How Introverts Can Inadvertently Hurt People’s Feelings — And What They Can Do Instead

A person’s feelings are hurt by an introvert

Sometimes our introspective nature can make us less aware of the impact we have on others. 

Growing up, I was often picked on for being quiet, introspective, and aloof. I wondered if something was wrong with me and tried my best to fit in — but I couldn’t catch up with others’ expectations of how to behave socially.   

As a young adult, when I first discovered the term “introversion,” I initially felt a sense of redemption — suddenly, all my “odd” behaviors made sense and I could finally tell myself — with confidence — that there was nothing wrong with me. But soon, this feeling turned into resentment against the world around me. I started getting defensive, even when my friends and family would tell me how my behavior was impacting them negatively. This continued until I realized that I needed to start owning up to my mistakes and stop blaming introversion for my inappropriate behavior.

As an introvert, it can be tough living in a world that seems to put more value on people who are sociable, charismatic, and outspoken. In fact, it can sometimes feel like the world is set up against those of us who are quiet. We might feel unfairly judged or misunderstood, especially when our natural introverted tendencies lead us to be reserved, distant, or even seem rude.

But there’s a danger in falling into the trap of defensiveness. While it’s certainly not fair that the world is biased against introverts, it’s also true that introverts can sometimes hurt others without meaning to. Our introspective nature can make us less aware of the impact we have on others, and we might get defensive when someone points out that our behavior has hurt them.

Here are some ways in which introverts can unintentionally hurt others, and what they can do to avoid these behaviors.

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7 Ways Introverts Can Inadvertently Hurt People’s Feelings 

1. Not being present — instead being caught up in your (overthinking) head

Introverts often prefer to be alone and can sometimes come across as aloof or disinterested when in social situations. There have been innumerable occasions when I zoned out and unintentionally ignored people. This is because I often tend to be lost in my thoughts and miss people in my line of sight or parts of conversations happening in front of me. 

Other times, people have told me they spotted me and said hi — but I didn’t respond. While it wasn’t intentional, and it happened because I was in my own world, this can be hurtful to others. 

So, it’s important to make a conscious effort to be mindfully present in our surroundings, like using our introvert superpower of listening, for example.  

2. Not communicating effectively — i.e., waiting too long before responding

Introverts tend to think before they speak and may take longer to respond to questions, conversations, or text messages. However, this can be misinterpreted as not being interested in the conversation or the person they are talking to. 

Here’s an example: My husband asks me a simple question like, “Do you think we should get a new refrigerator?” and my brain starts evaluating the pros and cons of getting a new refrigerator. Consequently, a minute has passed since my husband posed the question and I’m still pondering and haven’t responded yet. My husband thinks I didn’t hear him and starts feeling ignored. 

To avoid this misinterpretation, introverts should be proactive in communicating their thoughts and feelings to those around them. Even a simple, “I need a minute to think about that” can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings.

3. Disappearing without warning, like leaving a party without saying goodbye

Introverts often need alone time to recharge, which can make them disappear from social events without warning. I have been guilty of disappearing from parties without informing the hosts or other guests. While this may be “normal” for us introverts, it can be hurtful to others, as they may feel disrespected. 

To avoid this misunderstanding, we introverts should communicate our needs and expectations to those around us. Yes, it’s understandable that you might feel exhausted from attending a social event and might want to leave sooner than others. But letting people know that you need to leave early, or that you need to step away and take a break, can help them understand your behavior and avoid any hurt feelings. 

4. Not responding to messages or calls in a timely manner

I tend to sit on text messages for weeks, sometimes even for months. Often I receive messages and even start acting on them but forget to acknowledge to the sender that I have received their message and that I’m working on it. (Just like phone calls, texting can be draining for introverts, too!)

Once I offended my sister by not returning her call when she messaged to inform me that her 8-year-old had gotten COVID-19. Whereas, in reality, I had read the message, panicked for my nephew, and prayed for his speedy recovery. It just didn’t occur to me to call my sister to comfort her, and she felt that I didn’t care enough to.

Introverts may need more downtime than others, but ignoring messages or calls can come across as rude or dismissive. Take a moment to respond to messages, even if it’s just to say you’ll get back to the person later.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

5. Not (fully) participating in group activities

Introverts may feel overwhelmed or anxious in group activities, leading them to opt out or not participate fully. On many such occasions when I chose to sit out of a group activity, I was perceived as rude or arrogant. It made others feel that I was not appreciative of the activity. 

While it’s okay to take breaks or step back, make an effort to engage with others and join in on group activities. You may find that they are more enjoyable than you thought. Or, just stay home and skip them. It’s probably better not to show up at all than show up and participate only half-heartedly.

6. Being too self-reliant and not asking others for help (even when we need it)

Introverts often value independence and self-reliance, which can make them hesitant to ask for help or support from others. However, this can be hurtful to those who want to be there for them. I have hurt friends in the past who felt I didn’t consider them worthy enough to ask for help. 

To avoid this, introverts should learn to recognize when they need help and reach out to others for support. This can help build stronger relationships and prevent feelings of resentment or isolation. Just as we like to help others, let’s let them help us when we need it!

7. Not sharing your feelings or showing your appreciation

Introverts may not always express their feelings openly, which can make it seem like they don’t care or appreciate others. Personally, I know I struggle to express my love and gratitude toward my loved ones. 

Instead we introverts should try to show our appreciation for the people in our lives. To make it easier, go for a mode of communication that feels comfortable to you, like a written note or thoughtful gesture. This can be as simple as a thank-you note, a small gift, or just telling someone how much they mean to you. (You don’t even have to pick up the phone to do these things.) 

How to Make Amends When You Have Hurt Someone’s Feelings

The truth is, we all have a responsibility to own up to our behavior and its impact on others. While it’s important to be true to our introverted selves, we also need to be aware of how our behavior affects those around us. If we want to build meaningful connections with others, we need to be open to feedback and willing to adjust our behavior when necessary.

So, what can we do when we’ve hurt someone without meaning to? Here are some things I’ve done that can help you, too:

  • First, acknowledge that your behavior has had an impact on someone else. It might be hard to hear criticism or negative feedback, but it’s important to listen without becoming defensive. Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and imagine how they might be feeling.
  • Next, take responsibility for your behavior. This doesn’t mean you need to apologize for being an introvert or change who you are fundamentally. But it does mean recognizing that your behavior had an impact and acknowledging that impact on the other person. You can simply say, “I’m sorry that my actions made you feel that way” and use that as a starting point to repairing a damaged relationship.
  • Finally, make a plan to adjust your actions in the future. Again, this doesn’t mean becoming someone you’re not or changing your introverted tendencies entirely. But it might mean making a conscious effort to be more present in social situations, to listen more closely to others, or to find a way to communicate your needs more effectively.

Introverts, how have you inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, and what did you do to fix things? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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