The North and South of Temperament

Based on Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking"
by Shoshona Pascoe

I have always been drawn to the concept of human temperament; innate qualities individuals bring from birth or before in contrast to the ways we are formed and influenced by the environment. A father recently described his daughter and son to me, fraternal twins. In the womb she kicked and moved constantly; he floated. In kindergarten she told him what color crayon to use and instructed him in every way. (They had to separate them!). As adults they continue to embody life with vastly different rhythms and styles. From the beginning of life some children seem more reflective or contemplative, sensitive and easily overwhelmed while others throw themselves into the world, at times with reckless abandon. We see the same qualities in adults. There are many systems that endeavor to describe the fascinating ways human beings engage with life and one another. The Introvert/Extrovert* continuum, popularized by the Jungian perspective, permeates many psychological models. Susan Cain's new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking opens up an important conversation, giving voice to the way we have turned from the Introvert's mode of creative process and contributions.

Susan Cain is passionate about this subject; she describes how Introversion has become a 2nd class personality trait. 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans are Introverts; that is 1 out of every 2 or 3 people you know, yet many pretend to be Extroverts. Cain traces the movement from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality, elevating an alpha value in our American society; what she calls the "Extrovert Ideal". Society has become organized around the group: classroom desks form pods for interactive work, work environments focus on teams and offices without walls. These structures expose everyone to high levels of stimulation. Introverts and Extroverts have very different needs when it comes to sensory and social stimulation and how they recharge the nervous system when depleted.

Introverts have a strong pull to the inner world for sustenance, to rejuvenate. It is like going to a well to refresh and fill so the creative impulse can function well. When an introverted individual is in a stimulating social environment there is a threshold and when reached moves the individual to find a quieter more restorative space. In contrast extroverted individuals thrive on stimulation and interaction; their creativity is sparked by engaging with the world and others. Cain's motivation for writing her book is to help restore respect for introverted qualities in our culture. Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thoughts, feelings, and intuition where they are inspired. Collaboration is not the only mode of creative process. Introverts are not hermits, antisocial or even necessarily shy. Their preference for an environment that is not overly stimulating allows them to bring their gifts to the world.

In Quiet, Cain cites well-known figures such as Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Gandhi to model the soft power of the introvert ideal. Her hope is that our culture can evolve to include the sensitive, introspective and powerful leadership input from our more introverted citizens. She encourages Introverts to stay true to their deep, empathic natures rather than feel pressured to be gregarious and outwardly dynamic all the time to be valued. There are social skills to develop to facilitate functioning in the outer world for those with strong introverted preferences but not at the expense of knowing the important contribution observant and perceptive introverted capacities afford. Parents of introverted children can learn parenting attitudes that respect the gifts of their sensitive offspring. We are all enriched as we embrace both the Introvert and Extrovert ways of being.

*the spelling used is congruent with the spelling in the book versus Extravert, as in the original Jungian usage.

©2005-2015 Shoshona Pascoe, Chinn Street Counseling Center; all rights reserved.