I abandoned society’s demand to speak up more. Instead, I’ve come to embrace the profound power of silence.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been “the quiet one.”
If you were to ask around — be it my family or closest friends — they’d say one of my most defining characteristics is that I “don’t say much.”
When I was younger, and still navigating my own identity, I was made to feel that my silence was a weakness. My silence has been misconstrued as me not being confident, or not being comfortable in who I am and what I have to say. I’ve had to constantly deal with being told I need to assert myself more, speak louder, or to just simply speak.
Most of my relatives do not shy away from speaking their minds. While I’ve found some merit in being vocal, I’ve also found value in being more careful with my words. I learned to be better at paying attention, processing what I hear, and determining when it’s better to speak or better to just listen.
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3 Things I Wish Others Would Understand About My Quietness
1. I choose not to “say something just for the sake of it.”
Most people assume that when I’m quiet, it’s because I have nothing to say. While that’s true to a certain extent, the reality of it is, I allow myself to take my time — I’ve learned not to have the need to “say something” just for the sake of saying something.
As an introvert, it takes time for me to learn how best to communicate with certain people. It takes time for me to understand their listening capacity and adjust how I talk to them accordingly.
When my input is needed, I will give it. When I know I will be heard, and my thoughts considered, I will speak. When I know my opinions have weight in a conversation, I will offer them.
2. I am not shy, and/or unsure of myself.
Some introverts only feel comfortable around fellow introverts or are shy. While I’m certainly more at ease with people who don’t question my silence, I’ve gotten good at navigating conversations and/or interactions with vocal extroverts, too.
Something I’ve found to be effective is letting them express their thoughts, as loudly and as confidently as they wish to, and only giving short insightful comments when they pause to check if I’m listening. I’ve earned the fondness of a few extroverts by doing this. They eventually understand my silence doesn’t necessarily mean I’m uncomfortable around them, or that I’d rather be left alone.
Some of my peers have learned that when I’m asked about a topic that I know well, I will answer. Depending on who is asking, and how I’m asked, the length of my answer changes, as well as the level of enthusiasm I put into my response. This has created a reputation of me being some sort of “wise sage,” whose silence is meaningful and intentional.
3. I am not “avoiding conflict” when I choose to stay silent.
As an introvert, I tend to be hyper-aware of what I put my energy into. For instance, I’ve learned to determine which conversations are worth having and which ones are better resigned to being one-sided.
A lot of the time, I choose to stay silent when I know the other person is not at open to other ideas besides their own. I’ve found merit in listening to ideas that contradict my own, listening to the person’s reasoning, and then assessing my own stance. It’s helped me keep an open mind and build a stronger sense of self. Plus, we introverts are expert listeners!
Of course, if it’s a topic that I am passionate about, I will speak up. I am not opposed to engaging in a casual debate, as long as I feel that the other party is keeping an open mind and that my broken silence will not be “wasted.” Introverts tend to put a lot of thought into their words, so we choose them wisely.
How I Learned to Embrace My Silence
Now you may be wondering: How did I go from feeling awkward about being “too quiet” to embracing it? Here’s what I found helpful:
- Find friends who accept your silence. These types of friends made me feel like I mattered — even if I didn’t say much. They just “got” me. And you know what? Eventually, they shared in my silence comfortably and even let go of the need to constantly hold an active conversation. They also put equal value on my silence and my words, which I’m grateful for.
- Understand that not everyone has the same capacity to listen to (and take in) your words. Some people would rather hear themselves talk, which means they appreciate my silence or abbreviated comments. Others, on the other hand, like when we exchange thoughts and opinions, and then appreciate how I actively listen when it’s their turn to speak.
- Your choosing silence can influence others to be more careful about their words. Some of the people I interact with tend to adapt my quietness, so to speak, especially when we interact often. I’ve felt them appreciate the quiet contemplation before I respond to them. I’ve felt them become more aware of their own words, too, and less “wasteful.” After all, introverts value meaningful conversations, and this is an example of how they come to fruition.
- Figure out the right balance. It took a lot of interactions and countless self-reflection to figure out when my silence is the best course of action and when I need to speak up. It doesn’t serve anyone if I were to be silent at all times. Figure out the right balance for you.
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To My Fellow ‘Quiet Ones’
I’ve always been “the quiet one,” and I still am — only, I no longer feel the need to apologize for being so.
As I grew into my own person, I abandoned the demand to “speak up more.” Even though I felt the pressure from my family (and society at large) to be more assertive and vocal, I embraced the profound power of silence.
I’ve learned that this world can be too noisy sometimes — full of careless words and non-conversations. There is a distinct (and rather audible) imbalance of meaningful silence and meaningless sound. I’m constantly hoping more effort will be put into allowing silence into our lives instead of being uncomfortable with it.
My silence has value — especially in a world filled with endless chatter — and I encourage my fellow “quiet ones” to find value in their own silence, too.