By Stephanie Spillmann by 1/23/17
Introverts, Take Heart
Have you ever had the terms “loner,” “serious,” “too quiet,” or “anti-social” hurled your way? Chances are, if you are included in the introspective half of the population, you’ve heard these labels many times. It’s the oft-misunderstood demeanor of introversion that causes much confusion and often harsh judgment towards those who are graced with a greater capacity for stillness.
How Do I Know I’m An Introvert?
Believe it or not, the disposition of introversion may start in infancy. There is a distinct physiological difference in the brains of those who exhibit the more cautious personality type. It shows up quite clearly in the way infants and children respond to stimuli. For over two decades, renowned Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan studied children from infancy through young adulthood. His purpose was to discover the organic beginnings of human dispositions.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Kagan’s study was performed on 500 infants. Babies were exposed to many different stimuli including popping balloons, bright mobiles, people in clown suits and gas masks, and strong scents.
About 20% of the infants thrashed their arms and legs and cried, and around 40% remained calm, while the remaining 40% were somewhere in between. The ones who cried a lot were considered high-reactives. They grew into children who are quiet and cautious.
Those with more inhibitions may have a higher incidence of introversion as their primary temperament. The percentages aren’t clear, but one thing is very clear: Introverted dispositions simply do not do well with over-stimulation.
What is the Experience of an Introverted Child at School?
In many cases, introverted students are treated as if something is wrong with them. This can have serious effects on self-esteem. If a child needs a little help or coaching with social skills, they should be helped privately as students who struggle with math or reading are helped, according to Susan Cain. More than anything, each student needs to be praised for their strengths and who they are as a person.
Most introspective kids are extremely caring and have a keen sense of empathy for others. Ironically, they will often be the first to notice when a classmate is being picked on. These sensitive kids often agonize over such mistreatment, and often carry that stress home with them, while they themselves may be among the outcasts as well.
“The typical comment on many children’s report card is, ‘I wish Molly would talk more in class,’ ” according to Pat Adams, who runs a gifted school in Michigan. “We try to bring them out, but we don’t make it a big deal,” Adams explains. “We think of introverted kids as having a different learning style.” (Cain 255)
What Happens at Work?
In large part, introverts in the workplace are frequently lost in the background. Many businesses rely heavily on meetings and team projects to enhance productivity and create some sort of cohesion among staff. These types of interactions will not elicit a quiet person’s ideas and talents. They are simply an overwhelming and artificial way to encourage unity whereby the person with the most to say often says it all.
A simple change in the process could reap rich rewards for the company as a whole. By having each member put commentary, ideas, and opinions on paper, all are given an equal voice, and various strengths and talents can be better utilized in the workplace.
When We Know Better, We Think Better
Considering that about half of all dispositions fall somewhere in the range of introversion, our society may need to re-think old stereotypes and learn to embrace and enjoy the less dominant personality. There is plenty to celebrate and esteem.
According to “Caring for Your Introvert” author Jonathan Rauch, there is nothing wrong with your introverted friend who does not want to spend hours at your party. Enjoy some in-depth one-on-one conversation instead. Also, avoid asking questions such as “why are you so serious?” or assuming that your introverted colleague is aloof. Try asking for his opinion on something instead.
Introverts are often witty and full of wisdom. And by the way, introversion is not synonymous with shyness. For everyone’s sake, remember that introversion is not a character flaw; it is simply one’s capacity for tolerating various degrees of stimulation, be it social, physical, audio, or unfamiliar settings.
I’m content being a friendly introvert. I love being with my friends but treasure my alone time.
What are your struggles with introversion? Just know that you’re not alone.
Kagan, J., & Snidman, N. C. (2004). The long shadow of temperament.
Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Rauch, Jonathan. “Caring for Your Introvert.” The Atlantic 1 Mar. 2003: Web. 15 Apr. 2015.