Every introvert knows how it feels to be misunderstood and underestimated. We are used to people not understanding our little “introvertisms”, as I like to call them. They don’t get our need for alone time, our disdain for conflict, our hatred of the phone.
“It’s just a two-minute phone call,” they say, not realizing that the phone poses as much a threat to an introvert as a spider does to an arachnophobe. An unexpected phone call is a voice leaping out from the shadows just when we think we’re safe from socializing.
And don’t even get me started on all the misunderstandings caused by our quietness. Is she mute? Is she angry? Does she hate me? Is she depressed? Is she slow? Does she speak English?
As a child, I once walked in late to my fifth grade classroom on a day when my regular teacher was sick. The substitute teacher, noticing my tendency to choose miming over words, asked, “Were you in ESL?” No, I was not in English as a Second Language class. English was my first language, but silence was my homeland. Can’t a girl be quiet without all the assumptions?
When they underestimate you because you’re quiet …
There were also the countless times when classmates, teachers, and later, colleagues and bosses, underestimated my intelligence because I didn’t say much. What got to me the most was when they mistook my quietness for weakness. I may be sensitive, but I am also powerful, bold, and stubborn as hell. I am a galaxy of contradictions. Most introverts are.
The truth is that sometimes it doesn’t matter if the person in front of you understands you. He is a passing plane in the night. He’ll never see who you really are, and you don’t care because he is just a spec on the periphery of your life.
What does it matter what strangers, acquaintances, and even lovers think if they are not around for the long haul? But, of course, sometimes what another person thinks matters to you so much that it hurts.
You want to be seen, but you also want to be invisible
Sometimes, you feel like you want to be invisible and completely transparent all at the same time. You want the people who don’t matter to pass you by, taking their bullsh*t assumptions with them. But the people who do matter — the people who have your respect, your heart, your pay check … these are the people with whom you wish you could reveal your hidden treasures.
You know that you are misunderstood, in part, because you put up walls. Even when you want to open up, some invisible force holds you back. You feel frustrated that you can’t just ‘loosen up’ and ‘be yourself’, as others instruct you to do.
You need more time to open up
For you, revealing your true self, including your sense of humour, your opinions, your desires, and your dreams, takes time. You’re a slow-blooming Himalayan lily surrounded by open-faced sunflowers. Some people simply don’t have the patience to allow you to blossom in your own time.
Meanwhile, that annoying idiom, “first impressions last forever” looms over your head like a dark cloud. But there is a silver lining.
Even though it’s hard for people to understand you as an introvert, there are ways to help them see the true you. And you don’t have to obliterate your comfort zone, and transform yourself into an extrovert to do so.
Here are some easy tips to stop being misunderstood, and truly shine as an introvert.
1. Share what you are proud of
Over the years I’ve come to realize that the reason that others underestimate me is because I feel very uncomfortable talking about my accomplishments. We introverts tend to be the anti-braggers, pushing away compliments, and shunning the spotlight with equal parts awkwardness and fear. We are afraid that we will sound like arrogant Braggy Mcbraggsters if we own up to our achievements.
One of the things I ask my introvert confidence students is, “if you were to be proud of something, what would it be?” I intentionally phrase it this way because I know how difficult it is for introverts to admit (even to themselves) what we are proud of. Adding the “if” makes talking yourself up a little more palatable.
It’s okay to admit that you are good at something without getting bashful. As you share your strengths, you might notice impostor syndrome creeping in, telling you that you are a phoney without any real credentials.
Remember that this is normal. Even the rich, wildly successful, and obnoxiously beautiful experience impostor syndrome. It’s a natural symptom of being human. In the end, we are all just making it up as we go along. There is no need to second-guess yourself.
2. Give them clues
There is this really rotten piece of extrovert-centric advice floating around that says you should spell out who you are in big bold block letters: I’M MICHAELA, I’M SMART AND AWESOME AND FUNNY AND WELL-TRAVELLED! HERE IS A LIST OF MY ACHIEVEMENTS!
As I’ve already said, it’s good to share who you are and what you’re proud of. But “loud and proud” isn’t the only way to express yourself. Instead, you can drop subtle clues about yourself and what’s important to you. Allow me to explain …
The other day, while going for an afternoon walk, I passed by a semi-detached house that had two separate, but identically designed entrances. One entrance was decorated with flower pots and a welcome sign. The grass was freshly cut, and a small garden bloomed in the front yard.
The other entrance was bare, no flowers, no welcome sign, barely a sign of inhabitance. Can you guess which home was more inviting and interesting?
Dropping clues about your personality is a bit like decorating your front entrance. You tell people — whether through word, action, or the way you present yourself — a little bit about the spirit of the person who lives inside.
A rose quartz crystal around your neck says, “I have a spiritual side”. Mentioning the bands you like, the countries you want to visit, or the hobbies you want to rekindle is like adding flowers to your front porch.
Giving away these little clues about yourself is how you invite people to take a second glance, and to finally see the real you. It is your passport to making as many first impressions as you like.
3. Stop underestimating yourself
Look back at all the times when you’ve felt underestimated and you will likely see a pattern. Had you not been secretly underestimating yourself all along?
Were you downplaying your successes, while at the same time blasting your failures from every speaker? When this person who didn’t really matter made you feel small, were you all too eager to believe her?
It’s not your fault. We humans have a tendency to focus on negative feedback. It’s got something to do with evolution — survival of the fittest and all that jazz. The key to stop the cycle of being misunderstood and underestimated is to start overestimating yourself.
After all, you’ve always been quite stingy in your estimations of your value in this world. Aim for that powerful and majestic version of you on the horizon and believe that you are, as S. Anjna put it, “a universe of exploding stars.”
I know this can be tough advice to apply when you’re an introvert living in an extrovert’s world. That’s why I offer a wealth of free articles, infographics, and videos here on the blog to help you embrace your strengths and build confidence and connections as an introvert.
I also have a free Introvert Connection Guide to help you go from meet and greet to meaningful friendships, even if you’re quiet and misunderstood. You can access the free guide here.
What about you, dearest?
Do you often feel misunderstood and underestimated as an introvert? Share your experiences and insights in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! ❤️