How Reading Helped Me Accept My Introversion
June 26, 2020
The Merriam-Webster defines an introvert as ‘a reserved person who enjoys spending time alone’. In the early 1900s, revered psychologist Carl Jung popularised the concept of introverts and introversion. According to Positive Psychology, ‘…Introverts are considered to be reflective, private, thoughtful individuals’.
Reading As A Wholly Immersive Process
Introverts thrive on spending time alone, so it’s no surprise that single person activities such as painting, pottery, gardening, photography, and especially reading come naturally to them.
As a child, I was known to be quiet and reserved. While many children my age enjoyed outdoor group games like pitthu and pakda-pakdi, I preferred spending my time by painting and reading books by Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, and Roald Dahl. I realised that when I read, I lost track of time, and external factors such as noisy surroundings, interesting conversations, or loud music barely affected me. I’d feel happy and self-sufficient when I was lost within the pages of a book. Reading helped me entwine myself in the plot of a story, resonate with the characters in a book, and marvel at the way a story would unfold.
I remember a summer evening when visitors dropped by for tea while I was reading at home. I was nine years old at the time. The guests sat in a room close to where I was reading, and spent hours exchanging stories with my family, eating snacks and drinking tea. As they were about to leave, one of the ladies remarked, ‘I find it so surprising that we’ve been talking and laughing for such a long time here, but this child hasn’t turned around to look at us even once. Now I’m curious about the remarkable book she must be reading!’
The lady’s comment stayed with me over the years and made me realise something important about myself – reading transported me to the world within the pages of a book so effectively that my immediate surroundings failed to distract me.
Reading To Reflect
In Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain says, ‘I believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.’
According to Cain’s Quiet Revolution, introverts have the ability to engage in an active dialogue with themselves and usually have numerous thoughts in their mind at a single moment in time. This was often confirmed by other introverted friends and family members. They spoke of how they could not imagine getting bored of being on their own and how they immensely enjoyed their own company by engaging in solo activities like reading. Reading allowed them to reflect upon their thoughts, activities, and external surroundings which, in turn, equipped them to connect with themselves better.
My older cousin often spent late nights in her hostel reading with a torchlight right after the matron made the rounds to ensure the lights were out. A friend decided to read Marcel Proust on their Kindle instead of showing up at a relative’s wedding ceremony. A colleague chose to curl up on her sofa with Harlan Coben’s new book while her friends attended a Christmas party. For most of these introverts, reading and time alone on a regular basis helped them self-reflect and rejuvenate, which formed an integral part of their well-being. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy spending time in the company of people, they just needed more time by themselves to think and unwind, as compared to extroverts.
According to findings by psychologist Hans Eysenck, introverts don’t require as much stimulation as extroverts to be alert since their brains operate via a nervous system that conserves energy. This is probably why introverts are often energised when they spend time alone reading or writing, connecting with their own thoughts and ideas, and self-reflecting.
Personally speaking, writing, in addition to reading, helped me realise that I was an introvert. Whenever I’d feel overwhelmed, I’d write about it and that would help me make sense of my feelings and the situation on hand. Writing helped me articulate the feelings that originally felt ambiguous. As I grew older, the process of writing became a cathartic one, empowering me to use it as a creative outlet to express myself.
Reading To Empathise Better
Studies have found that reading for pleasure enhances empathy, an understanding of the self, and the ability to understand one’s own identity as well as those of others. Additionally, according to a study from Rush University Medical Center, reading can also help keep one’s mind young.
When I look back on my formative years, I realise that reading enabled me to understand myself, and others, more effectively. For instance, when reading, I’d often assess a character’s behaviour and perspectives and relate to their dilemmas and misgivings. Reading enabled me to dive deeper into the intricacies of a character in an attempt to understand them. In a way, it allowed me to discover and connect with a parallel world of people, things, and events. The understanding that I gained from reading helped me not only to assess and cope with real-life more effectively but also to relate and empathise better with people.
The Stigma Attached To Introversion
However, introversion has, over the years, often been misinterpreted and used to refer to people who aren’t social or outgoing enough to meet society’s norms and standards. Cain, in Quiet, says, ‘Introversion – along with its cousins, sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.’
Growing up in the 1990s, I had a long list of incidents where my introversion was seen in a negative light. I was often told that I ‘needed to come out of my shell’ or that I was ‘shy and should open up more’. While this advice was partly true, the way it was presented made me feel as though I was constantly falling short of expectations. In a world that celebrated and respected traits like being gregarious, talkative, and enthusiastic, people rarely emphasised on the importance of being focussed, thoughtful, and a good listener – some of the common core traits of introverts.
Today, thanks to a lot of reading and self-reflection, I am far more accepting of myself, my introversion and the traits that go along with it. I am more aware of my idiosyncrasies as well as the situations and activities that I find comfort in and the ones that I don’t. This awareness and acceptance has helped me to try to lead a life in which I am true to myself. What’s more, it’s allowed me to see and appreciate the intricacies of different personalities.
Recently, I met a fiercely reserved person at a friend’s place who reminded me of a line from Looking For Alaska that has always resonated: ‘I’ve always liked quiet people: You never know if they’re dancing in a daydream or if they’re carrying the weight of the world’.
Prarthana Banikya is a graduate in Sociology from Miranda House with a certificate in poetry. She spent her formative years in the valleys of Northeastern India from where she draws inspiration for most of her writing. Her work has been featured in several journals including Aaduna, Asia Writes, Aerogram, Danse Macabre, Poetry Super Highway, Namnai, and Pratilipi. In 2016, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for poetry and in 2018, was the recipient of the Orange Flower Award for poetry. She blogs at prarthanabanikya.blogspot.in.
You can read her articles here.