A while ago I asked my Facebook followers what they thought was the best response when someone says that they are “too quiet” or “too serious” or “boring”. I have been on the receiving end of these types of comments several times in my life. Just as I suspected, many other introverts have endured similar critical remarks. And, just like me, they have been both surprised and hurt by these swift blows to the ego. This phenomenon of people being so openly critical of introverts deserves further exploration. The first question I’d like to address is why.
Why do people feel the need to tell introverts that they are too much or too little of anything? Of course, there are several reasons depending on the situation, but I have narrowed it down to three main motivators:
1. Guilt – A lot of people interpret our behavior as a sign that we are not having fun, not enjoying their company or not enjoying life. This makes them feel bad. They feel partly responsible for our behavior. Then, some sort of messed up chemical combustion occurs in their brains and their guilt translates into judgment.
In the blink of an eye, critical words roll off their tongues with surprising ease. These criticisms are often disguised as helpful observations. The person actually believes that they are doing us a service by pointing out our supposed flaws.
2. Ignorance – There are people out there who are incapable of seeing the world beyond their limited perspective. They believe that their way of thinking, behaving and having fun is the only way.
Because they are discontent when they are alone, they assume we are as well. They have trouble understanding the value of reflection and introspection because these are things that they rarely do. Because they are loudmouths, they can’t fathom why we would choose to be quiet.
Unlike the guilty critic, there are very few chemical combustions happening in an ignorant person’s brain. The thinking machine is on autopilot and the hamster is asleep.
3. Cultural Influence – This is the all-encompassing factor. Both the guilty and the ignorant are influenced by cultural norms. Depending on where you’re from, introversion still has varying degrees of stigma attached to it. Many cultures perpetuate the idea that quietness is a negative trait. Society worships the extrovert ideal and degrades introversion.
The United States, in particular, has become a party-going, high-fiving and fist-pumping sort of culture. If you don’t fit the mold, there must be something wrong with you. Critics who are influenced by their culture believe they are doing us (and society) a favor by singling us out. After all, we can’t have rogue personalities running amuck and challenging societal norms. No, no we can’t have that.
No matter what the underlying motivation is, the result of hurtful words is the same: they hurt. When people tell me I am too quiet or serious, what they are really saying is that who I am is not enough. And that does not feel good. As much as I try to brush these seemingly innocent comments off, I simply can’t. They are forever stored in my memory and dredged up every time someone else criticizes my behavior.
A Personal Story
The other week, two new ‘friends’ (we’ll call them Ben and Jerry) one close friend (Häagen-Dazs) and myself, went on a boat ride. It was my first trip down the charmed rivers of Xochimilco. Sunshine and mariachis accompanied us nearly everywhere we went. I was pleased with how the day unfolded
Before long, we found ourselves at Ben’s uncle’s house, which could be accessed from the river. A lazy Sunday barbeque with family and friends ensued. I was delighted to be invited to the cozy get together. But as the afternoon sun dipped beneath the horizon, the lazy Sunday barbecue morphed into a full-on Mexican fiesta. With every passing minute, people became louder and drunker.
They delighted in each other’s company. They laughed. They erupted in song. It had all the elements of a great party. Except that I was in no shape for such an event. Their enthusiasm peaked just as my energy levels dropped.
With no escape in sight, I tried to put on my invisibility cloak. But as the only Canadian in the throws of a Mexican fiesta, I couldn’t help but stand out. I might as well have been wearing a technicolor dream coat. I couldn’t run and I couldn’t hide. My fate was sealed.
About halfway through the drunken singing portion of the evening, Jerry asked me, “why are you so serious?” I tried to shrug it off, but he persisted. Later, he and Häagen-Dazs pulled me aside and the barrage of insults began: “I don’t like to see you like this, Michaela. You are not old, but you are acting so boring and serious.” The icing on the cake came later when he asked, “Do you agree that Canadians are cold people?” Hmmm …
I was lucky that I didn’t burst into tears right then and there. It took some effort not to let my emotions overtake me. I felt drained, wrung out and beaten down. To be honest, I was surprised that these kinds of comments still effect me so deeply. I figured that as a self-assured and self-aware woman, his words would roll off me like water off a duck’s back. But even now, as a grown woman and proud introvert revolutionist, words hurt me. They cut beneath the surface and leave scars.
How to Respond
So, how should we respond when people tell us that we are too much or too little of anything? The truth is that there is no simple answer to that question. We can build up our armor so it’s so thick that nothing (not even the good stuff) can get through. We can think up a witty response to be applied as needed. We can ignore or rebuff. We can return insult with insult. We can try to educate the ignorant.
I am a big fan of truth telling. As a matter of principle, I always strive to tell people the way they make me feel – especially if they made me feel badly. In the case of the fiesta on the river, I was ill-equipped to speak my truth. I knew that if I opened my mouth, tears would have poured out before any sensible sentences formed. Crying at a party full of drunken strangers was not something I wanted to do.
(By the way, during a similar experience, I actually did try to explain my introversion, and ended up crying in front of a group of near-strangers.)
So, the long answer to my own question is that there are several different answers, which may or may not work in certain situations. The short answer is not so much an answer as it is an eternal truth: You are enough. Just be.
JoyHansri Thank you Joy! Hahah, bling baby – yes! And thanks for reading my posts even though you’re not an introvert. Miss you!
Screw Haagen Dazs
I really enjoyed this article. Because my family in England are very loud, and have a lot of social politics going on(I’ve been insulted by being compared to my dad who is hopeless and aunt who is a conspiracy theorist, so things can get pretty insensitive), I’ve been acting a lot like an extrovert to get through. So now I’ve managed to be insulted at parties both for being too quiet and serious and for being talkative and clingy. People think they’re only asking us to be more open but really they send out a lot of mixed messages and the only way to stay sane is to be yourself! (And I know how it is being told how to act by near strangers- the person who told me I was clingy was a new Mexican ‘friend’ as well…)
Their is nothing wrong with being quiet, I’m quiet myself and it makes me angry if people underestimate me, they insult you cause their ignorant F…K them, they need to get a life I hate it when people say ignorant things I don’t have very many friends but a big crowd of party is not my cup of tea.
I WAS RECENTLY TOLD “I WAS TOO SERIOUS AND IT WAS GOOD TO SEE ME LAUGH ON OCCASION.
recently i was also told that am quiet and too serious and that i take myself an an old person.i hate it when people ask me whats wrong cos im quiet.all this was said to make me feel small infront of people.that day i had to search on the net and thats how i found this blog.i now know that i have found people who are like me andwho can understand me.thanks micheala for the post
Oh Michaella,you just took away a huge burden off my shoulders. Now,i finally understand why my entire life sometimes people made awfully mean criticism about me for NO reason.I used to get so confuse:”Oh my god what i did wrong?”.I didn’t get it at all what was going on.Many introverts feel the same.It’s sad.
God bless you for creating this blog. Xoxo
I can relate. All my life this has been regarded as if it is something that’s “wrong” with me. I would say I am an introvert, however, I wouldn’t say I am shy, and after a while I warm up to new people and can be very open with them. It just takes a little bit of time to show my colours. However, those who meet me one time make assumptions and make me feel like I’m not enough as well. I have had a recent experience that has discouraged me and hurt me. For the past three years I have been studying at university full time and working part time in a contact centre (taking calls from members of the public). My degree was in English and a minor in education (I have or maybe had an ambition to teach English at secondary school). Following this, there is a postgraduate programme in which you need to complete a year doing a teaching programme that prepares you for teaching and also allows you to be registered. I enrolled for this, as it had been my intention from the start which is why I took Education alongside English. I have graduated and am a graduate – the next step for me was the postgraduate teaching masters – now my academic transcript is good, many A range grades, never received a C or even a B- and thoroughly enjoyed the papers especially many of the education ones which I took in preparation for the postgraduate study. As part of the selection process for the programme, I had to attend an interview. I came into the interview positive and answered the intense questions as best as I could. I had a sense that it wasn’t going so well, however, when they said “you’re quite small… I wonder, how would you command a classroom?” … I felt that was sizeist to say the least (I am a small built and short but I don’t feel that it is fair to judge capacities to run a classroom based on size). Later in the interview they said “you’re calm and contained which is good but teachers also need to be larger than life”. . . They asked me how would I do this? Be larger than life? The question threw me and surprised me and I said something along the lines of it being a learning curve and in my current role at work you have to be another person in a way over the phone with people… Diffuse difficult situations, problem solve, be ‘on’. They asked if I had done any drama papers, and I said no as I didn’t want to act (on stage) and she immediately said that was concerning because teachers had to act (because she’d asked about drama I automatically thought she meant stage acting)… I had to tell her I meant I didn’t want to act on stage but that I knew you had to adapt to a certain role in the classroom…
Anyway they called a few days later and basically reiterated that the concerns were I wasn’t “larger than life” enough, however, they didn’t want to outright say no as it was a hard one for them because there was nothing wrong with my academic transcript, my references were positive etc… So they invite me to a second interview and tell me I need to teach them something in this interview, next time round, and they will assess my suitability. Part of me is glad I’ve got a second chance but a bigger part of me feels very rejected and discouraged… (I also think it’s grounds for a complaint regarding discrimination) but who knows maybe the second interview will go well… Or maybe they will say “nope, you’re still too introverted to teach”. When she called explaining the reasons I said yes well I’m an introvert but I don’t think that gets in the way of teaching. In the follow up meeting she said the fact I was an introvert showed in the interview “perhaps a little too much”. See?! “Too introverted” is the message and it feels degrading. Nobody ever has to fear being told they’re “too extroverted”… It makes you feel like your core, your identity… Is undesirable, unwanted. Not good enough.
Did you grow up in a huge family of extroverts too?
Michaela, it is interesting to hear your story on that situation with the loud crowds and people drinking. I totally understand the frustration and know how hard that is to deal with. I find myself in that situation from time to time, coming from and growing up in a very large extroverted family was really hard. Some of the family members have nothing better to do than pick on the person who is quiet, who doesn’t always want to partake in all the activities, and would rather be in their own little world. Its challenging, but have learned to try and find ways to exit those situations and maintain my sanity. They have the mindset that you should be just like them and make every effort to change you. But, I am good the way that I am and have strong mindset and continue to press ahead even in the most challenging situations. Thanks for sharing your story, you truly are an inspiration!
Thank you, this is exactly how I think, although it really took me a long time to ask myself “Wait, what if everyone is wrong and being introverted is ok?”. I just started training for a new job and it’s been horrible, I was really open-minded, I smiled, made people laugh, connected with a lot of them. I was still tired afterwards, but I thought I’m ok like this, with breaks. However, because I listen more than I talk and I don’t like interrupting people, the conversations were always leaded my a very excited and energetic, self-proclaimed people-lover (yet self-centred, talking only about him/herself, to the last unimportant detail) person, and very few remarks from me. Also, I refused to go to the welcome party, which would take from my free time (I saw you the whole day because I wanted to get paid, now I want my real family, thanks). Boy, did they react, they couldn’t comprehend it, then I saw they started to shun me off and give me judgemental looks, although I was trying to smile back at them. This older woman, which was supposed to be new as well, thought it was her responsibility as a wise individual to kindly tell me afterwards to the side that I should stop doing this, as it’s against their principles, that even herself wouldn’t like to go but what can you do, that I’m pretty but I should stand more straight, try to integrate. Great experience, recommend 10/10, coming from the happy-go-lucky, we are all different and we shouldn’t judge community that they are. I, for once in my life when I was cornered as such, didn’t cry, and told her that to parties that I like I’ll go, and that I’ll stick to my principles, and I’m a person who takes longer to open up, but after a while people tell me to shut up (which is a great confidence booster as well ). Should have reacted better, but I was too pissed to think of better responses, and I did feel like crying afterwards, now I’ll take your example 🙂
There is something wrong with extroverts, or anyone else, who thinks that everyone should be talkative, dominant or participating in a bunch of partying, drinking, dancing, etc. I’ve learned to never again waste my time with people who criticize my personality and I won’t socialize with people whose values, personalities and interests are not compatible with my own.
This is the best damn article I think Ive ever read. I couldn’t agree more. Thankyou
Thankyou for this. I love it.