The pseudo-extrovert introvert.

I recently read an article about a female introvert’s struggle to overcome her fear of speaking in public. Afterwards I had mixed feelings about it. While I don’t have a problem with anything an introvert chooses to do, I am concerned about introverts writing articles for mainstream media outlets that give the impression that they have enhanced themselves (become better or more successful) by “overcoming their introversion.”

Susan Cain, the author of the most well-known book on introversion, said that after her book was published she became “that impossibly oxymoronic creature: the Public Introvert.” She went on to add, “But I’ll go on playing this new oxymoronic role, partly because I believe it’s healthy for all of us (extroverts included) to stretch occasionally beyond our temperaments. But mostly because, for the sake of a book on the value of quiet, I’m willing to make a little noise.”

Here is the new messiah of introversion telling the world that it’s healthy to “stretch” occasionally beyond our “temperaments.” This begs the question: “Healthy for whom?” Obviously, it was financially healthy for her and her book publisher, but for introverts like me who are not hawking a book, this is insulting and contradictory. Even she herself calls it oxymoronic, but then blithely proceeds to justify her behavior.

I am aware of the fact that some introverts are more social than others (either naturally or by making the effort to be), and that their sociability can enhance their chances of being taken more seriously by those who confer the external trappings of success. But this type of introvert only represents one band of the introversion spectrum. There are other introverts who are quiet, solitary and reclusive who would never even entertain the idea of wanting to be better at public speaking.

In our culture there is a tendency to hide or ignore the fact that silence is a form of communication, and that what is not said is sometimes far more powerful and persuasive than what is said. Having “a voice” does not always mean making audible noises, nor does it require the use of words. As I have said in other posts, I prefer to communicate with others through reading and writing and avoid whatever requires me to “speak out loud.” It is also an undeniable fact that people are silent more hours of the day than they talk, and for introverts, by a large margin.

While I have become more comfortable with my quietness and my solitary nature, there are always twinges of feeling inadequate about it. If I was less comfortable with who I am, I might read a woman’s story about becoming a better public speaker and think, “maybe that’s what I should do.” And this feeling will always come up, for me and for other introverts, until quiet is as easily and unreservedly accepted as noisy.

In a previous post, Introversion has its own normal, I said, “Introverts are whole and complete within themselves and capable of a wide range of expression. They are not just the opposite of extroverts. Recent research has proven that they are multi-faceted individuals who share a unique form of thinking and communication. This to me, represents a new normal that merits research and investigation.”

For this to proceed, however, one has to first grapple with the question: “Who has the power and influence to establish a new normal?” Currently, it is those who can make the most noise. To establish a new normal for introversion, do we have to betray our essential nature and become equally noisy, or even more abhorrent: grovel for recognition? If I let myself be pressured into become a pseudo-extrovert in order to gain respect for being an introvert, what will I have accomplished? And, what message does this send out to introverts?

One of the most important things I have learned during the course of my life is that becoming more like a man does not help me feel empowered as a woman. I don’t want to go down the same endless and pointless road of pressuring myself to become more like an extrovert to feel empowered as an introvert.

Ultimately, I wish there was no “either/or” in human behavior. I wish people could be accepted just the way they are without any reference to normal. If there were universal acceptance of BEING, as opposed to an adulation for ACTING (playing out roles), then diversity of behavior would not be viewed as a problem. But we are far from this. While it is not for me to judge how any introvert chooses to BE, I do feel my hackles rising when I see mainstream media publications accepting and promoting articles about an introvert “stretching their temperament” to feel healthier. This reminds me of what my mother always says when I tell her I am an introvert, “Oh, you can get over that.”

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6 thoughts on “The pseudo-extrovert introvert.

  1. I see it differently. I think what Susan Cain is suggesting is that we are all put on this earth to “stretch ourselves” a little and that we grow as people by moving out of our comfort zone at times, especially when doing so benefits ourselves or others. For Susan Cain, moving out of her comfort zone has meant that she’s been able to get the message out there to myself and many others. I have benefited greatly from her writing, Ted talk and the general awareness raising she done for the concept of introversion. I see this as quite different to someone moving out of their comfort zone for the purpose of “fitting in” with others and to do what society deems acceptable. Doing so suggests lack of self-acceptance which I’ve personally found to be extremely damaging. However, challenging myself to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily want to do when there is a higher purpose I’ve always found to be greatly beneficial to my personal growth.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I don’t know what Cain was suggesting but what she actually said to the New York Times was, “I’ll go on playing this new “oxymoronic role,” partly because I believe it’s “healthy” for all of us to stretch occasionally “beyond our temperaments.” Temperament refers to a person’s intrinsic nature and how this affects their behavior. Cain justifies playing this oxymoronic role by saying she has to promote a book. OK, I get that. But, I think she takes this too far when she says that playing an oxymoronic role is, or may be, “healthy” for all introverts.

      (The origin of the word oxymoronic is from the Greek oxumōron, meaning ‘pointedly foolish,’ from oxus ‘sharp’ + mōros ‘foolish.’)

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  2. So very true this: we are designed as human beings, not as ‘human actings’. And it is so rare to encounter a person who can just ‘be’ – be present, instead of acting, making smalltalk impressing, judging, keeping busy…how i would love to fill my life with human beings – one at a time 🙂

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