Confidence isn’t just for extroverts.
If you’re an introvert like me, I’m sure you’ve heard that dreaded phrase: “You’re so quiet, like a mouse.”
I never know how to respond. My first reaction is to look my interlocutor straight in the eyes while I breathe in slowly. I try not to make it obvious that I’m gathering as much patience as I can for the interaction that will inevitably follow.
One time, at a job, some coworkers discussed how I was “quiet like a mouse” right in front of me. In another job, out of the blue, three coworkers asked me (one at a time) why I was so quiet, on the same day. By the time coworker No. 3 came into my office, I was considering putting up a sign saying, “I’m an introvert. It’s just my personality.”
The Misconception of Being Quiet
What do you want me to say? I guess this question comes from the perception that if you’re quiet, you must be broken. There must be some traumatic event hidden in your past that left you like this, because happy, healthy people are talkative, right? So when they ask you, even if you appreciate their good intentions and concern, you can’t help but notice their eyes are giving you a “lost puppy dog” stare.
And it’s annoying af.
On top of that, being quiet puts you in the same category as a mouse. So, how do you shed the image of the small, fearful creature the public eye has matched you with and reclaim your inner fierceness?
You’re Perfectly Fine Just the Way You Are
First things first: We live in a world built around the extrovert ideal, meaning society assumes that extroverted traits are both the default and the preferred way of being. Susan Cain writes about this damaging idea in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
While the extrovert ideal has likely influenced how others perceive you, the truth is, it’s YOUR own self-image that matters the most.
Introversion comes with an array of superpowers: focus, intuition, creativity, a larger-than-life inner world. You’re the one creating deep meaningful bonds in a world drunk on social media. You’re the one who notices the important details that everyone else overlooks.
Confidence does not show the same way on everybody, so don’t hold yourself to a one-size-fits-all standard: If it makes your extroverted friends talkative and bubbly, good for them! That may not be the case for you, and that’s okay.
That being said, here’s what has helped me leave behind the “mouse” label.
How to Be Both Quiet and Fierce
1. Own your silence.
There’s nothing like being comfortable with your own silence. It may seem like I’m preaching to the choir with this one, but it’s not so simple in practice.
More often than not, I found I was only comfortable with my own silence if I was alone. However, in public, I felt an invisible timer in the back of my head keeping count of how long it had been since I last spoke, pushing me to say something now, because I didn’t want to be perceived as slow or stupid.
On other occasions, I would overthink whether or not the other person was comfortable with silence. I felt as if it was my own responsibility to not inconvenience the other person with a lack of smooth and pleasant conversation.
But eventually, I realized that these are all constructs that had found their way into my mind thanks to the extrovert ideal. The truth is, silence is just silence. It doesn’t make you anything more, or anything less.
So, my advice to you is to learn to feel comfortable in your own rhythm of speaking. Don’t force yourself to interject or to say more if you don’t really have anything to communicate. Don’t deplete your social battery with fake bubbliness just to accommodate others.
And certainly don’t think that your lack of words will make you any less interesting or captivating. The “strong silent” stereotype exists for a reason! (If you’re not convinced, imagine for a moment a chatty Batman. Case closed.)
Whenever you think that being quiet makes you any less fierce, remember all the real or imaginary heroes and heroines, villains, mysterious seductresses, and power figures who make their silence a part of their mystique. A few examples are John Wick, Audrey Hepburn, Abraham Lincoln, Black Widow, or Magneto… so you’re in good company!
2. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay (so stop trying to find the “right” way to interact).
To some people, this statement will sound like a real Debby Downer. But if you let it sink in — truly sink in — it can be one of the most freeing paradigm shifts you can ever make.
Since it’s common for introverts to feel at a disadvantage in social situations — especially if we’re around people we’re not familiar with — we may try to find “the right way” to interact, and put extra pressure on ourselves to follow that protocol (whatever that means in our heads). It can take the form of, “If I’m not going to say much, at least I’ll make my comments count by saying the ‘right’ things.”
So at a gathering, we concentrate on finding the gap in the conversation where we can insert that thoughtful or sarcastic comment we planned in advance… only to find two hours later that we have said nothing because that moment never came.
The thing is, if some people will not like you no matter what, there will be no “right way” to get them to like you. The beauty of this is you can choose to be unapologetically true to yourself.
It can be a little overwhelming the first few times you try to interact using a more “unfiltered” version of yourself. That’s okay. You can do it gradually. Use a tool like Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule to give you the courage to step outside your comfort zone.
You could implement the 5 Second Rule like this: The next time you arrive at a party, take a deep breath and count backward from 5 to 1 before ringing the doorbell. When you get to 1, drop part of your inner filter and ring the doorbell. This gives you both the prep time and a specific cue for action. From that point on, do as Madonna said: Express yourself!
Yes, you may discover that you have unpopular opinions, or that not everyone will get your witty Star Wars reference. But you know what? The number of people who will laugh at your Star Wars joke will surprise you. There will be people who find you interesting, or who will “get” you. They may even come from the most unsuspected places. These people, they will like you for who you really are.
The rest? Well, haters gonna hate. Forget ’em.
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3. Find ways to share your gifts on your own terms.
I can already hear you saying: “Do I have to?”
No, not really. No one can force you to do it if you don’t want to. But I will tell you this: getting out of your comfort zone and having new experiences will make you feel like a superstar, just for daring yourself to do it.
Many people confuse introversion with shyness, and even though there are people who are both, this misconception could be the culprit behind the idea that introverts are not good at putting themselves out there. The problem is introverts have been told this construct since they were young, and many of us have believed it without knowing any better.
Now, the key here is to engage. Notice that I didn’t say “public speaking” or to approach random people on the street. Introverts usually have to make an extra effort to speak on the fly, so this is not about “overcoming your weakness” and feeling inadequate when you sense that you were not up to the task.
As an introvert, you have many gifts — both intellectual and creative — so think about how you could share them with others. For example, I have been on stage many times as a dancer, and I love it. Truth be told, I get uncomfortable after the show ends, when the public comes to mingle with the artists. Improvising in front of 50 people in a flashy costume? Done! Making small talk with a member of the audience afterward? Ehm… no thanks.
Even as a very introverted person, I have found dance to be the language that allows me to communicate easily with confidence in front of strangers. Stepping on stage is always worth it; greeting the audience at the end is a small price to pay for the feelings of pride and empowerment I get.
In fact, for many introverts, public performance is empowering, because it allows us to finally share our beautiful inner landscape with others. The trick is to do it on your terms.
It doesn’t have to be an ongoing activity. It doesn’t have to be in-person, either. Nonverbal communication is fine, too. You could be a video game streamer, you could submit your poetry for publication, or you could play your violin at a nearby cafe, or with a band.
You will need time alone to recharge after these types of interactions, but the feeling of offering your gifts to the world will stick with you, help you shed limiting beliefs, and reaffirm that you are fully in control of the process, like the rock star you are.
So the next time someone labels you a “quiet mouse,” you know for certain that you are really a fierce black mamba. The rest of the world will catch up soon enough.
You might like:
- For Introverts, Performance Can Be Empowering — Here’s Why
- Why Zoom Calls Are so Draining for Introverts
- 15 Signs You’re an Introvert with High-Functioning Anxiety
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