Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Yes, I am an Introvert, With Curls . . .

So here I am again, trying to link my wild post-60 curls with my recent recognition, even celebration of my Inner Introvert. Having pre-ambled through my late-middle-age Style, my hairstyle change, I'm finally getting to link this with Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I ended my last post -- the first on this topic of Extroverted Hair/Introverted Self -- by asking this question: And the curls? and the hair length? and, above all, Susan Cain? How does all this tie together, you ask, in impatient bewilderment?
Now I continue: 

Well, reading Cain allowed me not just to put my finger clearly on my own Introverted self, but to help define her so that I can convince my family she exists. My family, many friends, my students certainly, so often see me in what appears to be an Extroverted mode that they have found it difficult to believe any part of me is an Introvert. But my husband saw the reality -- surprisingly, for the first time in our 40 years together -- this last trip to France when we spent about ten days of our six weeks away living in two different fairly communal circumstances. He did fine; in fact, although our kids think of him as more introverted than I am, he actually thrived in the social settings, whereas I wanted to crawl under my bed by noon most days . . . You wouldn't know this by looking at me in those settings, though. I joined in the conversations, laughed at those jokes I could translate quickly enough, chatted as best I could in my evolving French. At the breakfast table with our hosts and a revolving set of guests, on a long hike with our host and her cousin, talking through dinner with our housemates after a long day of painting classes -- in each setting, I probably seemed fairly comfortable, relaxed even. Sometimes I might be more reserved, and could pass that off as fatigue at the language barrier; other times, I must have seemed quite outgoing, verging occasionally on life-of-the-party. But regularly, I would make excuses to scoot back to our room to hunker down with a book, obliterated by the constant effort of being sociable.

Paul, on the other hand, was pleased to take advantage of a laid-on French conversation class, and we were both a bit surprised that he would wander over to the communal spots and voluntarily start up a conversation on French politics with a slightly grizzled soixante-huitard or offer to help our host peel potatoes or move tables. What we were able to figure out and articulate for each other was that the interactions cost him very little in terms of social or emotional or psychological energy. My sense of obligation, on the other hand, coupled with some very basic settings in my Personal Operating System, means that social engagement drains the batteries. Quickly.

Shortly after we arrived home, this brilliant graphic by artist Schroeder Jones began circulating through the social media in my corner. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest all featured Jones' instructive cartoon on "How to Live with Introverts."  Most useful for me, in this very helpful message, is the clarity of recognizing that both Introverts and Extroverts enjoy social situations; they just cost the Introvert more.

Then a few weeks after I saw this comic strip (and immediately forwarded it to a few people, my husband included), my daughter recommended Cain's book. I ordered a copy immediately and began reading it, fascinated to recognize myself in so many ways. I enjoyed the many personal anecdotes -- her own and those told by numerous interviewees -- Cain shares to broaden the understanding of who is an introvert. I was also captivated by the broad cultural history she sketches of a North American privileging of Extroversion throughout most of the 20th century and into the present -- the research she summarizes, debunking the "groupwork" approach of the last few decades, is particular relevant to me, both as I look back on my own (mature) student experience and as I recognize what I have suspected is true in my own classes. Throughout her book, in fact, she draws widely from a wealth of scientific evidence, behavioural pscyhology and neurology in particular, demonstrating responses at a cellular level which seem to distinguish Introverts from Extroverts from birth in surprising ways. Overall, though, what I most enjoyed about Quiet, I think, is the myth-busting it performs.

Again, though, I'm running the word count up to high, so I'll leave you to think about your picture of an Introvert. Have you seen Jones' cartoon before? Have you tended to link shyness with Introversion? Do you sense that you're an Introvert but experience aspects of personality that seem to make that impossible?

And yes, I am going to circle back to hair, to my curls -- whether you'll find the connection convincing in the end, we'll still have to see. Meanwhile, a photo, at least, to show you I'm still thinking of the curls, even as I try to articulate something about myself as Introvert. To be continued . . .






30 comments:

  1. My son bought the book for me last year and said 'Mum, this is you'. After reading, I had to agree. I work in a field that requires me to step outside myself in a big way - to be something of a cheerleader, to facilitate relationships between clients and helpers, to introduce people and new ideas, give workshops, (and in the jargon of the gov't department) engage the community. I do it because I can, but it costs a lot. I find that I often lack the energy - the currency - to spend time with people I'd like to know in my personal life.
    I'll be following and taking part in this conversation as it evolves - interesting!

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    1. I find exactly the same thing -- indeed, I've been trying to find ways to correct the shrinking of my "friendship circle" directly due to the social/emotional exhaustion I find as a result of my work. Thanks for this really good example of precisely what I'm talking about.

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  2. Great post! All my life I have been shy and I can't tell you how many times as a child adults treated me like it was an illness to be gotten over. I would hope that parents cherish their child's shyness (even writing it, it seems a "condition" - I'm so conditioned) or sensitivity I think is a good word. My partner's artwork in particular celebrates the tiniest things. He knows well that sometimes the loudest voice is the room is the quietest. Cheering for introverts. You have curly hair because your brain is so active.

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    1. Yes! Cain talks about ways that parents can help their child negotiate the world in a way that values their sensitivity rather than denigrates it. She also offers surprising examples of people who eschew certain kinds of team/groupwork in favour of the productivity of solitude. The book has led me to change some of my classroom pedagogy to leave more time for individual brainstorming -- so little room in our world for the Quiet that it seems important to make a pocket here and there.

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  3. I read the book and watched the TED talk a while ago. As a child, I was always described as "shy", "withdrawn" and "high-strung". As an adult, I have "created" a character that I call "the sociable introvert" but it is at a cost. I need lots of alone time with absolutely no noise or sensory stimulation. When I am away in Paris, I use part of each day to read, write and think without having to "bother" with other people. The French respect the "hamster cage" or the "bubble".

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    1. It's true, isn't it, that part of the French reserve works to protect our bubble. I sometimes wish they were less that way, but on the other hand, I have been known to bridle when people don't respect boundaries, depending how sensitive I am at the time. Those who ignore obvious signals like my reading a book.. .. grrrrr. . .

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  4. Well, your hair is most definitely extroverted! And I find it interesting when you refer to the extra cost of sociability to the introvert. I'm a really high-energy person in some ways and I sense that comes out as extroverted when I'm in the world. But I retreat more and more, as I get older, because it's SO tiring. I'd rather use my energy to make things than to small talk. Not that I don't love socializing. I mean, good socializing is delightful! It's the mediocre stuff I have no time for anymore.

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    1. Yes, this is the kind of distinctions I found really interesting in Cain. I strike many people as extroverted -- I mean, there I am, performing, in front of a class. But then I need to find a quiet corner, shut my office door, put the book in front of my face on my commute home.
      And I too am increasingly parsimonious about my time socializing. I will happily exhaust myself talking to a good friend for hours but small talk with someone I have little interest in. . . not so much. . .

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  5. Do you see your children falling cleanly along the Introvert/Extrovert lines too?

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    1. This is SUCH a good question! Makes me pause and really helps frame the whole nature/nurture -- and context! -- question. Roughly, though? They all are predominantly introverts. . .but quite social introverts. . .

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  6. I read Cain's book shortly after it came out. What I took away was much the same as you - the myth-busting aspect. It's okay for me to be introverted in a culture that values extroversion. When I have, in the past, thought I needed to be more outgoing, it felt wrong. Fake. Pushing myself to be someone I am not. Uncomfortable.
    In our relationship, my husband would likely be considered more introverted than I am. But, like yours, he seems better able to cope with more socializing than I. He is rarely alone and doesn't seem to crave solitude the way I do.
    Is there an assumption that your gorgeous wild curls somehow indicate an extroverted personality, too? Maybe there should be a bumper sticker, "Just because my hair is extroverted doesn't mean I am."

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    1. It's so interesting, isn't it? And good to come to terms with, also.
      No, I don't think people assume the curls signal extroversion. I hope I'll be able to make the link clear but it's more about accepting myself than about how others see me.

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  7. I've seen an excerpt from Cain's talk and definitely think of myself as an introvert who loves to perform (on stage! in the classroom!) but happily sneak away during large gatherings even at my own home to refuel. I've been thinking about my students differently too, and their "participation" grades, as I realize more and more that I need to provide different kinds of participatory experiences for them.

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    1. It seems to be relatively common in our line of work, doesn't it -- so many of us shut our office doors against the world and revel in the quiet but then put on animated shows in front of our classes.
      Like you, I've been moved by Cain's insights to adapt my pedagogy. I was gratified to read some of the findings she summarizes debunking the trend to groupwork. As a student, I rarely found that approach particularly productive although it could often be more "fun" or entertaining. She cites research that validates my intuition quite nicely.

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  8. Me too. I read the book late last year. It now feels really easy to say, I am an introvert. Before the only labels I could use were, I am not a people person, I am shy, I am sensitive, I like books. Labels are interesting but this one really seems to feel right for me. I too lose energy around people. I can sustain for a while and sometimes I literally have to run away. Too much noise, conversation, light, music also has the same effect. But there are definitely times when I can perform. I will follow the rest of the comments with interest.

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    1. Funny how labels like this can give us permission rather than constrain or limit us. It's an interesting conversation, isn't it?!

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  9. I'm another one who actually enjoys socialising, but only if I know I can have LOTS of solitude and silence later on. I think it's why I can only teach part-time - my writing work I do totally alone, of course. It's also been pointed out to me that whenever we host, which is quite often, I spend most of my time in the kitchen, being visited by one or two people to chat - I only mingle with the 'crowd' for a very limited time. The thing I identified with most in Cain's book was the hyper-sensitivity. When I was a kid I was always being chastised by my mother for this particular quality, or accused of being surly when I was just being quiet/reading/thinking. And although I am relatively introverted, I'm not at all shy.

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    1. The part about the "Highly Sensitive" was really fascinating -- I have only come to recognize some of this tendency in myself in recent years. I think that growing up as the eldest of 12, then having my own 4 beginning when I was only 23, I never knew the quiet I must have craved except when dug into a book -- no wonder I read so much.
      I'm not shy, either, most of the time, but I was as a child and as a teen in some circumstances. Interesting that what I'm reading here, similar to what Cain says, is that so many of us who know ourselves to be introverts nonetheless feel quite confident in our social abilities.

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  10. I need to get this book! I am a shy introvert, and also an academic who puts on a good act in class and then happily retreats to my office and books. My mother is still trying to reform me, but I think I have finally accepted my quirks, or at least some of them. Two of my three children are also shy introverts, and one of them is currently going through the college admissions process. It depresses me how much the process favors extroverts. He has a great school record, he is funny, hardworking and smart, and well-liked by teachers, coaches and team mates. But now all the colleges are having inteerviews, and he has to go and try to sell himself to a total stranger, who is probably and extrovert and has power over his future. It is like torture! I tell him it is good life experience, blah-blah-blah, but really I feel bad for him. I also tell him that the world needs people like us, because who elae will listen to all of the extroverts!

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    1. Sorry for the above typos, blogger didn't accept my edits for some reason!

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    2. Your son is lucky to have your support and understanding. Cain speaks of exactly this point and she offers some basic advice on managing the bias in favour of the extrovert. I think it's also helpful to know that others experience the same phenomenon -- and that we grow more comfortable in our interactions, with maturity. I'd love to hear what you think if/when you get a chance to read the book.

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  11. Just wondering, Do you know your Myers-Briggs type?

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  12. I'm going to have to get that book. (First in the queue though is a series of essays on Eleanor of Aquitaine....hoping to finish that in time for our trip. Lots of Plantagenet history in the Loire Valley to soak up...) I really recognize myself as someone who (more and more) is drained a bit by social interaction, as much as I enjoy it. Thanks to that graphic and the recent bubble of discussions online about introverts, during the recent wave of holiday parties I gave myself permissions to spend more time at social gatherings just sitting back and observing/listening. It really helped me to not feel totally spent after a couple of hours. As a child I was very much an introvert, usually preferring the company of a book or an afternoon on horseback to socializing.

    I'm always just floored when you wear that blue color. You look amazing. Gorgeous.

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    1. That's the best kind of travel reading!
      I, too, have found my introversion reclaiming its territory in the last few years. So much that youthful energy can compensate for . . .
      Re the sweater colour, thank you! I really should have more in my wardrobe...

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  13. Interesting post and comments here and I really do need to read that book. Its looking like it may be a good month away though as there are too many things on the list right now and a slew of commitments. I suppose I've known I was introverted for a long long time. I was criticized for it often as a child, criticized for being far to sensitive as well, and I know the goal of that criticism was the hope that it would make me more extraverted. It boomeranged of course and only made me more shy and withdrawn, and made it harder for me to eventually come out of that shell. I suppose, looking back on it now, it was odd that no one tried to dissuade me from majoring in English Lit, where 50% of the grade was on participation, when my myers-briggs indicated strong introversion.

    I am not particularly shy now, and I love talking to people and going to parties. I weigh the costs and benefits, though, and I allow myself to sit back and listen or watch a bit when I am out. I've come to accept that I need a lot of alone time in order to be happy and to be able to spend time with those I love. When I don't get that time, or I am forced to be "on" too much I tend to pull deeper inside and can lose contact with important people, becoming almost withdrawn. I am learning to balance my schedule and set aside time for myself. I'm also learning to accept that I am happier and far more productive if I give myself the time I need, not the time someone else thinks might be adequate.

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    1. It's a surprisingly common story, isn't it? Mine is a slightly different variation on the theme, but similar enough to recognize. And like you, the trick now is to get the balance right rather than to deny myself the social pleasures I really do enjoy

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  14. I just love your hair! I too am an introvert with curly extroverted hair. I would love to know what product you use on yours and what you mean about washing and twisting the curls into place. Maybe a blog post on this? I know I love to read about how people manage their curls.

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    1. Okay, I'll do that very soon, from one curly-haired introvert to another ;-)

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  15. Thanks for discussing introvert v. extrovert and Susan Cain's book. I too am an introvert who masquerades as an extrovert in front of a college classroom. My classes are all day Saturday to accommodate students' work schedules. I now know why I am so exhausted at the end of the day. It isn't all the work, of which there is plenty, but the stress on my system to work outside my 'comfort' zone. This book has so much application for any type of work that involves people. Thank you!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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