One of the biggest realisations I had about myself as I undertook counselling training was that I am an introvert. As a result, Quiet had been on my reading list for some time. Ever since I saw Susan Cain’s TED talk I had been intrigued about her ideas around introverts having their own ‘power’ and wanted to know more about what this looks like. Cain writes Quiet from her personal experience of what it’s like to grow up introverted in a world which values confidence, exuberance and personality over reflection, focus and character. She notes that personality is is usually defined by traits that one is either born with or without, whereas character is determined by attributes that can be worked on or developed. Ironically, many of the people we most admire from the last century display more quiet character than exuberance. Examples given in the book include Gandhi, Mother Teresa and even Rosa Parks, a woman whose calm dignity and determination in the face of violent, ugly racism provided the perfect counterpoint to Martin Luther King’s charisma and confidence. Throughout Quiet Cain also provides portraits of those who have learnt to 'compensate’ for their introversion in order to survive and thrive. This can range from attending coaching courses to the concept of ‘self-monitoring’, whereby we adapt our behaviour to fit in with society around us. Reading this helped me to understand why I had mistaken myself for an extrovert for so long. Even more importantly, she touches on the need for both introverts and extroverts to adapt and compromise when they find themselves in relationship with someone of the opposite persuasion, whether that be a friendship, a romance or even in the bond between parent and child. So how does all this relate to counselling? For a start, I’m sure I can’t be the only one who told themselves they were an extrovert enough times that they ended up believing it. The realisation that I’m not energised by lots of people has led to lifestyle changes. It’s not that I don’t go out with friends or to parties any more, I do. However, I fence off some downtime the next day so that I can re-energise. Or if I have a particularly busy work week, I make sure I’ve got little on at the weekend in order to have time to read, walk by the beach or even just watch some mindless TV. These revelations didn’t come to me overnight though. I had to go through a process of trial and error in order to work out what works for me. It can also feel hard to ‘give up’ a lifestyle that is held in high esteem by the world around you. Cain notes in Quiet how anxiety-provoking the demands of the extroverted ideal can be for those who are more introverted. Counselling provides a space to explore these anxieties and to discover that you’re not ‘weird’ or ‘no fun’ if going out to a noisy bar every night isn’t your thing, or you prefer having one or two deep relationships over a large group of friends. Most importantly, Cain stresses that both introversion and extroversion are important for a well balanced society, so whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or ambivert (yes, that is apparently also a thing), this book is fantastic for better understanding both self and others.
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