Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C N.C.C.
Every so often an important, but readable book, is published. One that meets a societal need, is jargon free and makes a compelling argument. Author Susan Cain’s book “Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” is a success in all three areas. Ms. Cain begins with the premise that: The modern Western culture misunderstands and undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted individuals. This leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy and happiness.
Ms. Cain continues her premise with a definition of the difference between extroversion and introversion, as “an inherent preference for different levels of stimulation.” This hardly seems like a critical difference. The difference, according to Ms. Cain, is deeply embedded in the American culture. The “Extrovert Ideal” is the result of a critical shift in the American middle class during the end of the nineteenth century. The “Culture of Character” that stressed traits like caution, reticence, and substance became the “Culture of Personality” that stressed traits like assertiveness, boldness and style.” The subsequent effect was the high valuation of extroverts in the consumer-driven, materialistic economy. The unfortunate effect was the devaluation of the introvert. Ms. Cain concludes that this leaves a large, untapped reservoir of talent that feels stifled in the “Extravert-Ideal” society.
My interest in the extrovert-introvert continuum how this influences mental health. Because our institutions ranging from the economy to education to medical care are designed for extroverts, the introvert may conclude that there is something wrong with the way that they organize their environment. They may try to “pass” for an extrovert merely to survive.
When I meet a new client and the complaint is anxiety, one of the first areas that I examine is the cause of the anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety is the result of an introvert experiencing anxiety over a sense of inadequacy when compared to the “Extrovert Ideal.”
This is played out with friends, family and colleagues in the home, workplace and classroom. The introverts approach to life, i.e. quiet concentration, circumspection and caution compares unfavorably with back-slapping, charismatic, multi-tasking extroverts. Imagine the energy that it takes for the introvert to attempt to adapt and become, what Ms. Cain terms a “Pseudo-Extrovert.” With this in place the danger of clinical anxiety rises. The timeless rule of “to thine own self be true” is upended.
What, then, is to be done? Ms. Cain maintains that evidence from the animal kingdom demonstrates that both extroversion and introversion are present. Each species develops a survival strategy. Ms. Cain’s premise that since extroversion and introversion are detectable in infants, the extroversion or introversion predisposition is “likely innate.” She concludes that the two personality types are fifty percent heritable. That means the one half of the presence of either extroversion or introversion in one’s genetic endowment and one half is the result of one’s interaction with the environment. In short babies that are born with an innate sensitivity to stimulation are likely to become introverts. Less reactive babies are likely to become extroverts. They learn to control their need for stimulation. When this pattern becomes firmly established through reinforcement, the babies are guided to extroversion, introversion or somewhere in between.
At the conclusion of this thought-provoking book the reader will note that Ms. Cain does not seek to replace extroversion dominance with introversion dominance, but rather she seeks inclusion of different work styles by CEOs, managers and supervisors. Her goal is acknowledgement that “big ideas” and “great leadership” can come from either personality type. The conclusion that I guide my clients toward is that neither extroversion nor introversion is inherently superior. Instead as Ms. Cain points out, “the key to
maximizing talent is place yourself in the zone of stimulation that is right for you.
Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. N.C.C.
Staff Therapist The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center
121 s. Wilkie Rd. Suite 500
Arlington Heights, Illinois 60005
Tel 847 253 9769 FAZ 847 749 1910