As an introvert, I often feel misunderstood. I’ve been called everything from shy and rude to stand-offish, snobbish and disinterested. After first dates, guys have told me they thought I wasn’t interested in them even though I’d had a good time, and once a boss told me I lacked passion and enthusiasm for a job I really liked. In other instances, good friends have told me years later that when we first met, they thought I didn’t like them. Not only does it hurt to hear these things, but these accusations just aren’t true.
I’m not saying I’m a perfect person. Ask anyone who knows me and he or she could relate several stories of times I really was rude or disinterested that had nothing to do with my introversion. I’m a human, it happens. I’m also not saying the world should cater just to me (that really would be rude of me, wouldn’t it?). What I am asking for is a little understanding. In our society that prizes talkativeness and action, it’s easy to unfairly dismiss introverts like me as incompetent or lackluster.
What do I wish people understood about me? Here’s what I’d confess:
1. If I’m not talking, I probably just don’t know what to say. Sometimes in social situations I feel like a deer in headlights. My mind freezes up and I know I should be saying something right now, but I’m too overstimulated to think. It’s basically “introvert brain lock.” Please understand that if I’m quiet, it doesn’t mean I’m not trying. It’s probably just that I’m scrambling internally for some words but nothing intelligible is coming out.
2. I don’t enjoy small talk because it feels fake. That means I might not really get talking until we get to the meat of the conversation—the really good stuff. Also it baffles me that, as a society, we feel the need to talk just to make noise. Isn’t the world noisy enough already? What I really crave is getting rid of any distractions, sitting down with just one other person and really talking about life and what it all means. This kind of authentic, honest conversation (not small talk) is what actually makes me feel connected to other humans.
3. Or, not talking could mean I’m concentrating on something else. I like focusing on just one thing at a time rather than multi-tasking. When I’m, say, writing an email at work or driving to an unfamiliar place, I have a hard time paying attention to what I’m doing and carrying on a conversation at the same time. Not sure if you should talk or be quiet? Just ask. I’ll try to remember to do my part, too, and tell you when I need silence.
4. I wish people wouldn’t comment on my quietness. For some reason, people think stating the obvious will draw me out but this really just makes me feel even more self-conscious.
5. Even if I’m having fun, socializing drains me. After a long, people-filled day at work or a busy weekend, it’s essential for me to turn off, be alone, and unwind. It’s like I have a battery (a small one) that holds only so much juice for interacting with the outside world. When my battery is drained, I turn inward to recharge it. Don’t think my solitude means I’m upset or annoyed with you. It just means I need to tend to my own needs and do what I do best—think and reflect in a calm environment.
6. High-energy people exhaust me. How do they talk so much? Where does their energy come from? After spending time with high-energy people, I need extra time to recharge alone.
7. I react to things internally, so my face can be a deceptively poor display of how I actually feel. I might tell you I’m fine, but what you don’t see is that I’m wrestling with a tumult of thoughts and emotions inside. Even when happy things happen, like getting a great birthday present, I don’t gush. Not wearing my heart on my sleeve means most people don’t realize how sensitive I really am. Another complicating factor is sometimes I don’t know how I feel about something until I can be alone and let the thoughts and emotions tumble around inside me for a while. Want to know what I really think and feel? Ask me later, privately, after I’ve had time to process. Better yet, let me write about my thoughts.
8. I’m uncomfortable making snap decisions. The introvert’s brain is made for reflection and rumination. I like having time to think things through.
9. I’m a slow texter. I get it. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy, or I’m not in the right frame of mind to respond immediately. Plus I don’t like being tethered to my smartphone—there are so many other things to experience, either in my immediate environment or in the world inside my mind, and I especially dislike being pulled away from the latter. Please know I still value you and I’ll respond soon. I make a point to not be rude or blow off others, but sometimes, especially when my mind is really consumed with something, I need some grace. Texting me repeatedly is not the answer.
10. I feel uncomfortable speaking in groups. I don’t like raising my hand in a big class, I cringe when job interviews are conducted by an entire team or department, and I don’t “go around the circle and share.” These situations are overstimulating and nerve-wracking because all the attention is zeroed in on me (many extroverts actually perform better in high-pressure situations like these, but not so for us introverts). Of course, I force myself to speak up from time to time, but please understand that this feels uncomfortable and unnatural for me. If I pause for what seems like an eon, then spew a spastic rush of half-formed sentences and disconnected thoughts, please be understanding.
11. I do better socializing one-on-one. Being with just one other person is less stimulating for this introvert’s sensitive system. Plus it allows me to focus deeply on just one thing—you. When it’s just the two of us, you might be surprised how much more talkative and animated I am.
12. Sorry, I can’t hang out tonight because I have plans. I’m peopled out and I just need some time alone. My plans are with myself (yes, I consider these to be actual plans), and they include watching Netflix in my pajamas, surfing the Internet, listening to music in bed, reading, or doing little things around my place.
13. (Even though I said no to hanging out, thank you for asking. Introverts need to feel accepted and liked, too.)
14. Another reason I’m not talking? I don’t “think out loud” like extroverts do. Instead I process things internally, then speak when I’ve arrived at some conclusion. I do my best thinking—and my best work—when it’s quiet and no one interrupts my spider web of thoughts.
15. In job interviews, I’m more competent than I appear. Sometimes I have a hard time explaining what I know, especially if it’s a high-pressure situation. This goes back to that whole “brain lock” thing. I may get tongue-tied and struggle for words even when asked questions that I should easily be able to answer. Don’t judge how good of an employee I’ll be solely on my ability to articulate myself. You’ll find that not only am I competent but also I’ll be more chatty and coherent when we get to know each other better.
16. I deeply value my friendships, even though I can be bad at keeping in touch. Sometimes I get lost in my own world and forget to reach out to others.
17. I like spending time alone, but sometimes my solitude becomes loneliness. Every once in a while, I realize I’ve been in my introvert bubble for too long. I appreciate friends who are understanding of my need for space but who also can draw me out in conversation and get me out of the house when I’m ready to take on the world.
18. Reason #2574 why I’m not talking right now: when I don’t sleep well or I’m sick, I become even more withdrawn and quiet. I promise I’m not annoyed with you. My “people” energy is even more limited when I’m not functioning optimally.
19. Every once in a while, I wish I were an extrovert. There, I said it. When I see them out on a Saturday night with their entourage of friends, talking and navigating the social scene so easily, I wish I could have that same kind of fun. It’s not that I don’t have fun (trust me, I do), it’s just that it seems to happen a lot more naturally for extroverts.
20. But in reality, I’m just beginning to understand how to harness my quiet strengths. I don’t really want to change who I am. Please accept me as is, and don’t try to mold me into an extrovert. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, wisely wrote, “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”
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