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Surviving and Thriving in a Noisy World

I am finally reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Just Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I say finally because I have been afraid to read it until now because of what I thought I would find out. I am an introvert, and for what feels like my entire life I have been trying to change and become more like the outgoing, friendly, self-assured people I interact with every day.

Throughout my life I have been told to “Speak up; don’t over think it; you are being overly sensitive; make eye contact; don’t take things so seriously,” etc. etc. and the list goes on, and on and on. In school, in job interviews, auditioning for plays, cheerleader, in my work environment, at home and at the gym-no matter where I go I am that person who tries and is successful at blending into the background trying not to be noticed. I would rather die than raise my hand to answer a question, I couldn’t speak loudly if you paid me, I choose not to contribute to small talk and group conversations, even when I have something to say, for fear of being ignored or of coming across awkwardly. The anxiety of being thrown into a group  of people-especially people who know each other and who are comfortable in group situations makes me want to stand by the door ready to escape at the first chance.

I have grown up and have reached middle age believing I was not as successful, funny, friendly and pleasant as  more outgoing people, and that somehow it was a personality flaw. Until now. Reading Quiet has somehow helped me come to some place of acceptance. It does not make it easier to accept when all around me people who are loud, friendly and fun seem to be more popular and successful, but it does make me feel better about myself. I do not have to change. I do, however, have to learn to live in a world that favors the talkers.

Welcome to my World

Introverts can by hyper sensitive to their environment, including people, and they sometimes tend to be highly reactive-which means they have a stronger physiological reaction to their environment which can manifest itself in a higher heart rate and release of the stress hormone cortisol.

“High-reactive children pay what one psychologist calls “alert attention” to people and things. They literally use more eye movements than others to compare choices before making a decision. It’s as if they process more deeply—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—the information they take in about the world. ”

Excerpt From: Susan Cain. “Quiet.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/aiZlz.l

At work- I work in an open office environment with people talking, phones ringing, people coming and going, and I hear everything. Introverts are especially sensitive to noise and can hear EVERYTHING and focus on sounds that others may not even notice. I hear multiple conversations between multiple pairs of co workers, as well as multiple phone conversations. All at once.

At home- I cannot fall asleep at night with the windows open because I hear every truck, car, bird, bug, train, and noise outside. I finally bought a fan and turned it on medium high to drown out the hundreds of different sounds I hear.

At play- At the gym if there are people having conversations and the music is playing and the dog is barking I start to space out. I cannot focus because I am focusing on everyone else’s conversations, and the music, and every other sound.

Introverts are also very sensitive:

“Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments—both physical and emotional—unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss—another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

Excerpt From: Susan Cain. “Quiet.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/aiZlz.l

This can mean feeling stressed because others are stressed, even when nobody else seems to notice it. Introverts seem to notice everything.

According to Cain introverts do not like surprises, they do not receive pleasure from taking risks, and they are deep thinkers. Much of what Cain writes about I experience, including preferring to have deeper 1:1 conversations about life, understanding what your environmental “sweet spot” is, and preferring quiet time to social events.

But here’s the thing. Even if we appear to be quiet, reserved and not very friendly, we do like to have fun, and we do like to be included. For some reason being introverted often means being ignored or not included when it comes to social events. Once again, the “cool factor” is seen as desirable, the quiet factor-not so much. And every time quiet goes unnoticed, the introvert’s sensitivity to their environment makes them feel that much less valued. But if society doesn’t appreciate my quiet reserve, my persistence and passion, that is okay. I understand that my temperament is what it is. It may mean I may seem a little over sensitive and quiet, or I may be a little too serious for some, but that is me. It may seem like I don’t want to be around people and I don’t have much to say, but sometimes I do. It also means at the end of the day when I have been overly stimulated, I am exhausted and need quiet time to recharge.

Taking Charge

So I choose my environment as carefully as possible. I have no choice about my work environment, but I take breaks often and leave my work space to recharge. I get up early each day and have my quiet time in the morning; sometimes I go for a run. I try to choose my gym time by how many people are likely to be there. I avoid crazy crowds whenever possible. When I speak in public it is about issues I am passionate about. Most of the time I will not engage in small talk. I will speak if I have a question or a need. I am still figuring it all out, but now that I am more aware of what energizes me and what drags me down, I feel empowered to take charge.


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