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Quiet

November 12, 2013

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I finally made time and did it.  For months, I had seen the book, Quiet by Susan Cain looking at me at Costco.  I read about it on blogs, hearing from people what an incredible book it was.  Finally, I bought the book (at Costco) and then let it sit on my shelf for a while.  Really, why did I need a book on introverts?  I am an introvert.  I know what it means to be an introvert.  I know we’re an underrated, sometimes misunderstood bunch.  I know our culture seems to value the extrovert, the charismatic more than the quiet leader and the wallflower.

But, everyone who spoke of it loved it.  So after I finished one nonfiction book, I picked up Quiet and read.

I loved Quiet.

In Quiet, I learned I am not as “different” as I sometimes think.  I learned there are biological differences between extroverts and introverts.  Yes, some stages of our lives and social settings can make introverts of many people, introverts who are introverts all their life are often wired differently in their brain.  Introverts tend to have a highly reactive amagydala–the part of the brain that responds to stress.   Introverts tend to be itchier, more sensitive to loud noises (and I would like to add strong smells, but that’s just my hypothesis), and respond to emotionally stressful situations by having higher heart rates and other stronger stress responses than extroverts.  (In general, introverts heart rates, even resting, tend to be higher than extroverts).  Introverts don’t tend to like conflict nor do they like a day scheduled with lots of events, be them errands or social events.  Running around all over the place, even if it is just the grocery store, then Target, then a restaurant, then to a child’s school, wears introverts out.

Yes.  I also learned introverts tend to cry more easily and clam up in stressful situations.  Introverts emotional responses are harder for them to control, so often they compensate by coming across cold and uncaring, because the other option would be to cry and cry (or explode).  I read the chapter on communicating with introverts and wanted to cry because some of those traits I came down hardest on myself for were some that introverts tend to have.  It helped me see them not as personality flaws but how I was wired, who I am made to be (like the clamming up during conflict and crying all.the.time).  Introverts also tend to feel overly responsible for things and guilty more often than extroverts (even when they shouldn’t feel guilty).

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There are also several different factors which influence how I am as an introvert–one is the highly reactive vs. low reactive amagydala.  Another is a low-moniter vs. high moniter introvert.  High monitor introverts tend to be able to assess a social setting and adapt their responses well to the setting.  Being an introvert does not equal being anti-social or having poor social skills.  Sometimes it means you observe a situation before getting very involved with it.

In the beginning of the book, there is a list of 20 traits.  If you respond with more yes’s than no’s you are introvert.  (I had 15 introverted traits, by the way).  No one trait is rated any higher than the rest.   For example, introverts don’t tend to be good at multi-tasking and think before they talk.  I am an excellent multi-tasker and have put my foot in my mouth more times than I care to admit (sigh, I can even remember distinctly the last time I did that and am still kicking myself for it).  However, because I do those two things, don’t make me not an introvert.  The other fifteen things on the list attest to my tendency to introvertism.  Thus, there will be as many different kinds of introverts as there are combinations of answers to the questions.  Introverts don’t all look the same and some introverts have discovered how to fake it really, really well.  (What others don’t see is what the introverts do when they are done pretending to be an extrovert–which is usually to go hibernate for awhile to pull it all together again).

As I read this book, I also was able to see my children a little more clearly.  I realized that some of what I labeled as manipulative and difficult in Madeleine was just how she was worried.  She is a clear high reactive and introvert.  She worries incessantly (every day she was in a cast, she went to bed worrying what the next day would be like).  Her stress responses are also extremely intense, as was demonstrated yesterday when she needed a flu shot.  She stood in the doctor’s office, crying and shaking–her bottom jaw shook like she was freezing cold and when she finally sat down, her legs shook and shook.  In the past, I would have gotten frustrated with Madeleine for being difficult, but as I watched her, I only felt great empathy–this was a response from amagydala–she reacts to stress strongly and can’t control.  Quiet also helped me understand her dislike of running errands after school, carpooling, or having playdates after school (I think there is one person she enjoys after school play dates with).  It’s funny I needed a book to help understand her because she is so similar to me in that way.  Her introverted self needed time to be by herself to refuel.  We’ve known that since she was two, but finally, I understand why a little bit better.

I also looked at the practices I used in my classroom when I taught.  Cain talked some about how classrooms, elementary especially, are designed for extroverts–lots of group work, desks seated in groups.  While she didn’t suggest we throw out all cooperative learning, she suggested we use it in moderation, recognizing 1/3 – 1/2 of the student population’s needs aren’t being met when learning (and grades) primarily occurs in groups.  Instead, students should have opportunities to respond in groups–large and small, with a partner, and without the stress of judgment–through writing (and some of the most fascinating ideas she shared had to do with online groups–how those are the best for eliciting students’ responses and ideas).  When I return to teaching, I will definitely look at the group setting more intentionally.  Not only do we need to meet the needs of diverse learning styles and backgrounds, we also need to be sure we allow for both introverts and extroverts to excel.

I didn’t know what to expect when I read Quiet.  It exceeded my expectations–I left the book feeling more confident about myself (and less critical), understanding my children better, and thinking about my teaching career more.  I didn’t even touch on church and organized religion!  (Whole different tangent which Cain addressed briefly in one chapter–how many churches, evangelical in particular, tend to be aimed at extroverts.)  Maybe another time.

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