The Gifts of Introversion

9 Sep

The Gifts of Introversion

I have been writing about introversion for 10 years now. That’s a surprising number of words about being quiet. It seems that a lot of introverts are finding their words these days. With so many of us taking up our keyboards in recent defense of our disposition, I would wager that there are more words dripping with introversion than ever before.

While I, of course, celebrate that, I am troubled when introversion conversations drift in a particular direction, and that is in pointing out what we are not. I cringe when I see links to articles with titles such as “Why Introverts Hate Small Talk” or worse: “I Am an Introvert, Leave Me Alone!”

My concern is that we are giving the world the impression that ours is an orientation defined by what we lack. We aren’t gregarious, excitable, or charismatic. We dislike crowds and loud stimulation. We have less energy. Sometimes it’s even implied that we don’t like other people. It seems that extroversion gets to be defined by what it is, but introversion is too often defined by what it isn’t.

I know the confusions circling about the introverted temperament in an extroverted society, and I understand why we introverts can feel defensive about our social patterns. But our temperament is now part of a broader cultural dialogue, and my hope is that we can move away from a defensive posture into a more constructive one. Now that we know that up to half of the population falls on the introverted side of the spectrum, we no longer have to fight like we are backed into a corner.

I think it’s time to shift the conversation by celebrating the positive side of introversion. The more I have settled into my introversion over the past few years, the more I have come to appreciate its gifts. At this point, I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

Introverts bring a bounty of gifts to the table:

  • Introverts bring a sense of calm. Far from communicating a standoffish posture, we attract people because they feel more at peace in our presence. We have a peacefulness that can help defuse difficult situations, and we show the value of quiet restraint in tense conversations. Our non-reactionary responses help us—and others—in crisis situations.
  • Introverts help others slow down. There is one introverted mentor I know who is a magnet for younger anxious employees because they seem to breathe more deeply and slowly around him. Have you ever noticed that people actually breathe differently around you? We can show others that our intrinsic value is not in how much we accomplish or how busy we are.
  • Introverts are loyal friends. No quote from my book, Introverts in the Church, has resonated quite like the one I wrote about introverts and friendship: “Introverts treasure the relationships they have stretched so much to make.” It may take us a while to warm up to people, but once we’re in, we’re in. We will prioritize you, and we won’t easily give up our friendship because of conflict or changing life circumstances.
  • Introverts see things. I have often thought that if someone were to write me into a novel, I wouldn’t be the protagonist or any other central character; I would be the narrator. Those of us who like to sit on the sidelines and observe others often see more than those in the center of the action. We notice group dynamics and individual behaviors that others might miss, which is a reason introverts make excellent therapists.
  • Introverts are compassionate. When you have an inward orientation, you go deep into yourself, and you can see both the good and the bad, the light and the dark. Honest self-reflection, usually borne out of solitude, helps us to extend compassion and forgiveness to others because we know their struggles and inner contradictions.
  • Introverts are funny. I know a lot of introverts, myself included, who spend a fair amount of time sitting quietly, thinking of funny things to say. We are often the people in the group who don’t lead the conversation but who interject pithy lines from time to time. Our timing isn’t always great, but when it is, people laugh.
  • Introverts are creative. Creativity often seems to come from a deep connection with our inner world. Underneath the surface are sparks of imagination, waiting to ignite. Because we do our best work in solitude, creative introverts may be less reliant on established norms and more able to see and hear new things.

Finally, introverts listen. I saved this one for last because I believe listening to be an exquisite gift and one that our world is desperate for. We all long to be heard—truly listened to without being judged for what we say or how we think and without being treated as a mere interruption in another person’s story. There is much more to listening than not speaking, but not speaking is certainly a good start.

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