Have you ever been to a workshop where the speaker bounds onto the stage and shouts, “ARE YOU EXCITED?!” Or maybe someone gleefully asks you this at a party or social gathering. If you’re an introvert like me, you might find this question daunting. I can be excited about something but I won’t show it outwardly—although the people who know me well can tell. I’m introspective and quiet by nature, so my response to the question, “Are you excited?!” can simply be “yes,” said with a smile.
People often challenge me on this: “Well, you don’t LOOK excited.” For a long time, I thought this meant there was something wrong with me. Why don’t I feel the need to jump around with glee and squeal like others?
When I was younger, I experienced bouts of depression, which took time to be diagnosed and treated. During those times I was very flat. But I hadn’t been depressed for over a decade. So what is wrong with me now, I wondered. Why am I still not bubbly?
At that time, I felt unsure of myself in social gatherings, so I tended to fade into the background. I can’t tell you the number of times people made comments like, “gee, you’re quiet”—which was true, no arguments here. What frustrated me about those comments was the tone with which they were said. The words, “gee, you have two heads” could have been said with the same tone and would have fit just as well.
I would then try to explain why I was quiet. But I never felt I could tell the truth–that I was naturally more of a listener; I was a little on the shy side; I lacked confidence in myself; and I’m an introvert. I felt I had to come up with a more plausible reason that would convince them I wasn’t a weirdo. I never did.
So I began to look at how other introverts coped, and I realized that the people I was most intrigued by were the ones who were comfortable with their quiet natures. This led me to challenge the judgments I’d made about myself. One of the beliefs I held about being an introvert was that I had to “fix” myself so I could be a more successful person. But the more I got comfortable with the idea of my introversion, the less it began to look like a problem.
Whereas in the past I would try to hide my introversion, I am now happy to tell others about it. For example, when a friend recently asked me to a social event after I’d had a busy week, I didn’t feel the need to make an excuse. Instead I told her I needed some alone time before I saw people again. Her response was, “Of course, I don’t blame you. No problem!”
In the past, my excuses were usually met with, “Oh come on, it’ll be good for you!” People can’t know that it’s not good for you if you don’t tell them what your needs are. The irony was that once I became more comfortable in the world as an introvert, the more my friends accepted me as well.
Of course there are some people who still believe that my quiet nature is not okay, and they try to push me to be more outgoing. This is a good way to filter out the people who aren’t good for you socially. And it’s not necessarily the extroverts who are a bad fit—sometimes it’s other introverts who have not accepted their own quiet nature.
Being defensive and trying to explain yourself only seems to convince people you have something to defend, and that you really are doing something wrong. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself by giving myself permission to not spend too much time with people who find it hard to understand me.
I also learned not to take responsibility for what other people made of my introspective nature or my lack of enthusiasm. I can now comfortably stand by myself at a social gathering without feeling the need to look like I’m deep in conversation with someone and having a great time. Inevitably someone will come over and start chatting anyway.
If anyone says I don’t look excited enough or I’m too quiet, I will smile and point out that it’s just my nature. I don’t feel the need to defend myself—or to spend a lot of time with those people, because it doesn’t do me any good to be around anyone who inadvertently triggers my old beliefs about myself. There will always be people I’m not compatible with, but I don’t have to be.
I used to seek those people out, thinking if I explained myself better and won them over, it would prove that I am okay. All it ever did was reveal how different I was from them and made me feel inadequate.
Underneath my reserved nature, I discovered that I’m actually a “people person” and I thrive on being in a close-knit circle of like-minded souls. I still like my alone time. I’m still working out how to balance my needs and not spend too much time with other people, which leaves me feeling drained. However, on the flip side, spending too much time alone can leave me feeling flat and unmotivated.
What many fail to see is that deep within the introvert, there is a lot going on. But rather than giving it a voice directly through talk and chatter, it is expressed through activism, journaling, painting, creating music, planting a flower garden, fighting for some special cause, or even well-placed silence.
Being an introvert isn’t wrong. Neither is being an enthusiastic extrovert. Simply put, introverts require less input from external sources than extroverts—and there is a place in the social world for all of us.
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