Notice I didn’t say the “successful” introvert. Self-help books abound on how to be successful: The 10 Habits of a Successful Leader, Seven Ways to be an Effective Leader, The 8 Habits of the Self-Made Rich, How to be a Success and Achieve Abundance: 8 Steps to Achieve Your Goals, etc. Frankly,these titles just make me feel tired. It recently occurred to me that all of these type of self-help books are geared towards extroverts and achieving success in the outer world. What about introverts? For most of us, just having and retaining an okay presence in that world takes up a great deal of our resources. So this blog is for the introverts.
The outer world that dominates western civilization is very yang or masculine in its orientation. We live in a culture that values power, control, domination over the other, war, one-upmanship, aggression, competition, status, speed, technology and capitalism. The winner takes all. And it is a world in which extroverts thrive. They love the social parry and thrust of daily interactions. The best of them excel and rise to the top. There are only a few professions, apart from research, where introverts excel, and those tend to be the ones connected to the arts in some way. And in this category I would include psychotherapists, and psychoanalysts – as this is more of an art form than a science.
So I began to wonder if the inner worlds that introverts live in is more the realm of the feminine, the realm of yin. Many extroverts have very little awareness of the richness of the inner worlds we dwell in. Because we are introverts, only a small percentage of writers, poets and artists succeed in bringing this forward to the busy, outer world. In a world that seems to have less and less value for the arts and for beauty, many of our artists and writers are starving and ignored.
Recently I went to an exhibit of Francis Bacon and Henry Moore at the AGO and had a new insight into their works. In a way both of these artists show in their works how the bodies of their subjects were mutilated and ravaged – symbolizing the ravages to the human psyche. Given that many of their works are post World War II, we can situate these works in that context. These artists, each in their own way, are compelling because the stark brutality of Bacon’s images and the gaping holes in Moore’s monumental bodies shock the viewer into confronting these realities – the horror and starkness of a world that lives by the dictates of the masculine alone – a world that places little value on the beauty of the inner feminine.
So in order to encourage and give heart to the introverts out there, I am compiling my Seven Habits of the Happy Introvert. This will be a work in progress and I welcome your input and feedback. We need to support and help one another to bring our values into this world we happen to be living in.
1) You have found a way to carve out some sort of daily meditation practice. This might involve sitting or walking meditation, solitary walks in nature, yoga or tai chi. This has become an essential part of your routine because introverts take the world into themselves. The world actually flows through them, as opposed to extroverts who bounce themselves off others or outer situations in order to find out who they are. It can be very difficult for a young introvert to figure out their core self because as the world flows through them they can be easily overwhelmed by the energies of other people or toxic situations. As introverts learn to plug back into their Source, they can release all these outer energies and influences and find the still, clear core within. Core is linked to Coeur (heart) in French, which is no accident. When we find that still, quiet place within we are in the place of the Heart. Refreshed, cleansed and renewed we can face into another day.
2) You have learned to march to your own drummer. Introverts are in the minority – there are many more extroverts than introverts, and society as a well-oiled machine depends on the extroverts. They make it all work. So introverts often appear awkward or shy – they don’t seem to fit in very well unless they have learned to adapt and disguise themselves as extroverts. A lot of us have learned to do this, but at the end of the day we are exhausted and depleted. Moreover it is easy for introverts to develop an inferiority complex because they so often seem maladapted. The successful introvert knows he/she is different, accepts this and has learned to value, protect and cherish his/her inner world. The judgements or critical valuations of the extroverts do not faze him. He/she has come to peace with feeling alone and different. The successful introvert accepts the fact that a third of the people will love him/her unconditionally no matter what, another third will hate him/her or think them weird – no matter what, and the other third simply don’t care. So the successful introvert has learned to be him or herself, and therefore radiates an inner strength and peace – which paradoxically gets noticed out there – simply because a quiet, confident Presence is SO RARE.
3) The happy introvert has given up trying to wear the extroverted shoe, despite huge pressures from family, schools and society – all of which usually show a preference for the extroverts on the big stage of life. The happy introvert chooses a profession that will honour and make use of his/her gifts. She will not try to continuously push herself into an extroverted path because she knows it will be at a huge cost to her soul. This is not to say that he/she does not learn to adapt to the extroverted world – but she must know that she is accommodating for a short while in specific situations. Jung said that in the latter part of life extroverts must learn introversion and introverts must learn extroversion. This is very wise. However, the problem is that so many introverts just feel defective and are constantly trying to fit in, without having an awareness of their own unique gifts and orientation. This calls to mind the story of The Ugly Duckling, who when he finally realized he would never be a duck in the duck family, woke up to his own awareness of his unique swan beauty and elegance.
For the Story of the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson:
4) The happy introvert strives to find a way to bring the realities of his/her inner world to the outer world. While this can feel very challenging, it is the path of your individuation or self-realization. I firmly believe there is some reason you chose to come into this world with these gifts, through your specific life situation and family. Your karma has shaped you and continues to shape you. You have a unique perspective and gifts that no one else in the world has, and if you do not bring them into this world, they will be lost. Do not be defeated by the ways of the world. Always continue to try and find a way to bring your gifts forward. In your own way, Be the Swan. If you do not honour yourself in this way, your light will be hidden from the world. After all, what else can you do with your life? Be all of who you can be in your uniqueness. You will have to find enough extroversion within yourself to make these gifts manifest.
Watch this beautiful rendition of the Dying Swan as danced by Maya Plisetskaya
David Whyte’s wonderful of Rilke’s beautiful poem The Swan:
5) You will have learned the power of No. In an extroverted world that values go, go, go, do, do, do…..you will inevitably feel pressured to conform, join the party, the committee, the excursion. You have to honour your own need for down time, for decompression time. It is very difficult for extroverts to understand this, but you will have to be okay with finding soft and gentle ways of saying no, sorry, I wish I could, but….. You may not be understood. Offer your authentic truth and get okay with the fact that a third of the people might be unhappy, and the other third won’t care.
6) You understand the value of a few close friends. Introverts are not hermits, they just don’t particularly like crowds or large gatherings. Introverts chose quality over quantity – something extroverts have a hard time comprehending. Introverts prefer to go deep rather than to go wide. Young introverts often suffer at school because young people often tend to travel in tribes or cliques. The young introvert needs to be taught that it is okay not to conform, that it is okay to be different, that it is okay not to join the crowd. They need to learn early on to stand in their values and not be swayed by the crowd. This can be particularly painful for a young person, so if you have a young introvert in your midst, reach out and support and encourage them. It seems they have to grow up and mature a little faster in order to survive in the extroverted world.
7) Give up on the guilt. Because we live in a world dominated by extroverts, we often feel guilty for not fitting in, for not behaving in the ways others expect us to. Think of the lone salmon fighting its way upstream. This is how it often feels for the introvert, striving to find his/her way back to the Source, fighting against the expectations of the collective. But the salmon can only do what is in its nature (see blog on Life of Pi), as can the introvert. The salmon might disappoint the schools of herring that want him to join the fun of swimming and dancing together, but there is no point in the salmon feeling guilty. In fact, guilt can ravage the soul of the introvert, tearing the flesh off his back. As long as your actions are not damaging someone else, you must do what you need to do without guilt and without shame, and honour the calling that carries you forward towards your true home.
Listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk on introverts: