Closet Introverts: Give Yourself Permission
I’ve always considered myself a “closet” introvert. However, when I tell people this I get incredulous responses. “What? No, you’re too friendly!” or “That’s ridiculous, you’re in communications.” Misunderstandings of introversion aside, I also had trouble reconciling the person I was in my social and professional life with this understanding of my character that I knew to be true.
When I read the story of Professor Brian Little, the “vaudevillian professor” who’s also a “true blue, off-the-charts introvert”, in Susan Cain’s Quiet, it clicked – that’s just like me! Little attributes his adopted character to Free Trait Theory, which holds that a person born with certain personality traits can act out of character for “core personal projects” – work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.
My career and friendships were important to me, so I made an effort to adopt characteristics that supported their growth. The kinds of characteristics were determined and reinforced by the bias the world has toward extroversion. I was constantly taught that being an introvert was undesirable. For example, a friend at university once told me that she thought of me as a “b-word” (hint: not bossy) before we became close friends because I rarely spoke up in class.
However, by constantly enacting extroverted traits and suppressing introverted ones, I was making what Cain calls “reflexive self-negating choices”. It was draining. I felt the need to be “on” all the time, and had little of the alone time I needed to feel refreshed. I wasn’t doing as well at work as I wanted to because I didn’t have blocks of quiet time in which to think, create and revise, and I was getting snappy with my boyfriend and family because they were claiming my precious quiet time on evenings and weekends.
I realized that I needed to change something – that I needed to scale myself back toward the introverted end of the spectrum in order to be happier and perform better. After reading Quiet, I started repeating this mantra:
Give yourself permission.
Permission to put your earbuds in at work. Permission to say you need time to think before making a decision. Permission to go for a walk. Permission to say no to going to that movie that you don’t really want to see. Permission to carve out time alone.
I encourage other introverts masquerading as extroverts to do the same. It’s hard. You will feel like you’re disappointing other people (which will probably hit you harder, being an introvert). You may be concerned that someone’s using the “b-word” to describe you. But in the end giving yourself the permission to do what you need will result in you doing better work, having more satisfying relationships, and being happier.
If you’re interested in learning about the strengths of introverts and what it means to live in a world biased toward extroverts, watch this Ted Talk from Susain Cain: