Lately it seems that many of us are trying to classify ourselves, and others, as an introvert or an extrovert when in reality it’s not always distinctly one, or the other. Yet, all too often introversion comes with a negative connotation. Frequently we judge, criticize, or label ourselves, or others, as snobbish, pretentious, unfriendly, antisocial, or just downright disconnected for being quiet, or not talking and interacting enough. When the reality may be that we, or others, are either introverted, or simply too scared and anxious to interact. There isn’t always a simple explanation for someone who is quiet. The reason behind the silence may actually be complex. Introversion is certainly misunderstood, and often, criticized.
What’s So Bad About Being Quiet?
What may be misconstrued as shy, may be more about feeling comfortable observing and listening, without talking, yet still enabling us to fully experience the interaction and feel connected. Although we are not overtly participating in an active, observable way. “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation”, according to Kendra Cherry. Our natural rhythm may be that we are quiet, and like to listen as opposed to talk. We prefer enjoying quality relationships to a large quantity of them. We may enjoy interacting with others but find ourselves drained afterward and need time to recharge alone. Then there are some of us who are truly shy and afraid of sharing or speaking up. We may feel uncomfortable in social situations and just withdraw because it feels too anxiety provoking to do anything else.
So often we misinterpret someone else’s lack of spontaneity, or their expression, or lack of greeting, as unfriendly. We might say to ourselves, “What’s wrong with them?” When the truth may be that the other person may really feel anxious and too uncomfortable to say hello, or smile, or to even look us in the eye. Often what happens then is that we label that person and don’t extend ourselves to them because of our judgment. Thus, creating a cycle of disconnection.
The Silent Struggle Is Real
It is all too common that we, or others, judge and criticize those who tend to be on the quiet side. Often they may be labeled as rude, unfriendly or antisocial, because their behavior doesn’t match our cultural idea. Our culture often sees the extroverted, outgoing, social personality type as the ideal.
Perhaps it would be kinder for us to not make these assumptions because of how we perceive others outward behavior. Seldom do we ask ourselves, “Might that quiet person feel uncomfortable or shy about saying hello or interacting in a conversation?” Or “Might this person fear rejection because of one’s unresolved history?” If they were reaching out to other people, for example, and then someone did not reach back they might hesitate to approach others. Perhaps if we took the time to provide quiet company and encouragement instead of making a quick judgment we might discover more about ourselves as well as others.
Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Break the Silent Cycle
As introverts, if we can work through other people’s views of our quiet demeanor we might find how we are truly most comfortable. Perhaps listening, and tuning in is our rhythm and it is something we want to embrace. Introversion is not a weakness. There is no guilt in enjoying our solitude, but perhaps what’s gotten in the way of doing this is reacting to how others see us.
Determining if it is others that influence our behavior, unresolved emotional issues, or if we are embracing our authentic self is a sorting out process. It requires tuning in and going deep within, which can be done by doing a lot of self-exploration and/or with the help of a psychotherapist.
What we may need to ask ourselves is:
- Do we want to find a way of feeling more comfortable in social interactions?
- Is becoming more outgoing authentically what we want, or are we being influenced by societal expectations?
- Do we want to work toward making this happen? Or are we truly an introvert and comfortable with how we are?
- Are unresolved emotional issues standing in the way of expanding and interacting?
- Are other people’s views and expectations preventing us from being our true selves?
Embrace Our Introversion
Sometimes it is really difficult to determine what we really want for ourselves and what society is communicating, or dictating, that we need. Do we want to accept and embrace truly being introverted, or do we long for another way of being despite this natural rhythm? Just what are we willing to do to stretch out of our comfort zone?
It’s important for us to, again, ask ourselves questions to determine what we want:
- What is at the bottom of my tendency towards being quiet, and/or my anxiety and discomfort about interacting with others?
- Do I enjoy listening more than talking?
- Do I truly receive more satisfaction from listening, or am I just afraid but I don’t know what to say, or how to interact?
Three’s a Crowd
Sometimes there appears to be a contradiction with introversion. It seems sometimes that we are comfortable talking with someone one on one, yet if we are placed in a situation where there are more than two people, then our fear and anxiety increases. The challenge may lie with group interactions, thus making the introverted distinction not as easily defined.
Sometimes when we are in a group of people we see someone we might label as a social butterfly that seems to flit with ease through the crowd. Despite our perception, this may not be true. It’s possible that this person may be authentically comfortable interacting in groups, or they may be disconnected from what they are feeling. They may believe that they must interact. Their greeting and interaction may be kind of superficial. The person may appear comfortable on the surface, but in reality they may be extremely uncomfortable on the inside. They may be pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, but people base things on what they see without knowing another’s inner emotional struggles.
Thus their behavior may not be authentic, yet often the observer compares themselves with that person. This is an emotional set up for us wallflowers who find social interactions uncomfortable. We may end up thinking, “How come I can’t be like them?” Or “How come it is so easy for them and not me?”
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
If we discover that we would really like to begin to feel more comfortable interacting with others, then there are baby steps that we can take to work toward that change.
- We can start with a social situation such as the gym, a PTA meeting, a networking event, or the grocery store. Smile and make eye contact with others and then notice how it feels to do that.
- The next step would be saying, hello, and again observing how this feels.
As the interactions become more comfortable, proceed to another step of socialization. By incrementally interacting we can start to desensitize ourselves. We develop this so our comfort level can expand slowly. It will get easier to reduce the discomfort that prevents us from socially interacting to the extent that we desire.
Spread Your Wings
If you struggle with shyness, or introversion to the extent that you feel uncomfortable in social situations, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling located on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people with self-exploration to find methods to cope with uncomfortable social situations and find a healthy balance of authentic, comfortable interactions while being true to their authentic self.