Tag Archives: quiet

Introvert time

It’s been a big issue for us as a household this year. Ironically, while I’ve done a really good job of talking to my son about how he needs to keep an eye on his need for introvert time, I have entirely failed to factor this in for myself.

Part of the problem is that none of us really fit the normal model for introverts. Not least because we all have varying needs for extrovert time as well. Of the three of us, I think I’m the most extrovert. I need time with people. Some days I need spaces with lots of people. I need stages and audience and performance opportunities and attention and I revel in all of that. If I don’t get a sufficient amount of out there and extroverted time, I get sad.

At the same time, if I don’t get enough introvert time, I get sad. Silence, or quiet. Not speaking for hours. Reading, crafting, disappearing into my own head. One of the great things about my household is that we’re all like this so we can be around each other, and still be having our needful introvert time. I can’t usually do this with other people.

Over the last year, my working life has been much more people orientated. I did quite a lot of office work – which was people-laden. I’ve been doing events work for a local venue, which is hours of full on people-orientated stuff. We’ve been going out and doing book events, and steampunk events, and poetry nights and that’s all full of people, too. I’ve not been thinking about how this balances out, or what I might need for me.

I don’t know what the necessary equation is here. I’m a perverse enough creature that it probably changes all the time anyway. At the moment, my need for silence and retreat is massive. I’m going with that.

If there are neat boxes for people to fit into, I invariably find I need to spend time in both boxes, and time dangling awkwardly in the middle. I struggle with how people are divided up and labelled. I’m rational and emotional. Logical and intuitive. Introvert and extrovert. From a certain perspective I may only be consistent in my inconsistency. It’s difficult to know how to ask anyone to work with this – especially when I’m in retreat mode and not really inclined to people. I need to turn inwards, to reflect, and be separate. And no doubt, even while that inclination dominates me, I will have days, or hours, or odd moments of being totally people-orientated and it will be confusing for me as much as for anyone trying to deal with all of that.

The biggest thing for me at the moment is a refusal to be tidy and convenient. I’ve done so much trying to fit in. I am the square peg for so many round holes, and I don’t want to pare myself down to fit anymore. I want the space for my own awkwardness, for my untidy emotions, for just how cold my reasoning can be, for my inability to do small talk, my lack of natural capacity for making empty, conciliatory noises, my inability to just go along with things. I can’t face trying to fit in any more, and I have pulled away from almost every place where I might have to do that. It gives me more room to breathe.

At some point, my inner tide will turn and I’ll come back in extravert mode, and I think I will still be awkward, over-emotional, uncooperative, untidy… and I have no idea how that will play out because it may be a good deal less quiet… unquiet even.


Family time

One of the things that has become really important to me in the last six months or so, is family time. Not in an organised, doing things sort of way, but the time –usually at weekends – when the three of us just slum around together.

I like it because this is time when I have to make very little effort – none of us do. We just do the things we enjoy – typically reading, crafting, listening to stuff, watching films, eating… we can go long periods without anyone saying anything much, checking in only when there’s something good to share. I think this is the natural outcome for a bunch of somewhat introverted people sharing a small space. I really value not having to make small talk or be entertaining.

Part of why this time has become precious is that it’s a good deal more scarce than it used to be. In the boat years, the three of us lived in a tiny space and spent a lot of time together. Now, we all have more going on, and we have a far more involved – and entirely wonderful – social life. But it means those quiet times really shine out. I appreciate them more for them not being the only option I have most days.

I’ve always been a funny mix of introvert and extrovert and I don’t fit well in either box. I crave human contact, I can be intensely social, I can deal with large groups of people in noisy spaces, and if I don’t get enough social time, I become sad. I have an equal need for intensely quiet time without too many other people around. I used to need total solitude for some hours every day, but that’s not been a thing for a few years now. My husband and son give me the space and the peace I need so I can do my introvert time with them in the mix.

When things are crazy-busy, nothing seems more luxurious than a Sunday afternoon with nothing planned, nowhere to go and nothing specific to do.

 


Quiet – a review

Quiet, by Susan Cain, reviewed by Guest Blogger Stephen Palmer

There is a difference between extrovert and introvert, but it’s not the difference most people think of when they hear those descriptions. The standard view is of party animals versus non-party animals. Dorothy Rowe explained that extroverts feel a more real outer world, and are uncomfortable with being on their own since their inner world is more insubstantial, whereas introverts feel a more real inner world, and are often uncomfortable in the hurly burly of social life. Introverts can be happy in times of solitude: extroverts alone feel a void inside themselves, and seek company.

This is one useful explanation, given by a master of the field. Susan Cain’s equivalent in her remarkable book Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking is based around the concept of sensitivity, which is in the main a biologically determined quality. We all have different types of brains. Our brains, linked to our many senses, operate at various levels of sensitivity – introverts tend towards maximal sensitivity, extroverts towards the norm, or less.

“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic… They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive… They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

When I was younger I wondered for a long time why I was so different to most of my friends and colleagues in this regard, and it all comes down to my high level of introversion. In fact I got a triple dose – one dose from each parent, plus being right-brained. That’s a hell of a lot of introversion to have to cope with.

“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Is this starting to ring some bells with you…? Then you’re an introvert, and you should stop trying to fit in with the extrovert world that we have in the West. (One of the most interesting chapters in Quiet is the one contrasting the Western ideal of extroversion with the Eastern ideal of introversion – although there is more to it than that dichotomy.) Susan Cain is strong and determined in her critique of Western extrovert standards:

“Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

Many people in the literary world will grasp all this; we literate types are quiet thinkers. If you feel likewise, then Quiet is for you.

The book is split into four sections. The first deals with what Susan Cain calls the extrovert ideal, and this is done mostly from an American perspective. Part two deals with the tricky subject of nature versus nurture – biology versus self, but also the role of free will in changing behaviour, and the roles of risk and reward. Examples given include the Roosevelts and Warren Buffett. Part three is a single chapter on Asian-Americans and how they deal with the American cultural standard of high sociability and constant conversation. Part four deals with strategies for the introvert, and for the extroverts who live with them.

This book is also great because it features some brilliant and pithy quotes:

“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe”

“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”

Another crucial aspect of this book is Susan Cain’s separation of shyness and introversion, which many people use as interchangeable concepts. But they’re not:

“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”

In a nutshell, for anybody who has gone through social hell or even just anxiety, and who wonders why they feel exhausted at the end of a whirl of socialising – even if that’s spending time with friends or family in the most relaxed of circumstances – this is the book for you. It made a big difference in my own life, as I was finally able to explain a few of my own puzzling character traits. Understanding introversion is the first step on the road to coping with it. I spent a long time not coping, but, luckily, now I do.

“Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much”, a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral. Or maybe there’s another word for such people: thinkers.”

This was for me one of the most inspirational of books. It was given to me completely out of the blue by a friend of mine. I still thank him for that kindness when occasionally I see him.