The modern world purports to respect both
introverts and their opposites but in practice,
the glory all goes to the extroverts.
To have any chance of
seeming normal or achieving success, one has to
attend conferences, make speeches, outshine
competitors, manage people, join in with prevailing
travel a lot, go out often and date widely.
It can take a very long time before we realise
that – however much we might hope for this
to be otherwise – this is not in fact us
at all. For our part, we happen to get very
worried before going to parties, we have felt
close to death before giving speeches, any
kind of social occasion perturbs us heavily,
we’re left extremely jittery by encounters
with news and social media, we start to feel
sick if we haven’t had the chance to sit
on our own and process our thoughts for a
few hours every day, we’re very awkward
about having to be responsible for anyone
at work and we are extremely wary of jolliness
or demonstrations of group fervour.
Conversely, we adore staying at home, we’d
be quite happy spending a whole weekend (or
even a few years) in our own company with
some books and a laptop, we only properly
like about three people in the world, we love
exploring different rooms in our minds, we
are reassured by friends who know how to confess
their vulnerability and anxiety, we’d like
never to have to go to a party again, we almost
never complain that things are too quiet and
we love peaceful landscapes and uneventful
days. We quite like flowers too.
All of this can bring intense suspicion to
bear on us in the modern world. Why are we
so timid? Why can’t we sing along with everyone
else? Why aren’t we coming out to celebrate?
We conclude that we are weird and possibly
ill long before we can accept that we may
just be very different.
To be an introvert is to be constantly impacted
by undercurrents and hidden electricity in
situations that others will miss. What can
make a party or a company meeting so exhausting
for us is that we aren’t merely expressing
our thoughts and chatting, we’ll wonder
what everyone has made of what we’ve just
said, we’ll suspect that we have failed
to understand an important dynamic, we’ll
be struck by a peculiar possible hostility
from someone in the corner, we’ll worry
that our face has stuck in an unfortunate,
gormless position. We are – when called
upon – canny observers of the human comedy,
but minute by minute, we are also hellishly
and exhaustingly self-conscious.
It sounds difficult, but an introverted life
can also be a very grateful and rich life.
We need so much less in order to have enough.
We don’t require noise and attention. We
don’t care where the giant party is. We
just want to potter around in our boring clothes,
chat to the few people we feel comfortable
with, take walks and lie in the bath a lot.
There can be so much in things if we let them
resonate properly. How much we’ve already
seen; how many journeys we’ve already been
on; how much we’ve already read; what tumults
we’ve already been through. We don’t really
We’re like children who don’t need too much stimulation from outside.
An hour at a lively birthday party and it’s imperative for us to go straight home and have a nap.
Recognising our introverted nature is not
merely a piece of poetic self-knowledge. It
belongs to our mental health – for failing
to make the correct accommodation with our
introversion is a fast route to overload and
ensuing anxiety and paranoia. What we term
a breakdown is often simply an introverted
mind crying out for greater peace, rest, self-compassion
and harmony. Experienced introverts therefore
realise a need to push against the extroverted
agenda. Their sanity relies on being able
to cleave to the insular routines they need.
We have at least got a vocabulary for explaining
the structure of our personalities to others.
The next step will be to learn how to honour
it – and properly allow people to lead the
quieter lives their temperaments crave
Our book on confidence walks us around the key issues that stop us from making more of our potential.