Many actors, musicians, authors and other artists identify themselves as being shy, or consider themselves introverted or highly sensitive.
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But some people may use this term “shy” and really mean highly sensitive or introverted, especially if they are not familiar with those personality traits.
Shyness – as a form of anxiety – should be clearly distinguished from the personality traits of introversion and high sensitivity, although all three can overlap in ways.
See my article Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference? for more.
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Like many talented actors, Kate Mara was shy earlier in life, and commented about some of the consequences in an interview:
“I was very shy in middle school through high school. I dressed to disappear. That’s also a reason why acting was so exciting. I was more comfortable putting on a costume and pretending I was someone else than showing who I actually was.
“So I flew under the radar and wasn’t into wearing anything too loud. I had very long hair, and I didn’t even want that to be showy, so I would wear it in a ponytail every day. That was a uniform to me, to not wear my hair down.
“But obviously, that changed. Once I graduated high school and realized you have to be more comfortable in your own skin to be an actor and to be vulnerable and put yourself out there and show that you can look like different characters. I realized that fashion is an incredible tool. And now I love it.”
[‘Fantastic Four’ star Kate Mara on what she wears when she’s visible by Booth Moore, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2014.]
[Photo from Kate Mara Doesn’t Want You to Eat Meat On Mondays and Here’s Why by Rosalyn Oshmyansky – “The House of Cards actress is teaming up with the Humane Society of the United States and is encouraging Americans to eat less meat.”]
She talks about acting since age nine:
“It’s the only thing that I ever wanted to do. When I realized I could pursue my passion and get paid for it, there was nothing else I ever wanted to do. I was a very, very shy child, and acting was an escape for me. I think a lot of actors say that.
“At the time, I was much more comfortable pretending to be other people than being myself. Acting really helped me get out of my shell. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself shy now, but it was a real problem for me as a child.
“Auditioning for things and having to be comfortable meeting new people all the time…was an amazing learning experience.”
[Patricia Sheridan’s Breakfast With … Kate Mara, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 3, 2014.]
“I am not an adult, that’s my explanation of myself. Except when I am working on a set, I have all the inhibitions and shyness of the bashful, backward child . . . unless I have something very much in common with a person, I am lost. I am swallowed up in my own silence.” Jean Arthur
[Jean Arthur “had feature roles in three Frank Capra films: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), films that championed the “everyday heroine.” Arthur was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1944 for her performance in The More the Merrier (1943).” Wikipedia]
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“I was the shyest human ever invented, but I had a lion inside me that wouldn’t shut up.”
– Ingrid Bergman [imdb.com]
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Many journalists may characterize some actors, performers and other artists as being “shy” or “sensitive” or “awkward.”
One of the problems in using labels like ‘shy’ is it is often too casual, and unspecific and relative: shy compared with whom? For how long? In what situations?
Is it really an informed identification of shyness as social anxiety or social phobia? Or is it simply a reference to someone preferring to be less social than “expected” – especially if they are a performer?
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“I’m not comfortable being a ‘front’ person, a sort of Joanna Lumley.
“She does it so well and enjoys it, but my job is to act. I don’t have the confidence to be a personality.
“I get scared quite a bit in my life, but I find when I’m apprehensive, I usually end up doing whatever it is.”
[‘I Don’t Have the Confidence To Be a Personality’, Andrew Duncan Radio Times, 1994-05-28]
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Alanis Morissette comments on being highly sensitive – if you have the personality trait like many of us, you will probably empathize:
“I get maxed-out more quickly than some, so it’s my responsibility that I schedule little mini-breaks throughout the day, and have enough sleep.
“It’s almost incumbent on me to make sure that I take care, in a very fierce way, in order to be able to continue to write and to be the person I want to be.”
Hear her comments in a brief audio clip of a conversation with Cheryl Richardson about their “Self-Care for the Creative Soul” past retreat – in the post:
Post on Sensitive The Movie site:
“7-time Grammy award winner singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette is on board and will be a part of Sensitive—The Untold Story. An avid supporter of Dr. Elaine Aron’s research and a HSP herself, she will be sharing her compelling story AND music in the film.”
The FB page for the movie – where you can see more info and leave comments: https://www.facebook.com/sensitivethemovie
> See video: Update about “Sensitive–The Untold Story” PART 2 – in article: Elaine Aron on the trait of high sensitivity.
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“I’ll be honest with you, I’m a little bit of a loner. It’s been a big part of my maturing process to learn to allow people to support me.
“I tend to be very self-reliant and private. And I have this history of wanting to work things out on my own and protect people from what’s going on with me.”
From 35 Quotes For Introverts by Christopher Hudspeth.
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Another of many examples of a shy actor – he is one of my favorites:
According to a news story, “Shyness was an ongoing problem for Chris Cooper… While studying at the University of Missouri, he vowed to get ‘unblocked.’
“Taking dance classes at nearby Stephens College, he was one of only three men amid a roomful of women…
“Acting was another means of expression — ‘theater, as therapy,’ he says.” [LA Times Dec 25, 2002]
Why would Introversion fit so well with creative expression?
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung identified it as a core personality trait, and The Myers & Briggs Foundation page “Extraversion or Introversion” describes qualities for Introversion:
“I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world.
“I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with.
“I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act.
“Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.”
One example of these qualities of deep thinking is J.K. Rowling – who notes on her website that she first had the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 when she was traveling alone on a train:
“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…
“But I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain…”
[This photo is also used in my post: J.K. Rowling on creative imagination – which includes a video clip from her Harvard Commencement Address.]
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“I always try to be myself. Ever since I was an introverted kid, I’d get on stage and be able to break out of my shell.” Beyonce Knowles
“I’m actually very introverted. I’m very shy. I’m very emotional.” Fashion designer Tom Ford
[Both the above from Introverted Quotes – no attribution is given, so you’ll have to presume they are correct.]
More quotes by Tom Ford:
“After just being in New Mexico for two months, I realized that I could really work from anywhere. I am really a loner after all; I am really not a social person.
“Because of my job people think I am out every night, but I really hate all that. I am somebody who likes to be alone and see some close friends. I am a shy and introspective person.”
From post: Tom Ford: I am really a loner after all, The Talks.
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Tory Burch is a fashion designer and founder of a $330-million-a-year international fashion empire, which has put her on Forbes’s Billionaire List.
But she has said it was challenging for her in setting up her eponymous business.
“I had never been to business school. I had never been to design school. It was a risk. It was putting myself out there in a way that was opening myself up for criticism.
“I’m a sensitive person. So, it was hard.”
[nbcnews and other sources]
Also see video interview: Tory Burch: Women Should be as Ambitious as Men.
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“As a child, I was very shy. Painfully, excruciatingly shy. I hid a lot in my room. I was so terrified to read out loud in school that I had to have my mother ask my reading teacher not to call on me in class.”
[From post: Is it a disorder, or just shyness?]
“Because I’m such a shy person, having to live it out loud in front of everyone has made me a stronger woman, so much stronger, that it’s been a gift to me in a way.”
[From post: Dealing with fame – or not.]
[Kim Basinger is among a long list of famous people who are reported to have suffered from anxiety. See article: Celebrities with anxiety and panic attacks.]
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Amy Adams says, “Being an actress hasn’t made me insecure. I was insecure long before I declared I was an actress.”
Acting was not deep calling for her as a child:
“I graduated high school and I didn’t have a skill set and I didn’t want to go to college. I needed a job. This is what I could do. And I like it, but it can be very painful. You feel so vulnerable all the time on set, so exposed.
“But I had that same feeling of being exposed when I was a waitress, I have it at parties…I’d love to be a diva. But I’d then have to send so many apology notes for my abhorrent behaviour.” …
“I like not being noticed. It has been a struggle because I love performing, but if I’m in a group of people and someone has a bigger personality I’m like ‘Go ahead, and have fun!’ It looks like a lotta work.”
From my article Shyness and High Sensitivity – On Stage or Off.
In the same article: Rebel Wilson, Gwen Stefani, Nicole Kidman, Kim Basinger, Taye Diggs and others.
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Anxiety / Stage fright / Public speaking fear
Being highly sensitive increases our vulnerability to anxiety and depression, which for many of us go together to some extent.
One form of anxiety can be a great discomfort with attention – even if you are not a performer or speaker – and possibly stage fright or public speaking fear for people who choose to perform or go on any kind of stage.
Musician Chelsea Wolfe talks about this:
[Interviewer:] I’ve read that earlier on in your career that you had issues with stage fright. And I also found a quote from you in another interview that while shooting the cover for ‘Pain Is Beauty’ you wanted to be ‘covered,’ or veiled. Are those two things linked? Are you not really interested in being highly visible?
“It’s something that I struggle with; I probably always will. When I was first starting out and first playing shows and stuff I had a really hard time being on stage.
“I’ve always loved recording and writing music and when it came time to actually be in front of people performing it just felt really weird, really unnatural for me.
“So it took a long time to become even remotely comfortable with it; but I’m getting a little bit better at being comfortable on stage.
“I do still have rough nights, or even rough moments during a set where I just want to run. I started wearing the veil as sort of like this nod to a funeral march or something; I decided to start dressing up and try wearing this ‘costume’ and I found that it actually helped me to get over this stage fright a bit.
“It’s very childlike, I guess, but I felt kind of invisible. So I did that for a couple of years after my first album came out, but I knew eventually I needed to just get over it and stop wearing it. But it definitely sprung an interest in dressing up and in fashion for me.
“Even though I’m not wearing the veil I find that dressing up for the job helps me focus and feel strong and things like that. I usually tend to dress up still for shows, but I don’t wear the veil anymore.”
In another article, she makes some other intriguing comments, including one about solitude:
“Honesty is what initially drew me to music, and I’ve been more honest and open with myself than ever through these songs. There is peace in truth. There is clarity in solitude. And there is power within simplicity and focus.”
From article Chelsea Wolfe announces new album, Pain Is Beauty by Chris Coplan.
Musician Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O’Connor) has talked about this kind of anxiety:
“Before I go onstage I lock into this period of the most crippling fear. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on someone that I hated … It’s the worst half-hour of my life, every night! But then, y’know, it gets replaced by something magic.”
From Lorde admits to crippling stage fright, by George Palathingal, Brisbane Times, Nov 7, 2013.
She has made choices to help deal with her fears:
“I’ve always been into the idea of confidence. Like, I called my record ‘Pure Heroine,” she said. “Even my stage name is kind of cocky or grandiose.” … “I get paralyzingly nervous a lot of times, so I tried bravado,” she added, quoting Kanye West’s “Dark Fantasy” (“Me found bravery in my bravado”).
“The way I dress and carry myself, a lot of people find it intimidating. I think my whole career can be boiled down to the one word I always say in meetings: strength.”
From Lorde covers Rolling Stone, talks Taylor Swift and boyfriend photo, By Nardine Saad, latimes.com January 23, 2014.
Photo from facebook.com/lordemusic for her single Tennis Court.
Related articles with resources to deal with anxiety
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“I am very quiet and would much prefer to talk to a few people rather than a crowd…I could never really see the point of being high-profile when I loathed it so much…
“The rules were the same 40 years ago as they are now. You can either choose your spotlight – or you can stay at home.”
From my article: Actors and High Sensitivity – which includes Jennifer Beals, Nicole Kidman, Scarlett Johansson, Winona Ryder, and others.
[Photo: Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago, 1965 from Turner Classic Movies/Facebook.]
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In her article 16 Outrageously Successful Introverts, Huffington Post editor Laura Schocker includes the quotes by Rowling, and an anecdote about singer Christina Aguilera being interviewed by Gaby Wood for Marie Claire magazine, who noted “Besides being petite, [Aguilera] is, it seems, shy. She tells me that she has always been ‘intense and introverted’ and that, as a result, she’s felt like an outsider her entire life.”
This sense of being an “outsider” as shy or an introvert is probably based in part on how much our culture emphasizes extroversion and sociability, plus commonly reported statistics over the years that introverts are in the minority.
But the article Percentage of Introverts declares: “The real number based on the first stratified random sample by the Myers-Briggs organization in 1998 showed Introverts 50.7% and Extroverts 49.3% of the USA.
Shyness or Introversion or Both?
On her blog Quiet: The Power of Introverts, author Susan Cain notes Bill Gates is an introvert, but not shy, and Barbra Streisand, who famously suffers from stage fright, is a shy extrovert.
Cain notes, “Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.
“Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis, and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical. With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts.”
Cain is author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., M.F.T., is an author, researcher, psychotherapist and authority on introversion. In this clip from an interview (for the Mensa Education and Research Foundation) she talks about introversion versus shyness.
Dr. Laney has on her site a long list of “famous introverts” including:
Joan Allen, actress
Candice Bergen, actress, writer, photographer
Ingrid Bergman, actress
Ellen Burstyn, actress
Glenn Close, actress
Audrey Hepburn, actress
Helen Hunt, actress
Clint Eastwood, actor/director
Harrison Ford, actor
Tom Hanks, actor
Steve Martin, all around talented guy
Noah Wiley, actor
Emily Dickinson, poet
Bill Keane, cartoonist
Gary Larson, cartoonist
and many others – see more in my post: Marti Olsen Laney on Introverted Advantages.
“I think I’m a weird combination of deeply introverted and very daring.
“I can feel both those things working.”
Actor, director, writer Helen Hunt – from post: The Creative Personality: Both Extroverted and Introverted.
“I remember when I met director Ang Lee and we were left alone. I was so shy and he was so shy neither of us said anything to each other for about 20 minutes.”
Actor Sigourney Weaver – From post: Director Ang Lee: The Artist, The Introvert.
Here is a short video with more examples:
One of the things I find really fascinating about a number of dynamic actors who have such power and presence in movies and on television, is they identify themselves as shy or introverted.
Here are a few more comments by well-known actors and other artists:
Evan Rachel Wood: “I used to not even be able to order pizza on the phone because I was just so shy. I think that’s why so much comes out on-screen, because that’s my time to let go in a safe place.”
Jane Fonda: “Acting was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, I was so shy. But I got fired as a secretary and had to earn some money.”
Nicole Kidman: “It was very natural for me to want to disappear into dark theater, I am really very shy. That is something that people never seem to fully grasp because, when you are an actor, you are meant to be an exhibitionist.”
Above quotes are from post: Gifted and shy – Jane Fonda, Evan Rachel Wood, Nicole Kidman.
Viola Davis has commented about how her work as an actor has helped her find more confidence, especially being nominated for an Oscar for her role in “The Help”:
“It was so important because I felt like I found myself. I’m so shy. I spent so many years in insecurity but for some reason because maybe that movie was so controversial and I had to find my voice in order to defend my choices.
“And then it culminated with me actually taking my wig off, that within all of that I kind of found who I was and stopped apologising for that. It was a huge emotional growth for me.” [Viola Davis ‘so shy’, belfasttelegraph.co.uk]
Another perspective of Davis: “I don’t play roles that are necessarily attractive or portray a positive image. They are well-rounded characters. When you squelch excellence to put out a message it’s like passing the baton and seeing it drop.” [imdb.com; photo from Ender’s Game, 2013]
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In an interview when she was about 15, actor Claire Danes said,
“I never thought of myself as shy, and then I realized I am kind of shy; I’ve just built defenses to hide it.”
She has also commented:
“I did not perform well socially in junior high. I was a strange girl and I was in a lot of pain because of that, like most teenagers.”
From article Claire Danes on being shy and high achieving.
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Maybe part of this kind of pain is because in this culture, especially as a teen, we who are shy or introverted have been seen as “abnormal” – especially with statistics or at least presumptions from earlier eras that introverts were only about a quarter of the population.
And aren’t we supposed to be “outgoing” and active members of some groups, if we are socially and psychologically healthy?
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Another comment on distress was made by the late novelist Elmore Leonard who once said, “I got into drinking because I was shy, somewhat introverted, self-conscious, and it brought me out.
“It was the macho thing to do. I drank from the time I was 16 until I quit when I was 52. And I had more fun when I was drinking than at any other time.”
[From “Elmore Leonard, master of the hard-boiled crime novel, dies at 87″ By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2013.]
His perspectives may fit for other creative people who use drugs and alcohol – see my article Gifted, Talented, Addicted.
Introversion and Shyness Qualities
Psychologist Elaine Aron, in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, notes this term shy “has some very negative connotations. It does not have to; shy can also be equated with words such as discreet, self-controlled, thoughtful, and sensitive.”
She also notes: “Because HSPs (highly sensitive persons) prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called ‘shy.’
“But shyness is learned, not innate.
“In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.”
From my post Creative and Shy.
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In his essay in The Atlantic: Caring for Your Introvert, Jonathan Rauch described a number of characteristics shared by many of us introverts:
“Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk?
“Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
“For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.”
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Dr. Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center, explains “Introverts are wired differently from extraverts and they have different needs. Extraverts get their energy from interaction with people and the external world. Introverts get their energy from within themselves; too much interaction drains their energy and they need to retreat from the world to recharge their batteries.”
From my post Creative Introverts – which also has this:
“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. The very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone…”
Steve Wozniak (at far right), who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs.
In his article “The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality,” creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high) writes that “Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted.
“We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured.
“Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.”
(Article is from his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.)
More of his quotes, and perspectives by others on introversion, are in my book “Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression. (Link goes to book site with reviews, excerpts).
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“We can’t underestimate the value of silence. We need to create ourselves, need to spend time alone.
“If you don’t, you risk not knowing yourself and not realizing your dreams.”
From 35 Quotes For Introverts By Christopher Hudspeth.
Lyrics for the song “I’m Sensitive” by Jewel include:
Oh please be careful with me
And I’d like to stay that way
Also quoted in my article Being Highly Sensitive and Creative.
Photo of Jewel from her Facebook page.
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“People say things to me like, ‘It’s really cool that you don’t go out and get drunk all the time and go to clubs,’ and I’m just like…
“I appreciate that, but I’m kind of an introverted kind of person just by nature, it’s not like a conscious choice that I’m making necessarily. It’s genuinely who I am.”
She refers to the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, and notes it discusses how “if you’re anything other than an [extrovert] you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you.
“That’s like the story of my life. Coming to realize that about myself was very empowering, because I had felt like, Oh my god, there must be something wrong with me, because I don’t want to go out and do what all my friends want to do.”
[Those quotes are from the interview article I Want It to Be Worth It: An Interview With Emma Watson by Tavi Gevinson, Rookie mag.]
Watson adds in another interview:
“I feel like I’ve been given a lot of credit where it isn’t due that I don’t like to party.
“The truth is that I’m genuinely a shy, socially awkward, introverted person.
“At a big party, I’m like Bambie in the headlights.
“It’s too much stimulation for me, which is why I end up going to the bathroom! I need time outs! …
“I get anxious. I’m terrible at small talk and I have a ridiculously short attention span…
“I feel a pressure when I’m meeting new people because I’m aware of their expectations. That makes socializing difficult.
“Which isn’t to say that when I’m in a small group and around my friends, I don’t love to dance and be extroverted. I am just extremely self-conscious in public.”
From article: The Bloom of the Wallflower, by Derek Blasberg, Wonderland mag. February/March 2014 – for which issue she was guest editor.
[Photo from facebook.com/emmawatson – with caption: “I was always a very serious child… So I was the right child to get cast: I loved the responsibility.” – Emma on getting cast as Hermione Granger at age 9.]
Another quote of hers:
“I want to be a Renaissance woman. I want to paint, and I want to write, and I want to act, and I want to just do everything.”
> Quoted in my article: Multitalented Creative People. [On the site for my main book.]
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Emma Watson’s comments remind me of another dynamic and talented actor, who also has a compelling and graceful presence along with intelligence: Jessica Chastain.
She has also identified herself as shy, introverted or highly sensitive:
“I’m not the girl at the club on the table. I’m going to be the one in the corner, quiet and so I don’t call attention to myself.” …
“I was the girl who cut school to go to the park, and the other kids would be smoking and drinking and I’d be reading Shakespeare.”
From my article Jessica Chastain and High Sensitivity.
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Actor MaryBeth Schroeder on attention:
“When I explain to people that I feel bashful or uncomfortable when they look at me, there is always a ‘BUT YOU’RE AN ACTOR! AREN’T YOU USED TO IT?’
“No. I’m an actor for a much deeper reason than ‘I want people to stare at me’. There have been times where I actually hide UNDER something until the time I’m ready to be looked at.”
MaryBeth Schroeder “is a model, actress, and is currently writing and acting in a new web series called Casual Hex.”
Read more of her comments in post: Introvert Interviews, with MaryBeth Schroeder (on the Introvertology site).
See more quotes by artists in my article: Actors and High Sensitivity – Jennifer Beals, Nicole Kidman, Scarlett Johansson, Winona Ryder, and others.
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Article: Shy and sensitive and drinking at parties – Psychologist Elaine Aron notes: “Not all sensitive people are shy; not all shy people are sensitive. But especially if you are both, although you may have one or two drinks to get through parties, you probably don’t drink very much compared with other people.”
Article 16 Outrageously Successful Introverts (by Laura Schocke, The Huffington Post), which includes a slideshow: “6 Things You Thought Wrong About Introverts.”
It lists some common stereotypes, such as “introverts are socially awkward loners who abhor large crowds and just don’t like people very much. An introvert may not be a particularly friendly or happy person, but… they’re smarter and more creative than the average extrovert.”
One of the slides:
“Courteney Cox cited personality differences as one of the reasons for her split with David Arquette. “I’m a homebody. I like to have people over, but I’m a little socially not — I don’t love it. David — he doesn’t drink anymore, he’s completely sober — but he likes to go out and dance. He really is a very gregarious guy. He’s very outgoing. I’m much more of an introvert.”
Photo: Courteney Cox and Derek Waters as Edith and Woodrow Wilson in an episode of the very fun comedy series ‘Drunk History’ – photo posted by Cox on Twitter.
Another slide says, “It’s important to note being an introvert doesn’t innately make you a loftier, or more innovative, thinker. Extroverts are, of course, often incredibly intelligent and creative; there’s just a good chance that their best ideas happen while they’re in a more reflective, or introverted, mindset.”
And another slide comments on one of the mental health challenges for inner-directed people: “Most introverts don’t connect solitude with loneliness, unless it becomes excessive. That being said, although introverts do not innately have more depressive personalities, they do tend to spend more time thinking and analyzing — and if this turns to ruminating, it could potentially lead to depression.”
That idea is supported by author Sophia Dembling : “There’s a definite link between rumination and depression. Because introverts do like thinking and being alone, we need to keep ourselves in check.”
[See links to her blog The Introvert’s Corner and book The Introvert’s Way on the Resources page – link at bottom.]
Introversion and extraversion are complementary
In her article The Gifted Introvert, Lesley Sword (Gifted and Creative Services Australia) notes, “Western civilisation today is dominated by the extravert viewpoint. Extraverts are more vocal than introverts and are more understandable than introverts.
But introverts “form the majority of gifted people,” she notes. “Moreover, it appears that introversion increases with intelligence so that more than 75% of people with an IQ above 160 are introverted.”
She adds, “Introversion and extraversion are personality types: two complementary ways of operating in the world. People have both introversion and extraversion in their personalities and so are not limited either to the inner world or the outer world.”
Creativity coach Jenna Avery quotes Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative:
“It’s not a rule by any means, but many creatively gifted people tend to display a natural tendency toward introversion. Perhaps the isolated nature of a lot of creative work is what calls many of us to our chosen profession to begin with. We love to get lost in the process of moving big conceptual rocks.”
Avery explains, “To be clear, while not all introverts are sensitives, all sensitives are introverts in the classic sense of the word ‘introversion’: meaning that we recharge our energy by having time alone.”
Those quotes are also used in one of my books – see excerpts at: Being Highly Sensitive and Creative, with more quotes by multiple writers.
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Performers can be introverted
“Yes, I guess you could say I am a loner but I feel more lonely in a crowded room with boring people than I feel on my own.” ― Henry Rollins
Clea DuVall was an only child, and has also commented about being a “loner” – something many of us introverts may relate to:
“I’m just a real loner kind of person, and yeah, kinda dark. But I’m happy. Not sad. I’m just shy and nervous.”
[From my Pinterest board: Introverted and Creative.]
Sophia Dembling comments in her book “The Introvert’s Way” that “introverted movie stars like Julia Roberts tend to get famous when they’re in extrovert mode — acting, chatting it up on talk shows, making red-carpet appearances.
“Then, as soon as they can do so without risking their careers, movie star introverts retreat into a well-protected life, keeping tight control on who sees them when and how. Johnny Depp is a good example of this. When he’s not on-screen, he lives mostly out of the public eye.”
[For several years (in the past) I wrote film production articles and interviewed many actors; especially on ‘major’ movies with big enough budgets, each of the main stars had their own private trailer to retreat to when not working. Not that any actor who has a trailer is therefore an introvert, of course, but I think Dembling’s comment is true about many actors maintaining a private, even reclusive, life when they don’t have to be shooting or promoting a movie.]
Johnny Depp: “A little outside”
“I’m able to express better the feelings of those who are a little outside. I don’t consider myself an outsider, but neither completely integrated in the society… Tim (Burton) and I share this kind of sensitivity, this way of understanding or not understanding the world.” Johnny Depp
From post: Sensitive to Anxiety and Depression.
This feeling like an outsider is something I think many of us who are introverted and highly sensitive have felt, and it can be compounded by experiencing shyness.
Charlie Kaufman is one of my favorite screenwriters; his movies include “Being John Malkovich”; “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; “Adaptation” and others.
The bio on BeingCharlieKaufman.com says he was “introverted then [in high school and earlier] as he is now” but “Kaufman nonetheless appears to have been well-liked by those who knew him, though there’s little doubt he felt like an outsider.
“Always very smart, he was a good student but not outstanding.
“He was anti-establishment, so school was not his priority, and he spent all three years in the TV Company (an elective for the study of TV production) and in the drama club.”
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Shyness can be a form of anxiety, and lead to social isolation.
But many highly sensitive or introverted people, shy or not, choose a more solitary life to enhance their creative work.
Musician Ani DiFranco produced her album, “Educated Guess,” entirely on her own.
An interviewer asked, “Your approach, your energy on the current tour and on the new album seem different. Why is that?”
DiFranco: “The difference is solitude. I have it in my life now, and I didn’t for years, at all… now I’m alone on stage, it’s been like a year and a half, and I’m alone in my dressing room and I’m alone in my home.
“And there’s just a lot less people around. So it allows for more contemplation.”
From article: Nurturing creativity in solitude.
[Photo: “Solitude has its own very strange beauty to it.” Liv Tyler.]
Some forms of creative expression – like acting and filmmaking – require collaborating with many other people. But sometimes an artist needs isolation or works best alone.
Writer Erica Jong has been quoted on the topic, “Everyone has a talent. What is rare is the courage to nurture it in solitude and to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”
George Orwell chose to write “Nineteen Eighty-Four” while living in Barnhill (1946-1949), an abandoned farmhouse on the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides.
From article: Solitude and creative expression.
“I’m an introvert… I love being by myself, love being outdoors, love taking a long walk with my dogs and looking at the trees, flowers, the sky.”
“I don’t want to be alone, I want to be left alone.”
“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”
From post: Audrey Hepburn: Introverted and Highly Sensitive.
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Fluff and Listicles
Introversion has lately become a fashionable buzzword. There are many people who write about it knowledgeably, in the context of psychology and sociology, but there are plenty of examples of writing that is misinformed or dubious at best.
A recent HuffingtonPost article, for example, is titled “7 Signs Kanye West Is Secretly An Introvert.”
In his article 23 Signs You’re Secretly a Narcissist Masquerading as a Sensitive Introvert (on his Scientific American blog Beautiful Minds – ‘Insights into intelligence, creativity, and the mind’) cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman discusses that article, and others:
“If I see one more listicle about introversion, I’m going to cry. It started out with the fairly reasonable ’31 Unmistakable Signs That You’re An Introvert.’ Sure, many of the items on the list offered an exaggerated version of introversion, but there were some real gems that had a large grain of truth…”
He lists the article “22 Signs Your Dog’s An Introvert” which includes this image. Cute, sure – but the caption, in support of the article’s title, is “He often wears headphones with no music playing, in the hopes no one will try and talk to him.”
“You’d think that’d be enough for a lifetime of listicles. But no… they kept coming, mixing together many different traits under the general umbrella ‘introversion.’
“For instance, some lists include shyness-related behaviors, but it’s well documented that shyness is not the same thing as introversion. Shyness is more related to being anxious and neurotic. There are plenty of introverts who prefer alone time but really aren’t anxious or shy when interacting with other people.”
He notes that another “common misconception perpetuated by these listicles is that introversion and sensory processing sensitivity [the personality trait of high sensitivity] are the same thing”, and posts this quote from ’23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert’:
‘While extroverts tend to get bored easily when they don’t have enough to do, introverts have the opposite problem — they get easily distracted and overwhelmed in environments with an excess of stimulation.’
Kaufman explains, “Actually, sensory processing sensitivity is not the same thing as introversion. There are plenty of socially introverted folks who can deal with loud sounds and bright lights, even though they may get emotionally drained from too many superficial social interactions.
“Vice versa, there are plenty of socially extraverted individuals who get overstimulated by sensory input. A number of studies support that idea that sensory processing sensitivity is much more strongly linked to anxiety (neuroticism) and openness to experience than introversion.”
In his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined Kaufman refers to a fascinating and “clever experiment” by Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson, who “had college students imagine either that their classes had been canceled for the day or that they were their 7-year-old selves in the same situation. 32 Participants imagining themselves as children came up with more original responses on a test of divergent thinking, and the effect was particularly pronounced among introverted participants.”
This quality of being inner-directed can enhance creativity in other ways.
In a brief excerpt from his much longer interview for The Truth About Creativity online conference, Dr. Kaufman comments on Identity and Creativity:
“Creative expression equals self-expression… So anything we can do to firm up our identity, figure out who we are separate from others, and what it is we really want to express – that influences your information processing of everything in the world.”
Hear more clips and read about other interviews in post: The Creativity Conference with David Burkus.
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A final quote, from my post To Be More Creative, Be An Introvert, by science journalist Winifred Gallagher:
“The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement.
“Neither E = mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.”
To be fair, much creative work is also accomplished by people who are more predominantly extroverted – and this quote could as well refer to the trait of high sensitivity.
People – perhaps especially creative people – are complex.
See long list of Introversion Resources (articles, sites, books).
Emotional Health Resources: Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional balance and wellbeing for a better creative life.