Another way to look at this is that extroverts need external stimulation to keep their brains engaged; introverts’ brains are constantly engaged, so they need external quiet to manage the stimulation. Laney claims that about one third of the population is introverted, putting us in the notable minority.
If you find yourself sitting with a bunch of moms at yet another pool party wondering how soon is too soon to leave, or struggling with the end of the school year because it means no alone time for two long months, or feeling unglued because your schedule has fallen apart, I just might have some summer solace for you. Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage is an excellent discussion both of the science behind introversion and the everyday stresses inherent to this temperament type. As a strong introvert, I’ve been finding it helpful.
It has been said that extroversion is the most socially-rewarded characteristic, so it stands to reason that life can be challenging for those among us who need lots of quiet time to process our thoughts and emotions. Introverts, by Laney’s definition, are people who require time alone to refuel: “[They] draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions and impressions. They are energy conservers” (19). Another way to look at this is that extroverts need external stimulation to keep their brains engaged; introverts’ brains are constantly engaged, so they need external quiet to manage the stimulation. Laney claims that about one third of the population is introverted, putting us in the notable minority.
In recent history, introversion has commonly been seen as pathological. Freud, among others, considered extroversion a characteristic of good health and introversion a problem to be solved, a turning inward away from the world, like narcissism. To some extent, his views continue to pervade. If you know or suspect that you are an introvert, you may have often felt misunderstood and inadequate. You may even have been rejected or corrected for your tendencies. One of the goals of Laney’s book is to change that perspective and help people understand introversion as a temperament, not a problem.
A common aspect of this misconception is that introverts do not like people, and Laney insists this is far from the truth. If anything, introverts form deeper, longer-lasting relationships. But in a world where individual worth is associated with quantity of friends (i.e. social media followers and likes), other ways of developing relationship can seem less significant. Laney’s book promises not only to weed through misconceptions toward a greater understanding of temperament, but also to offer practical suggestions to help introverts cope; the subtitle is “How to Thrive in an Extrovert World.”
Wired this way
One of the most interesting sections of Laney’s book discusses the brain function of introverts versus extroverts. Although these temperaments have long been observed, any physiological connection was strictly conjecture until quite recently. With the developing technology of brain imagining, brain/behaviour connections are starting to be revealed. For example, PET scans have showed that in the brain, “introverts’ and extroverts’ blood travel(s) on separate pathways, [and] each pathway requires a different neurotransmitter” (71). The pathway of extroverts is activated by dopamine and its helper, adrenaline. These neurotransmitters are associated with “movement, attention, alert states and learning” (71), and extroverts require a lot of both to keep their brains functioning efficiently. Introverts rely on acetylcholine on their more dominant pathway, and this neurotransmitter is associated with attention and perceptual learning, long-term memory, and voluntary movement. These pathways and systems control the mind/body connection and shed light on our behaviours, helping us to understand that many of our tendencies aren’t accidental but are hardwired into us.
If you don’t have time or opportunity to read the book, here are a few important takeaways:
1. Understand that introversion or extroversion is part of the way you’ve been made, not a problem you need to solve.
2. Devote some time to figuring out what you need to cope, or better yet thrive, within your temperament type.
3. Although this isn’t directly from Laney’s book, meditate on your God-given calling and ways your temperament has uniquely positioned you to fulfill it.