Thriving As An Introvert: Dr Leslie Dobson On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
Confidence and power. I believe that in the years of working with people, some of the most confident people I have known have been introverted. They are making decisions in life from thoughtful and meaningful places in which they have taken time to analyze and put into place. Confidence is quiet. Insecurities are loud. When you have the ability to stay with yourself longer than others, and you choose when you come out and how you are, you hold the power in the room.
In a world that often rewards outspokenness and social networking, introverts can sometimes feel sidelined or overlooked. The workplace, educational institutions, and even social settings can often seem engineered to suit the strengths of extroverts, leaving introverts searching for a space to flourish.
However, introversion comes with its own set of unique strengths — deep thinking, the ability to focus, empathy, and keen observational skills — that are invaluable but often underestimated. The question then becomes: how can introverts not only survive but also thrive and succeed in environments that seem skewed towards extroversion? In this interview series, we are talking to introverts, business leaders, psychologists, authors, career coaches, organizational leaders, and other experts in the field who can talk about “How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing (Dr. Leslie Dobson).
Dr Leslie Dobson is a clinical and forensic psychologist in California. She has spent her career working with some of the most dangerous people in America, and also working in private practice with individuals struggling with severe mental illness and mild emotional problems. She is an expert in the assessment of trauma and determining the truthfulness of claims in civil litigation. Dr Dobson has Been listening and talking to thousands of people over her 20 year career, and she offers vast insights into the workings of the human mind, and how people interact with not only one another, but themselves.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Canada and immigrated to California. I lived most of my childhood in Orange County, where I was aware very early on that there was a focus on image and superficiality. I left home at 18 to study in Colorado, and then quickly moved to England, and back to California for my doctorate. I became fascinated with psychology at an early age, because I started to see patterns of behaviors and people, and I had a strong desire to understand. I learned quickly that I was an extrovert at times and an introvert at other times, and I became fascinated with the people in the settings that determine how we show up. My first clinical experience was in the Los Angeles County Jail, with some of the most dangerous and mentally ill individuals I’ve ever seen in my life. That was the first year that I decided to push myself into a career that took risks, perseverance, and strong personal boundaries so that I could keep myself healthy and safe while holding the stories of thousands of people throughout my life. I have worked and trained in hospitals, community settings, prisons, and in private practice. I have testified in front of a jury. I have been assaulted by clients. I have witnessed assaults. I have been in the room when people have felt so much Emotional pain that they make the decision they no longer want to live. I am fascinated by the human mind, and how we show up with other people in the world in all the different settings we are in.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
Currently, I am an expert psychologist who assesses the validity of claims made in civil litigation personal injury lawsuits, and I also continue to work in criminal law. I spend about 50% of my week working with first responders such as police officers, firemen, doctors, lawyers and therapists. A large focus of my practice is on the treatment of trauma, and implementing evidence based measures to help people. But even if you take out all the fancy words and jargon, I specialize in being real in the room with another person who is struggling or in pain. I don’t hold back the truth, but I will metaphorically hold a client’s hand and walk them to a healthier place. My goal is to teach people how to build an internal therapist, live life with confidence, and feel in charge.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Thriving As An Introvert. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “Introvert” mean to you?
Some people will describe themselves as introverted, and their description may be different than what a psychologist defines. As a psychologist, I describe introversion as a person who tends to be more thoughtful, feels more anxiety when they have to speak up, speak in a group, or the beginning stages of conversation. I think when people are more introverted, socialization leads to higher levels of fatigue. This is in contrast to extroversion in which socialization can actually be energizing. A person that is more introverted usually needs more time to regain their energy after socializing or after they have experienced strong emotions or completed big tasks. They are more internally focused, which can be helpful at times and hurtful at other times.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
I frequently see a challenge in my clients who are more introverted, and that is their judgment of themselves. They treat themselves like they are wrong for needing more downtime, for not being interested in going to every activity or social gathering, and they lack an acceptance of who they are because they are constantly fighting against what media has shown as the perfect person. They are fighting against the view that they should be able to show up to the party with a big smile, greeting everyone and shaking hands, and then seamlessly engaging in charismatic conversation. Once we talk about who they are and who they feel comfortable showing up as, it gives them permission to live their true self in alignment with who they are and how they engage in social settings.
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
Introverts have a lot of advantages. An incredible ability to sit back and listen to people, hear what is said and what is asked, and they can respond in a meaningful manner gripping others attention. I believe that insecurities are loud, and confidence is quiet. The most introverted person in a boardroom, probably talks the least, but when they talk, everyone listens. This is in contrast to the person who won’t stop talking, and people are zoning in and out and not listening consistently. Introversion is also wonderful when it comes to attaching to others and relationship styles. Tend not to dive into relationships that are unhealthy, because they take their time to see who the other person is, such as red flags. If they take their time to see who the people are around them, they have the ability to vet those that can be close to them, building long-lasting healthy relationships in a meaningful way.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
A common myth about introverts is that they are judging other people negatively. When a person isn’t easy to read quickly verbally or with facial expressions, we often think that they don’t like us. But in all actuality the introvert is very internally focused, thoughtful, and strategic in how they use their expressions of emotion. Another myth is that introverts don’t like to socialize, which isn’t always true. Introverts tend to enjoy meaningful small socialization that allows for deep conversation and strong connection. They have energy, but they choose to use their energy in small and deep ways, rather than enlarge ceremonious relational activities where we talk to many people about a few things at a superficial level. It’s also important to note that the pendulum swings between introversion and extroversion, and some introverted people will become more extroverted when they feel safe, and they are in those small deep meaningful relationships.
Do you have any role models who are also introverts? What have you learned from them that can help introverts navigate the challenges and benefits of introversion?
One of my role models is Mark Cuban. I’m not in the business world but I love the way that he approaches leadership and business. He has given many talks on keeping your ideas, motivation, confidence, quiet and to yourself. He has talked about not giving away too much of yourself because people will use it for their own benefit. To me, he appears to be extroverted when in the role of an interview, but his advice is all in line with a more introverted personality. He is not a particularly charismatic man, but when he speaks, everyone stops to listen.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Things Introverts Need To Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Confidence and power. I believe that in the years of working with people, some of the most confident people I have known have been introverted. They are making decisions in life from thoughtful and meaningful places in which they have taken time to analyze and put into place. Confidence is quiet. Insecurities are loud. When you have the ability to stay with yourself longer than others, and you choose when you come out and how you are, you hold the power in the room.
2 . Non-judgment. Introverts are some of the hardest people on themselves. They look at all of the extroverts and the people around them, and they judge themselves for not being the center of attention or the one that stands on the table at a fraternity party. It’s so important to remember not to judge yourself. If you feel like something is getting in the way of being happy or healthy, then there’s an avenue to start to work on that. It is important to be able to know who you are at your core, and honor that in the situations and relationships that you engage in.
3 . Remembering what it’s like in the mind of an extrovert. Extroverted people are often very insecure. Extroverted people align with anxious attachment. It may appear that they are extroverted, but really what they are doing is attempting to control the people, the emotions, and the topics in the room. If they can come in and control all of that, then they won’t be vulnerable and they won’t be injured. An introverted person is actually quite threatening to an extrovert, because they can’t read you and they can’t control you or anticipate what you are going to say or do.
4 . Reflecting back on moments when you have really felt like yourself, and who you have been around when this has happened. A lot of extroverted people feel like they are faking it. Like they are faking relationships, emotions, and that they are engaging with others for secondary gain. It’s important for an introverted person to remember that when you are in the presence of an extrovert, you don’t need to change. The extrovert may pull for you to be more extroverted, but that is just an extension of their anxiety or their anxious attachment style, and says nothing about you.
5 . Although I have been very complimentary of introversion, we never want to stop with our insight, awareness, and moving forward with our mental health. Introverts tend to ruminate more, and when we are anxious or stuck in our head about something, we can often retreat from social interactions and overly focus on the distressing thoughts in our mind. It is important for introverts to remember that being a little extroverted at times may help move stuck thoughts or negative emotions forward and out.
How should an introvert navigate social relationships and networking, activities that are often touted as extroverts’ forte? Do you have any advice for introverts in these areas?
Social relationships and networking will always be a bit of a challenge for an introvert, but if you can enter the event with a plan and you have practiced and rehearsed what you want to say, it can feel a lot less anxiety provoking, more natural, and leave you less drained. Introverted people benefit from having self-care and a nice quiet day prior to events in which they have to be overly social. They benefit from practicing conversational skills, preparing what to say and who they plan to say it to, and also preparing what to say during the conversation, not just the initial parts. Introverted people benefit from setting goals for social interactions, and reminding themselves of the benefit. We don’t want to become so isolated that we struggle to socialize at all. Always want to push our comfort level a little bit, because we still have to live in this world amongst everyone else. If introverted people are struggling with anxiety about socializing, it is helpful to have some tricks. It is helpful to dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable but confident. When talking to people, ask them a simple question where you know they are going to answer it and talk a lot. If you want to interject, it may be anxiety provoking to use your voice. People often benefit from holding up a hand or more behavioral cues to let the crowd know that they want to speak, and then they feel a bit more comfortable.
What are some practical tips you can offer to introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, which is often geared towards extroverted behaviors?
Remind yourself of your worth every single day. Keep data, keep journals, keep records of how you have succeeded. Wake up every morning and know that you are strong, confident, and powerful. Use your hands and visual cues to gain people’s attention before you speak, allowing yourself a little bit longer to prepare to speak. It’s very helpful to follow up after meetings with an email that summarizes the topics. Extroverts are often engaged in the conversation and may not be privy to all of the subtle nuances within the meetings. Can shine when they demonstrate their knowledge and awareness of what went on. There are other ways besides verbal communication in which we can build trust in our employers, and consistent email is a great way to do this.
Have you noticed any specific ways that being an introvert affects mental health or overall well-being? Any tips for introverts to maintain good mental health?
I have noticed that when introverts struggle with mental health or emotional problems, they don’t seek help soon enough. They tend to try to resolve problems on their own, often by thinking in circles in their mind. I think it’s very helpful for introverted people to talk to other people about any struggles they may have, preventing catastrophe in the mind. Therapy is a wonderful avenue for an introverted person to have a quiet and meaningful conversation with another person about how they are feeling.
In your opinion, are societal views on introversion changing? If so, how do you think this impacts introverts positively or negatively? Can you please explain what you mean?
As we see this rise in social media, I think this could be very empowering for introverted people. So many of the videos we see on tik tok are made in people’s homes, and the comments and messages are coming to their phone or computer, without any real interaction. The world and society seems to be moving into a more isolated living space, which can feel comforting to an introvert, but also may lead them to deal with too much by themselves. Meaningful social relationships are important, and we have to constantly watch how our pendulum swings in either direction, too much isolation or too much socialization. We need to check in on ourselves every day, and ask ourselves what we need to feel well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What gets in the way of the work, is the work.” This is my favorite quote because we so often focus on things we want to fix, but we don’t pay attention to the things that need to be fixed first.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
#LookBack. Over the past several years, the laws have changed and allowed individuals to come forward about sexual abuse they endured as children. Because of this change, There are thousands of lawsuits around the country bringing to light how large institutions covered up sexual abuse of children. This is most televised through the Catholic Church and through priests who are pedophiles, but it’s happening in schools, different churches, and childcare activities like the Boy Scouts. More people are speaking out about being abused by celebrities, and more celebrities are being held accountable and receiving prison time for sexually abusing people. If I could start a movement it would be called #LookBack. Let’s look back on all the abuse that has happened and that has been covered up, let’s reflect on this, hold people accountable, and change the world in the future, with a huge focus on protecting our children. We need to educate pastors, priests, teachers, authority figures on what is inappropriate in settings with children. It is unlikely that if somebody is a pedophile, we are going to stop their behavior as a layperson. If we see something suspicious, we say something and we act on it, and we protect children.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
www.drlesliedobson.com, and Dr. Leslie Dobson on tiktok, instagram, and linkedin.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thriving As An Introvert: Dr Leslie Dobson On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.