Turtle vs. Porcupine

“[A]t school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.” ~Susan Cain     

The Protective Shell

Like turtles, introverts arm themselves with a protective outer shell.   This comes in handy when we face people and situations that endanger both our energy levels and our self-esteem.  It also helps us survive insults and criticism from insensitive extroverts. Unkind words bounce off our shells instead of penetrating our soft, squishy interior.

Our shell manifests itself in our guarded nature.  We tend to be slow to trust new people and slower still to reveal our true selves to them.

The Porcupine Effect    

 For some introverts, metaphorical armor isn’t enough. Years of enduring hurtful comments from brash extroverts (ie. “you’re weird”, “party pooper”, “you’re too quiet”) can cause us to develop a porcupine-like exterior.  Our spikes begin to come out at the mere mention of the word “extrovert”.

One need only browse through the comments section of introvert blogs and pages to confirm that many introverts harbor feelings of hostility toward extroverts. Some honest self-examination revealed that I too have succumbed to the porcupine effect.   Well-intentioned extroverts stir up hostility in me because they remind me of people who hurt my feelings in the past.  Speaking of which …

The Extrovert Bully                                                                                                         

A few years ago, while standing in line in front of Darcy’s Pub, I encountered an introvert’s worst nightmare: the drunken, obnoxious extrovert bully.  I’m sure you’ve come across his species before.  This kind of extrovert is loud, pushy and completely oblivious to the feelings of others.  He relishes spewing slurred insults at anyone who seems different.  He is also master of pointing out the obvious (ie. “you’re really quiet”).

That fateful night, Captain Obvious decided that I would be his target.  Being the genius that he was, he immediately picked up on the fact that I was different.  “Why are you so quiet?” he stammered loudly.  “It’s weird and I don’t like it.  You should talk more.”

Words escaped me.  A vicious retort formed in my mind, but couldn’t find its way past my lips.  Instead, one of my loyal and totally fierce extroverted girlfriends unleashed her fury on him. But it was too late.  The damage was already done.

This experience and several others sharpened my quills and made me more leery of all extroverts.

The Wounded Turtle                                                                                                        

Of course, the porcupine effect isn’t the only way that introverts react to extrovert bullying.  Often, neither sword nor shield can protect us from hurtful words and situations.  Instead, we internalize things. We begin to believe that something is wrong with us.  We become like a wounded turtle whose shell has been ruptured.

So, what happens when a turtle’s shell is penetrated and her gummy green interior is pierced?  Well, if this tortoise is anything like me, she’ll lock herself in the bathroom and cry for 20 minutes because someone told her she’s strange (don’t tell anyone, but this actually happened to me last week – can you recognize me in the picture below?).

Wounded Turtle

Has anyone else had a wounded turtle moment like mine?  Do you become a prickly porcupine around extroverts?  How thick is your shell? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.