Confidence isn’t just for extroverts.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, at some point or another. I know I have. The 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; trying not to make it obvious that I’m gathering as much patience as I can for the interaction that will inevitably follow.
I remember one time at a job, two 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 to my office, I was seriously 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? Sometimes I fantasize about telling them a shocking — albeit fake — story just to see their reaction: “Oh, you know, I’ve been that way since an evil sea witch traded my voice for the ability to stand on legs to pursue my one true love”… mmm, wait, that one’s been done before.
I guess it all comes from the perception that if you’re quiet, you must be broken. There must be some hidden event 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” 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 dissociate yourself from 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 people assume extroverted traits are default and preferable. Susan Cain writes about this idea in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
While this has most likely influenced how others perceive you, the truth is:
It’s YOUR own self-image that matters the most.
Introversion comes with its own 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 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! It may not be the case for you, and it’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 seems like I’m preaching to the choir with this one, but it’s not so simple.
More often than not, we’re only comfortable with our own silence if we’re alone. In public, sometimes we feel a timer in the back of our heads keeping count of how long it’s been since we last spoke, pushing us to say something now, because we don’t want to be perceived as slow or stupid.
On other occasions, we might overthink whether or not another person is uncomfortable with silence. We feel as if it’s our responsibility to not inconvenience the other person with the lack of a smooth and pleasant conversation.
But these are all constructs that have found their way into our minds thanks to the way we’ve been taught social interactions are supposed to be.
The truth is, silence is just silence… It doesn’t make you anything more, or anything less.
Feel comfortable in your own rhythm when speaking. Don’t force yourself to deplete your inner batteries just to accomodate an image that is not who you are.
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, such as John Wick, Audrey Hepburn, Abraham Lincoln, Black Widow, or Magneto… you’re in good company!
2. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay.
To some people, this will sound like a total Debby Downer statement. But in truth, it’s 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).
That 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 the 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 in a more “unfiltered” version of yourself. You can do it gradually. You can 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: Next time you arrive at a social gathering, take a deep breath and count backwards from 5 to 1 before ringing the doorbell. When you get to 1, drop at least part of your inner filters and ring the doorbell. This gives you both 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 the witty remark based on a Star Wars reference.
But you know what? It will surprise you the amount of people who will laugh at your jokes. The ones who find you interesting, or get you. They will come from the most unsuspected places.
And these people, they will like you for who you really are.
The rest? Well, haters gonna hate.
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3. Find how to engage publicly in your own way.
I can already hear you saying: “Do I have to?”
No, not really. No one can force you if you don’t want to. But I will tell you this: getting out of your comfort zone and having new experiences can 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 we’ve been told this construct since we were little, and many of us have believed it without knowing any better.
Now, the key here is engaging. Notice that I didn’t say “public speaking” or talking to 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 you were not up to the task.
I have been on stage many times as a dancer, and I love it. Truth be told, I get a bit 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 in comparison to the feeling of empowerment I get.
The trick is doing 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 videogame streamer in your free time, read your own poetry at a community event, or play the violin once in a while at a nearby cafe.
Yes, you will need time by yourself to recharge after the interaction, but the feeling of offering your gifts to the world (and doing it on YOUR own introvert terms) 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 next time anyone labels you a “quiet mouse,” you know for certain that you are a fierce black mamba.
The rest of the world will catch up soon enough.
You might like:
- Why Zoom Calls Are so Draining for Introverts
- 15 Signs You’re an Introvert with High-Functioning Anxiety
- Nature Can Cure Overthinking, According to Science
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