The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World is written by psychologist Marti Olsen Laney, who is herself an introvert. She observes that we live in a culture that values extroversion, and cites Dr. David Myers, who identified extroversion as a prerequisite trait for happiness in his book The Pursuit of Happiness. So, what is an introvert to do? Being very much an introvert myself, I was curious to find out what the book had to say.
The book begins by describing some of the differences between introverts and extroverts. The major difference being that introverts draw energy from the internal world, while extroverts are externally energized. Introversion is sometimes confused with social anxiety, schizoid personality traits, or being a highly sensitive person, but the author outlines how these are all distinct. The author observes that introverts tend to be concerned about how others are impacted by their actions, and may feel guilty that they have mistreated others when in fact they haven’t. They may also tend to think that the things they find bothersome, such as interruptions, are bothersome to everyone.
The book also covers some of the biological differences that may exist between introverts and extroverts, including differences in blood flow patterns in the brain and neurotransmitter activation. The parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for resting and digesting-type activities) appears to be more dominant in introverts.
The second section of the book considers how introverts can adapt in an extroverted world. Suggestions are given for navigating relationships, parenting, socializing, and the work environment. For those who aren’t sure if they are introverted or not, this section may be helpful as it characterizes typical introverted reactions in these types of situations. I found some of the points made in the chapter on work quite interesting. The author says that extroverts need to be told in detail what introverts are doing at work because otherwise they might not think anything is happening. This surprised me, but perhaps it’s because, as an introvert, I’ve simply been missing the boat. The author also suggested that an introvert’s openness to others’ opinions may be misconstrued as a lack of conviction in their own beliefs. Interesting. Other things didn’t ring true for me personally, such a dread of deadlines.
The final section was on “coping with introversion”. The author suggested a 3-P’s approach, involving personal pacing, setting priorities, and setting parameters/boundaries. She characterized introverts as slower-paced and slow-moving, requiring careful pacing to conserve energy. I don’t find that to be a very accurate description of my own particular brand of introversion. She suggested that nurturing was important for an introvert’s delicate nature, and recommended a variety of self-care strategies including scheduling regular rest breaks, increased light exposure, aromatherapy, and exercise. While I’m all for self-care, being an introvert doesn’t necessarily make me a delicate flower (tulip is the specific analogy the author uses). Finally, the author presented strategies for “extroverting”, i.e. behaving in a more extroverted manner.
While the book is pro-introvert, a lot of attention is paid to making oneself extrovert-acceptable. Granted, the title gives fair warning of this, but it felt a bit off to me. There’s a fine lining between adapting to minimize personal distress and changing to be more acceptable to extroverts. While the experience of introverts is validated and strengths are identified such as the ability to reflect, the author also seemed to characterize introverts as fragile, slow, low energy, and not functioning particularly well in the world at large. It seems unlikely that this was the intent, and perhaps my reaction stems from my own decision quite a while ago that I was going to allow myself to be a proud introvert and not “play at” extroversion to suit others’ expectations. Suggesting that introverts are low energy seems to contradict the author’s earlier assertion that introverts simply find energy in different ways than extroverts.
One thing I was quite uncomfortable with was the idea of packing an introvert survival kit, consisting of what sounded like a suitcase-full of items including earplugs, snacks, water, a music player, a note card with an affirmation, a cotton ball with a soothing scent, medication for motion sickness, a parasol/umbrella, sunscreen, hand cream, lip balm, a battery-operated fan, a small spray bottle, a large-brimmed hat, sunglasses, a sweater/blanket, self-heating pocket packs, and earmuffs. To me this verged on insulting; being an introvert doesn’t mean I can’t handle being outside of the house. I carry lip balm around with me, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with my introversion. If anything, this suitcase-load would be more appropriate for when I’m depressed, except then I wouldn’t have the energy to carry it all.
I think this book could be worth a read for anyone who’s introverted and uncomfortable about it or introvert-questioning, so to speak. It offers some practical tips for fitting in with a largely extroverted world. Overall, I found it didn’t really pull me in, and I ended up skimming through some sections. I was glad I picked up a copy from the library rather than buying it.
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