Once, I had a professor in college who stopped me after class to ask why I didn’t raise my hand more often. “When I call on you, you aren’t shy, and you know the answers,” he said.
I actually thought I talked a lot in his class, much more than I did in my other classes. However, in retrospect, blurting out a one-word answer during the occasional prolonged silence probably wasn’t getting me the class participation points that I thought it was.
As an introvert, I was so often caught up in my own mind that I didn’t realize I wasn’t verbalizing anything I was thinking. In my head, I was fully engaged, even if those around me saw only a blank stare. I explained this to the professor and asked if he thought this made sense. I’ll never forget the solemn nod he gave me. “Yes,” he said, “I understand now.”
Back then, I didn’t have any understanding of what an introvert is, and I certainly didn’t know that I was one. However, I was becoming aware that the person I knew myself to be was vastly different from the way others perceived me.
Here’s what I learned — and why we should stop equating “introvert” with “meek and mild-mannered.”
I Feel Like I’m Two Different People
If you’re an introvert who doesn’t talk a lot, people (unfortunately) automatically assume that you’re a meek and mild-mannered person. What they don’t realize is that introverts often go quiet because we have so many passionate thoughts rushing through our heads that it’s impossible to verbalize them all.
Or, in other situations, I settle for just a friendly smile or a quiet chuckle in response to whatever someone is monologuing to me about, because trying to get a word in edgewise just doesn’t feel worth the effort. After all, introverts only have so much social energy to give before we’re forced to retreat to our inner world to recharge.
However, all that smiling and nodding doesn’t do much to counteract that meek and mild image, which is why people who don’t know me well are always surprised when I unleash a sarcastic or sardonic comment, even if that comment is only a quarter of the sass I’ve been storing up for the entirety of the “conversation.”
I often feel like I am two different people. First, there’s the shy and fragile girl who others perceive me to be just because I’m not constantly talking. Then, there’s the bitingly sarcastic “real” me that emerges only around a select few friends and family members.
For this reason, I bristle when people describe me as “nice” or “sweet.” It’s not that I want people to think of me as mean, but I’d prefer not to feel forced to live up to someone’s idea of me as the kind, quiet girl who needs someone to jump to her defense every time she is so much as lightheartedly teased.
My Inner Warrior Emerges
Trust me, if I am actually offended by something you say, you will have no doubt as to why. Like most introverts, I have an inner warrior that emerges the moment you assault one of my core beliefs or values. I don’t like conflict or arguing with people — it’s overstimulating for me as a highly sensitive introvert — but I will definitely do it if there is a cause that needs a champion.
I also have no patience to sit idly by if someone is being manipulative or attempting to take advantage of my seemingly kind demeanor. That’s right, I value my “me” time far too highly to sacrifice it for fake friends. However, I’m not completely callous. I’ve spent a fair number of sleepless nights worried about hurting the feelings of people I care about — but the worry will quickly evaporate if I feel that person is making no effort to understand my emotions in return.
Yes, I am an introvert, but I am not a doormat.
Don’t Underestimate Me
Whatever happened to the cliché of the “strong and silent” type? Maybe that line only applies to actors with chiseled jawlines starring in movies about the Wild West, not to those of us who are 5’ 1” and wear Harry Potter t-shirts.
However, I’m a firm believer that no matter who you are, being contemplative is strong, because those who know their own minds and have cultivated a sense of self are never as meek and mild as they initially seem.
And even if I’m having a day where it’s difficult to conjure my inner sass warrior, please don’t proceed to underestimate me just because I’m not dominating the conversation. Introverts are just as capable of being smart and funny as extroverts are.
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I Shouldn’t Always Have to Prove a Point
The reason I still remember that kindhearted professor, who did not think I was shy and took the time to talk to me after class, was because this interaction was the exception to the norm.
I had another professor in college who was a kindhearted person but was not as understanding about temperament. After the submission of my first major term paper, she made a big deal in front of the entire class about how good my writing was. I should’ve been flattered, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was only praising my writing because she was shocked to find me capable of deep thought, since I was usually quiet during class discussions.
Sure, I probably could’ve done more in this class, and in many other scenarios throughout my life, to vocalize my thoughts and showcase the real me. But I shouldn’t always feel like I need to prove a point because someone else has jumped to a conclusion about my introverted nature. Being quiet may leave others to misinterpret my silence sometimes — but that’s okay.
I know who I am as a person.
It takes time to get to know even the most talkative extrovert. Getting to know an introvert may take twice as long, but I promise that the time spent is just as rewarding.
In the meantime, if you want to perceive me as being an overly kind and sensitive person, there are worse things to be accused of. However, if you assume that I am meek and mild-mannered, there will be a lot of surprises ahead of you.