.
We have been taught to view introverts negatively. Quiet people are treated as those to stay away from and to pressure to become extroverted. It is believed that they do not deserve recognition, even if they have performed at extraordinary levels. It is usually the person in the law firm with the loud, assertive voice that gets the most attention or the comedian-doctor at the office who gets invited to social events.
Will society ever appreciate the genius of the quiet person? Albert Einstein, Steve Wozniak, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks, among many others, were or are introverts. Introversion is a quality that should be appreciated, not demonized.
Here are six ways for the introvert to stay true to him- or herself:
- Embrace solitude. My greatest moments of revelation and creativity have come about through solitude and introspection. You cannot learn to appreciate your identity if you never give yourself alone time to examine your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.
- Listen to music. This may seem like an adolescent coping skill, but I believe that music connects to our identity. Music, especially inspirational music, has an influence on how we perceive life, events, and even ourselves.
- Stay close to those who know you best. One person in my life who knows just about everything there is to know about me is my mother. I have been blessed to have a mother who can look at me and know what it is that I am feeling. When I feel like a stranger to myself, a candid conversation with mom brings me back into balance.
- Get rid of criticizers. Envious or competitive people are well known for being overly critical. Rid your life of them. They are not comfortable with themselves and will not allow you to be comfortable either.
- Know if you have a friend or foe. You can’t gain an authentic identity otherwise. If a “friend” wants you to be something you aren’t or don’t want to be, say goodbye.
- Read a book. This may seem useless, but there are good books that can help you understand how you perceive the world. One such book is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain. She creatively highlights the good qualities of those who are known as introverts.