To introduce this article on my experience of being an introvert, I would like to give a shout out to all the teachers who shame quiet students -- this one is for you.
The anticipation I had for this article quickly turned into anxiety. The more I wrote, I wasn't satisfied with the way my words came out. How am I supposed to explain my experience of being an introvert without built up anger popping up every other sentence because my nature was always criticized? How am I supposed to explain that I still love and appreciate extroverts, but sometimes, they just don't understand that not everyone wants to be the centre of attention or have a ton of friends?
Every feeling of not being accepted and understood, being called quiet, thoughtful, shy, and other terms that society doesn't value enough or see value in at all is pent-up inside. My desire to complete this article along with knowing that some introvert (or extrovert) comes across this piece is the only thing keeping me going.
That being said, I guess the truth about being an introvert is that it isn't easy. It's not easy when your quiet stance comes off as being cold and distant, when really, introverts don't speak for the greater good of the group for a supported reason.
I hate how I wasn't able to stand up for myself when I was younger and let people's words get to me. I hate how I couldn't embrace my characteristics, including my hair, and be one of those outgoing and sassy kids who could say "So what? I was born with way!" I hate looking back at the helpless little girl who lived in her mind and always had unwanted visitors. I hate how I felt like something was wrong with me for the longest time, and that a large part of that stems from me being an introvert.
The Introvert Stigma
Ever since I was little, I've been through many situations of being called out for being too quiet, which is always portrayed in a negative light. I remember going over my final mark for my social studies class with my teacher and having him explain to me that he wouldn't bump up my mark 2% because I didn't talk enough in class. I grew up with most of my teachers giving me the same old description: "A good student, but she doesn't talk enough in class."
Oh God. Why can't I be loud and outgoing like most of the students in my class? What's wrong with me?
I was always shamed for my quiet nature, and it wasn't until the later years of high school, when I had more freedom to choose classes I was really interested in that my teachers started letting me know how much they appreciate my thoughtful, reflective writing, and insight that I decided to share whenever I choose to raise up my hand; because I did contribute when I felt the need to, contrary to the old views that I stayed mute in my classes. AP English, History, and Philosophy were my life, senior year.
Anyways, at the beginning of 2018, I finally decided to read a book that caught my eye when I was at Strand Bookstore in New York City last summer. It's called "Quiet" by Susan Cain. I've never read a book as comforting as this one. Reading it was like receiving one of those hugs that make you feel like everything will be okay. In one of the chapters, Cain brings light to the story of my life when it came to group projects. We (introverts) always went along with the idea coming from the most confident and outgoing person, and disregarded the idea coming from the quieter person, even if it was better. That's what society values; confidence over quality. That's how it looks on the outside, when really, the introvert is mentally preparing themselves to go through with a plan they don't agree with, while self-loathing why they can't just speak up and say something.
Why can't we say something? That's a good question. It's probably because we don't want to start a fight. In my previous experience, I see following through with the extrovert's plan for the greater good of the team, because I assume that I wouldn't be able to carry the team anyway if we were to go my way. I almost see it as sacrificial, which can sometimes turn into passive-aggressiveness.... but I've improved much since high school and first year University group projects.
In my 20 years of living, it's unfortunate to admit that I've spent a good portion of it wishing I was extroverted, loud, outgoing, vibrant, and all the other noticeable qualities that society tends to value more than being thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic, and sensitive. It isn't to say that extroverts can't have those qualities, but it's their "loud" actions that stand out MORE than the quieter ones.
Like I've advocated for a while on this blog, the best love is self-love. I started taking notes of the traits I already possess, like being introspective, sensitive, and empathetic, as I've mentioned above. I also tried to see my traits in an objective point of view, and noticed that there isn't anything wrong with them, like thinking plans through to make sure that they would succeed, in comparison with acting without a plan. I also never saw my need to recharge and be alone as a bad practice, unless someone criticized it. It takes a lot of energy to give my full attention to someone and consider their feelings, while also mentally processing my own and how it would come out to the other person.
The reason I feel so uncomfortable speaking in a group of more than three people is because I can't figure out how I can give my attention to everyone at once, and for that reason, I don't think that it's such a bad thing to not speak at all.
I love meeting other introverts because I'm intrigued by how their personality evolves the more I speak and spend time with them. I understand the feeling of not showing so much of yourself at first encounter and waiting to feel comfortable to show more of yourself. On the other hand, I always look up to extroverts and appreciate their willpower in trying to make me feel comfortable, as long as it isn't forced. I also admire how comfortable they are in their own skin, regardless of what may be going on inside.
No doubt are their rotten, close-minded apples who judge me by first encounter and use it as a basis of my personality, in which case, I tell myself that they're just missing out on how awesome I really am, if they put in some time. As it states in Susan Cain's book, I think that one of the more significant lessons extroverts need to learn from introverts is understanding their need to recharge and be alone, while introverts need to see how cold they may come off for having some alone time.
I can't speak for all introverts, but if I don't have my alone time, I won't talk or contribute at all. It just won't be fun for both parties. My throat starts hurting if I talk too much, my mind becomes too full of new information that I've been carefully processing, and I can just get plain annoyed if I don't get any space, better yet any understanding for that need. Once I've gotten some time by myself (and it will depend on the situation for how much I really need), I can whip out little pieces of information you didn't think I'd remember because of my attentive listening, share new information I've learned from late night random research, and most importantly, I'll be able to communicate with a human being once again.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you aren't already doing so, you should accept everyone for who they are. I've identified as an introvert my whole life, but it doesn't mean I don't love meeting people or that I'm not emotionally strong and capable to take on life. I can still have really strong opinions and lead a group of people, just like extroverts. I can even travel the world solo and meet a bunch of people, but at the end of the day, there's nothing more comforting than being alone with my thoughts, listening to music on long train rides, writing, reflecting, and appreciating life in my own quiet way.
Just because I'm not talking doesn't mean I'm not thinking of the next challenge (because I probably am). You just have to ask. There's a Quiet Revolution going on in every introvert's mind.