Calling some Quiet, Shy and Highly Sensitive Humans

March 28, 2012

Sometimes I wonder why I blog.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it, I do.  Yet in the seemingly silly, unfair, bullying, loud, shallow, cacophony of our world, any intelligent and sensitive being must ask:  “Surely, WTF is the point?”

All I can say is, “Don’t call me Shirley.”

Seriously, how many readers, Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer:  Only one, but it has to be Kim Kardashian.

And even then the light-bulb only goes on for a nanosecond, and if you’re not quick enough to look around you’ll miss the crude point of that sort of illumination:  we were better off in the dark.


I Spy with my little eye, a rising trend:  the rise of the introverted, quiet, compassionate and authentic.

Jung had as vision of this (the rise of a globally unifying spirit, of the feminine principle and of introversion).  He thought it would take around 600 years.  We’re at 540 and counting down, give or take.

What is introversion?  (BTW, Jung used the term extraversion, not extroversion, for the counterpoint)  It is the tendency to be highly sensitive, quiet, shy and be interested in the inner world of feelings, thoughts, and private spirituality—an ability or tendency to sense the numinous (i.e. a feeling of divine presence) in the seemingly mundane.

Conversely, extraversion is the tendency to be focused on the outer world.  Such people are more hardy (i.e. less “sensitive” to loudness, roughness).  The extraverts are the kids who immediately join the game, try the toys, and explore the preschool yard.

The introverts are more like those of us who literally crawl into the cubby at preschool (yours truly) and when pushed to socialize might inexplicably push a kid in a wagon down some stairs (also, yours truly).  We are not necessarily “bad” kids, but we are most assuredly “different” from the loud and the brash.

In honoring the confluence of opposites it must be noted that every extravert has an introverted side (this is why even muggles enjoy Harry Potter, even if they would tease and exclude him if he actually showed up at their school); and every introvert has a secret extravert lurking within (and hence meek Ian Flemming birthed Bond, James Bond; hence many terrific actors are able to inhabit wild characters but are actually shy when the cameras stop rolling).

Although it has taken five decades, love, true friendship, work, yoga and the luck of the zeitgeist (the spirit of the subtly shifting time) for me to begin to grasp this, my own chief problem has been that of being a highly sensitive person in a world where the deck is severely stacked against us quiet and sensitive sorts.

This self-realization has also been a by-product of blogging.  For in the virtual blogosphere I have formed what I would consider to be “real” relationships with “real” people.  With some I have “real” phone chats and sincere private email exchanges, with others I now have real, consistent and treasured lunches.

In addition to blogging, perhaps the rise of memoir also reflects this trend of rising interiority?  Perhaps memoir and blogging mark ways for an introvert to make herself or himself known and find a place that is valued in the group without having to become a loud, aggressive, branding, marketing, socially dominant person?

Can writing deeply and honestly touch other humans and allow one who sucks at cocktail parties and conventions to nevertheless gain a feeling that even shy sensitive people yearn for:  to feel truly seen, heard and loved?  Moreover, can writing, or any other way of authentically sharing ideas, consciousness and soul allow the quiet person to influence the consciousness of the group, perhaps even to trend the group toward compassion and sensitivity, micro-millimeter by nanosecond?

The highly sensitive are not “better” than less sensitive people, but we are not worse.  Yet we have all too often come to believe that we are worse:  inferior, shy, nerdy, geeky, lacking social confidence, too feminine (if male) or too masculine (if female), too odd, too… sensitive.

And all too often the dominant social world is one in which we continually fail (or succeed at great price and still end up on the shrink’s couch) because we’re playing the wrong game.  We introverts cannot win at the game of extraversion.

Are we to launch a civil rights movement for highly sensitive people?  No one makes us sit at the back of the bus—we are invisible to the dominant world, not even on the bus of what ranks, matters and is paid, literally and figuratively, attention.

I think back to my experiences with big publishing houses saying that they love my book but couldn’t publish it because no one has ever heard of me.  How the hell is a quiet, sensitive person supposed to make the loud people hear about them and take notice?  Suddenly you are trying to “build a platform” when that is totally the opposite of your personality and your desires.  You start blogging and while you fail to build a platform, instead you meet a few really cool authentic people—and sharpen your understanding of who you actually are.

I think of my once upon a time entertainment lawyer saying, of his more famous client, “Spike (Lee) is out there burning down a building right now.  You’ve got to get out there and make it happen.”  He was lovely, and encouraging, and saw me as highly talented… but he could not understand just how impossible it was for me to be anything like Spike in terms of sheer social audacity.

Perhaps we introverts need to self-identify, begin to team-up and help each other.  We’re never going to get anywhere trying to get the loud to include us; we truly don’t fit in with them.

I realize that “my people” may be famous and glittery or quiet and low-key—but all of them are real, soulful, can take me as I am and can let me relate to them as they are.  My people are the ones who want to connect at the real level and not just at the mass level.  Ironic that I come to realize and discuss this in a blog post.  How two-thousand-and-twelve is that?

It’s the realization that quiet and authentic is cool, in its own quietly authentic way, that can help us heal our introverted shame and confusion.  And, BTW, often we make pretty good parents (if we learn to manage our anxiety and anger that can creep up from struggling with being sensitivite in an insensitive world), friends and partners on all sorts of endeavors.

So, ciao, bonjour buenos dias my fellow sensitive introverts.  You are the ones who actually bother to “read” me (the socially gifted extraverts do not waste time on things that lack the social gravity of trending, swelling bigness—therein lies their social intelligence, they’d be fools to waste time on the small when the goal is always big).  Yet we, my introverted friends, just may be a groovy little clique of our own, a good cafe no one’s heard of and thus pleasantly free of trendsters, scenesters and those loud, often gifted, folks who make us feel even shyer and quieter when they show up guffawing and throwing their heads back in laughter at jokes we’re never quite in on.  I always liked that Janis Ian song, “I learned the truth at seventeen…” She’s my kind of artist.  I heard the song at seventeen, but I didn’t really get that it was about me until I was fifty-one.

If we introverts are to connect in our own way (i.e. NOT at blogging conventions for the highly sensitive) our first step is the awareness that we are highly sensitive, and not merely “losers” for being quiet, thoughtful and disinclined toward being the loudest one in the room.

None of us need the whole world to pay attention to us, but we do need a few people to actually understand us.   Through self-awareness and self-acceptance we highly sensitive sorts might function better in the world, relate better to extraverts and re-think what “success” might actually look like for ourselves.  It might turn out to look an awful lot like life as we’re already living it.

The take-away?  We don’t need to change our personalities and our behaviors when it comes to being quiet and thoughtful, we only need to shift our consciousness.  Then we can trust that we don’t need more followers and that our true friends are just that, and that we already have them and know who they are; we might make some new friends amongst our ranks, but we’ll certainly keep the old.  Silver and gold, innit?

Fish are programmed to always head to the middle of the pack—that’s what makes fish into schools.  Perhaps the same can be said of extraverts forming the group, all trying to be the center and thus forming society itself.

We more sensitive folks do not much care for that mile-wide and inch-deep ocean that some call our “culture.”  As fish out of socially dominant water we introverts need to realize that we can, in fact, breathe just fine out of that water, and in turn we might form a kinder, gentler, less obvious school of our own.

I suspect I have a lot of readers who rarely, or never, comment here—after all, you’re introverts, why bother?  But somehow I do sense you’re with me on this, as I am with you.  Maybe we can just feel it because we’re sensitive—and that’s the way we roll.

Now let’s see what we can do for all our collective sensitive children.


P.S. This post was inspired by a conversation with a dear introverted friend who felt quite inspired and reassured by the recent book, Quiet by Susan Cain.  Since drafting this post I have downloaded the book and can hardly put down my Kindlefire—Susan Cain is the virtual mentor I’ve been seeking all my life (at least as far as the first couple of highly reassuring chapters suggests to me).  For introverts seeking a friend in letters beyond yours truly and obscurely, check out her site and book: