Millions of people have read Susan Cain's Quiet by now. Quiet is supposed to outline what it means to be an introvert in a world that won’t stop talking. But the most interesting thing about Quiet is that it doesn’t actually discuss introversion. It discusses highly sensitive people. This is a book full of experiences of highly sensitive people.
Quiet discusses the overwhelming nature of physical reality. It discusses the experiences of both introverts and extraverts - and our need for downtime, for peace and quiet, and for balancing. Yes, Quiet is a great book. But it confuses the terms of introversion and extraversion with HSP. But don’t just take my word for it - Elaine Aron agrees with me. In an article in Psychology Today, Elaine Aron writes that:
“Her discussion of 'introversion' throughout is almost identical to what has become the standard definition of high sensitivity - deep thinkers, preferring to process slowly, sensitive to stimuli, emotionally reactive, needing time alone, and so forth, all as described in the first scientific paper specifically on sensitivity, published in 1997, where it was systematically distinguished from the most common scientific definitions of introversion, which emphasize the social side.”
It’s not Susan Cains fault. Many researchers now research introversion as if it is the same as being highly sensitive. While Carl Jung was the first to identify and define introversion, the popular definition of an introvert has been changed and transformed far beyond what Carl Jung originally intended. Jung sees introversion as a systematic preference of the inner, or subjective, condition over the objective. The introvert is a person that makes decisions based on inner circumstances and thoughts. This is not the same as HSP. But because 70% of HSPs identify as introverts, it makes sense that the two traits are often confused with one another.
This is an article that wants to discuss what a highly sensitive extravert looks like and what separates the highly sensitive extravert from the highly sensitive introvert. I’m writing for the remaining 30% to give an increased understanding and contrast of the two traits.
What is a highly sensitive extravert?
A highly sensitive extravert makes decisions and actions in relation to external events and information.
A highly sensitive extravert has a heightened response to sensory information and is more prone to overwhelm and overstimulation.
An interest in objective subtleties and complexities
In general, this produces a character that places interest in external ongoings, events and activities, but also a person that seeks to avoid or manage overwhelming or intense situations. Someone that is engaging the world while also tuning it down in intensity, decreasing the volume, the heat, the loudness, and the intensity of what they see and observe. The highly sensitive extravert is interested in what is happening around them, but typically, they are more interested in subtleties, complexities, and nuances in their external surroundings.
An interest in what is possible - not what is real
So the highly sensitive extravert makes a big effort to guide their eyes and their ears to things that are more calm and peaceful. Typically, the highly sensitive extravert has a strong imagination, and uses ideas, patterns, possibilities to orient themselves in their surroundings. Their interest is not in the 'here and now,' but in the possible. The highly sensitive extravert gives their primary interest to patterns, connections, and associations that they make in relation to their surroundings.
A tendency to rebel against what is
The highly sensitive extravert has a tendency to rebel against, and to say no to the external situations around them. They more readily disagree with, or avoid, or dispute things concrete, tangible information. But the highly sensitive extravert gladly says yes and pursues what is possible, what could be, and what might be true. They investigate and research their surroundings, searching for the future, while rebelling against the present. A highly sensitive extravert that does not rebel against reality, may find themselves feeling more than overwhelmed in the process. As a highly sensitive extravert, you may be saying yes to too much that is too intense and too real, while steadily losing energy and enthusiasm in the process.
Perhaps Susan Cain is not an introvert as she thinks, but a highly sensitive extravert. I wouldn’t blame her if she was - she is still a brilliant author - a great thinker - and clearly a highly sensitive person. I’m sure there are quite a few highly sensitive extraverts out there that think they are introverted so let’s talk more altogether about what it means to be a highly sensitive extravert, and let’s investigate together to find out what it means to be a highly sensitive extravert.
References: Psychology Today
Erik Thor is the author of the ebook The Hero Code - Finding Energy And Power In Your Personality Type, has spent the last six years studying
personality psychology and HSP and provides original thoughts and theories on these personality types.