Introverts aren’t “less than” because they’re quiet.
Being quiet in a world filled with noise gets attention in the oddest of ways. There have been countless times when I’ve been approached with the tired question almost every introvert has heard more than once:
“What’s wrong… why are you so quiet?”
I’ve never figured out how I am supposed to answer it. Yes, I am quiet. No, nothing is wrong. Or is there? Do they see something that I don’t know about? Am I sticking out so much that I’m making other people uncomfortable? Cue the avalanche of self-conscious thoughts to bury me in place.
If a conversation manifests out of this question, it usually proceeds in a manner similar to a deep dental cleaning — probing and uncomfortable, filled with the sound of scraping self-doubts inside my head. Or I’m likened to a circus performer trying to put on some great act of showmanship. All the Whos inside screaming, “We are here! We are here!”
But for what? When people talk about me or describe me to others, it’s a given that I am and will always be “the quiet one.” Whether I am comfortable or uncomfortable, happy or unhappy, it will always be assumed that I’m brooding or having some sort of mood crisis.
For the record, quiet people can be happy too, as well as people who don’t smile all the time. The world is filled with people who accept that happiness is not meant to be a permanent state but fleeting and (hopefully) recurring, along with the whole spectrum of other emotions. These emotions do not have to be shouted from rooftops in order to validate them. They do not have to be worn like clothing for all to see. The important thing is they are felt.
What Happens When I Do Talk
On the opposite side of the coin, there may be a time and place when I am actively participating in a conversation or working to get my point across, and someone will inevitably make the comment that I’m “all fired up” or “something’s really gotten into me!” I find this flustering, and it throws me off track.
It shouldn’t be assumed that quiet is equivalent to meek or an indication of weakness. The content of what is being said instantly gets undermined when someone shifts the attention and focus to the fact that an introverted person is talking instead of listening. Not to mention, the center of attention is a position coveted by no one in the introvert brethren.
It is no wonder that social anxiety is often such a close companion to introversion. It is an unfortunate side effect of having to explain, excuse, and prove yourself worthy in the social arena — and it is exhausting. It drains my mental and emotional reserves. I personally feel like road kill after an event, especially one I had to force myself to go to in the first place.
The anxiety that builds before an event that involves being around new people, in new places, or unavoidable obligations can be crippling. It not only affects me in the moment, but sometimes for days, possibly weeks before anything happens, looming ahead of me. I dread it until it happens, and when it’s all over, I feel like I’ve been hit by a commuter train.
So much of the imagery that comes to mind involves collisions and being run over. I frequently feel this way. Sometimes I feel like no matter where I step, I’ll undoubtedly be trampled or steam rolled by someone bigger, louder, and therefore more important.
As absolutely asinine and borderline juvenile as that perception may be, I’m not the only one still clinging to this adolescent delusion. I think — and I may be wrong — but I think almost every introvert has felt “less than” at some point. Less than present. Less than noticed. Less than wanted, needed, or missed. Less than the world around us. As an adult, I struggle at times to pull myself out of that traumatic haze leftover from childhood and to remind myself that I am not required to quantify who I am to anybody.
All those feelings of exclusion have a way of flooding back when people say something stupid like, “Oh I forgot about you!” Like I’m a load of towels in their dryer. It could hurt, if I let it.
Then I consider the source, and it puts things back into perspective. Usually people who say ignorant and insensitive things are in fact ignorant and insensitive on some level themselves. The definition of ignorance is to lack knowledge. They do not know any better. They speak, and they do not think, and I am absolutely certain this does a good amount of damage to their lives. How could it not?
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What I’m Learning
Aside from wearing a t-shirt that says, “I’m more comfortable having conversations with myself inside my head. Let me live my life and don’t make this weird,” I’m not sure there is a perfect way to bridge the gap of understanding between those who live out loud and the quiet ones. All I can do is become comfortable with that label — and equally as comfortable ripping it off when I don’t feel like being the quiet one.
I’m working with the realization that every now and again, someone will make me feel small or less than because I am more easily forgotten. I might make less of an impression on people, or they might find me unapproachable. Maybe on any given day, I’m in a bad mood. Maybe it’s just the way my face looks.
But I’m learning to not let it get inside my head. As an introvert with a rich inner world, there isn’t much room left in there, anyway.