Actually, I Don’t Want to Be An Extrovert

This morning a friend posted an article from today’s Guardian.  With the title ‘Why The World Needs Introverts’ it immediately caught my attention.

This is the first and only time I’ve seen those of us who are shy, who prefer not to be asked to speak up, portrayed positively.  Usually the shy are freaks; they’re the weirdoes and moody loners in movies and TV series, the ones first collared for a murder before the good guys realise that their only evidence against them was ‘we thought he looked a bit shifty’.

Rather pleasingly Susan Cain eloquently describes the difficulty and pain faced by those of us who have gone through life being shy, and therefore wrong, noting that – as I remember my parents doing and as I now do with my own children (my daughter, Lillie, is only six but showing signs of being extremely shy) – we are scolded and apologised for because we’re being ‘rude’, as if being quiet and thoughtful and taking time to weigh up a stranger is a negative personality trait.  Cain talks as well about something she calls the Extrovert Ideal, put simply the belief that everybody should be an extrovert no matter their nature, hence that scolding and disappointment, the belief of the general public that shy = weird.  You know, I’ve never thought about it, I’ve always assumed that my being shy was a defect and that I’d simply drawn the short straw when it came to personalities.

JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Charles Darwin, this guy...introverts aren't totally useless

That said, I’m a bit of an anomaly amongst the shy, having been diagnosed with social phobia and therefore having a tendency to use crutches to support me through social situations – large quantities of wine at parties, the accompaniment of my husband, a friend or even my kids, and strong anti-anxiety drugs – but nonetheless I have been shy throughout my life and much of Cain’s superb article rings true and feels wonderfully reassuring because chronic shyness is isolating and affects every aspect of one’s life and career.

It’s a small thing but by publishing this article The Guardian has addressed something that really should be considered an awful lot more than it is.  I recently posted about how many prejudices remain in our society, generally accepted terms and behaviour that, well, shouldn’t be generally accepted.  The idea of shyness as a negative personality trait is a prejudice all of its own and we should be tackling the belief that introverts should be forced out of their shells and seeking to better recognise the positive contributions to society that the quiet people plugging away in the background, the thinkers and the understated make.

I’m going to start by accepting my children’s personalities as they, introversion and all, and giving up trying to coax them out of their shells.

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