“We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead… We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.”
Chapter 5 of Quiet is one of the most succinct in the book, but this is one of the illustrations that has really stuck with me since I read it. When I’m in stressful social situations — those situations where my frontal neocortex is at war with my amygdala — I picture myself as a rubber band being stretched, and I actually find it rather comforting. It’s okay that the situation feels like it’s stretching me, because it is.
A couple of years ago, I read A General Theory of Love, and it also touches on the limbic and cortical brains and the interplay between the two. The authors explain the neocortex in similar language to Cain:
The neocortical brain does not produce emotionality, [but] it does have a role in modulating feelings and integrating them with some its own functions.
This is how Sally, Alison, Esther, and even Susan Cain herself have come to adapt themselves to everything from public speaking engagements to busy parties. As Cain writes, “there’s a split second that feels like I’m stepping onto a high wire… [but] I’ve learned that the high wire is a figment of my imagination.”
What are some of your stepping-onto-a-high-wire moments? Is there anything specific that you do to coach yourself through those situations, or has it become automatic?