For the record, quiet people can be happy, too. So can people who don’t smile and socialize all the time.
Being quiet in a world filled with noise gets attention in the oddest of ways. Countless times, I’ve been approached with that tired question that almost every introvert has heard at some point in their life:
“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? Is my quietness making me stick out so much that I’m making other people uncomfortable? Cue the avalanche of self-conscious thoughts that bury me in place.
If a conversation actually manifests out of this awkward question, it usually proceeds in a manner similar to a dental cleaning — probing and uncomfortable, filled with the sound of scraping self-doubt inside my head. Or I’m likened to a circus performer trying to put on some great act of showmanship.
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, people often seem to assume that I’m brooding or having some sort of mood crisis.
For the record, quiet people can be happy, too. So can people who don’t smile and socialize 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 be validated. They do not have to be worn like clothing for all to see. The important thing is that they are felt.
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What Happens When I Do Talk
On the other hand, there are times when I am actively participating in a conversation or working to get my point across. At this point, 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 being meek or is 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, I don’t know any introverts who actually covet being the center of attention, especially in a large group of people.
It’s no wonder that social anxiety is often a close companion to introversion. Of course, not all introverts have social anxiety, but many of us do. For me, anxiety is the unfortunate side effect of constantly feeling like I have to explain, excuse, and prove myself worthy in the social arena — and it is exhausting. It drains my mental and emotional reserves. I personally feel like road kill after a party or social event, especially if I had to force myself to go to it 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 it looms ahead of me for days or weeks before the event. I dread the event until it happens, and when it’s all over, I feel like I’ve been hit by a commuter train of exhaustion.
As I write this article, I find it interesting that so much of the imagery that comes to mind involves collisions and being run over. I frequently feel this way after a social event. Sometimes I feel like no matter where I step, I’ll undoubtedly be trampled or steam rolled by some bigger, louder — and therefore more “important” — personality.
Introverts Aren’t ‘Less Than’ Because They’re Quiet
As absolutely asinine and borderline juvenile as that perception may be, I don’t think I’m the only one still clinging to this 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 that got left overnight in the washing machine. It could hurt, if I let it.
Then I consider the source — in other words, the person who said that comment to me — 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?
Is social anxiety holding you back?
Although social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion, many introverts experience this painful and isolating condition. The truth is you can beat social anxiety, and our partner Natasha Daniels can show you how. This means more relaxed conversations, more enjoyable work/school days, and more social invitations that you don’t immediately decline (unless you want to, of course!). Click here to check out her online class for kids and adults, How to Crush Social Anxiety.
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 quiet. 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.
I’m learning to not let their ignorant comments get inside my head. As an introvert with a rich inner world, there isn’t much room left in there, anyway.