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! ❤️
Thank you, Michaela, for this powerful and reassuring piece. I have had those moments a lot, too, where people just seriously underestimate me. But in your article you explained that there is a pattern as to why people (especially those who don’t really know me) tend to underestimate me – it’s because deep down I may have underestimated myself in the first place. Thanks for opening my eyes on this point. Keep up the good work helping innies like me!
You’re welcome Audrey. I’m glad it helped you make a connection about a pattern that many of us experience. 😉
You just had me laughing in the best way possible!! This is really some great writing…. Thank you and will most definitely keep on following your blog. All is o. Point
I’m an introvert myself. People often ask why I’m quiet. Sometimes it gets kind of annoying, but I’m used to it. I wish I could talk to someone who’s in the same position.
Yup, this describes me perfectly 😛 I’m used to people thinking I’m weird so I just kind of put up walls so I don’t bother people and people don’t bother me. But what bothers me is like my roommate once asked if I’m gay 3 times. Like okay, just because I’m so quiet and nice, you think I’m gay. Don’t you think people can find that offensive. It really bothers me and then it makes me want to put up even more walls. And when I try to be myself in job interviews, they never like introverts. I have to show my strengths and stuff and downplay my weaknesses as an introvert, or I’d never get the job. I hate that society is like this. And its easier being passionate about something and then finding people who like the same thing and talking to them. Because you share common interests and even if you’re weird, you use the love for the thing you’re passionate about to substitute the nervousness, and give you more confidence to talk. And then you just keep talking. And making friends online. Most people – I would rather just be quiet.
Exactly, Haris! Thanks for sharing. 😉
Thanks innie friend,
I have been there. But I have also learned that sometimes when one procrastinates speaking their mind as an introvert it will ultimately get back to you. I have found that it is important to tell your mind to others about different situations.
As for the bit of talking about what am proud of and providing clues, will give it a try.
I have just landed a job in a fast paced environment and I hope this approach will help me shine out.
I agree, Richard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. 🙂
Your article realIy resonated with me, Michaela! I was encouraged by one of my managers at work to send him emails of any positive feedback I got from my peers concerning job performance. I would never have done that had he not asked. It seems to have paid dividends because I have been asked to take the lead role on a project I am working on.
It’s happened again…feeling guilty after brief phone call with my very extroverted husband! He works out of town 2 weeks a month. We’ve been married over 40 years; he is well aware that I hate the phone, and still he insists on it. in addition, I am quite deaf which exacerbates this unwelcome experience. He had this need to always be in touch, whereas I just want to be left alone. And I always end up feeling badly. Somehow, I come off as the bad guy…
I get exhausted and overwhelmed by being in extroverted company so have adjusted my lifestyle to protect what I see as my natural introversion. As ever your ‘innie’ support and advice notes are most insightful and obviously come from real experience. I write books and I’m sure some people think that if I got really successful I would become an extrovert but I have no doubt I would still be the same me I am comfortable with.
Hi Michaela I don’t think I’ve been misunderstood so much as had the assumptions made of me. I hear comments such as “It’s the quiet ones you have to worry about.”, “Would you shut up God you talk too much,LOL!” “What the @&%! did you say to me!?!” “Who you looking at?” “You’re such a sneaky little bastard!”
Absolutely love these, people must think I’m so spineless that I’ll just cave in an go sorry, sorry. Women do this a lot, let’s me know they’re interested in me, tests like these, either show they’re intimidated( the men), or turned on(the women), hope it’s not the other way around O.0
I do enjoy challenges. Assumptions are generally considered to be bad, but I see them as opportunities. I like using pre-suppositions or suppositions, and pattern interrupts with humor this can open others and creates a space for rapport and connection.
I still don’t like using the phone, but will if I have to, I actually enjoy telemarketers calling now gives me a chance to show of my sarcasm. They tend to call and ask How I am, or How I am doing. They actually couldn’t care how I feel so I give them an odd fictitious response. I figure if they’re going to waste my time why not waste theirs.
Things I’ve said:
T: How are you doing?
M: Oh, I’m doing without…
T: How are you?
M: Hmmm, not so good, I found out I have testicular cancer, and if I’m castrated I still only have a 40% chance to live.
T: How are you today?
M: I’d be better if I wasn’t stuck in this milk bottle. What do you suggest, soap or oil? I’ve really got to go pee pretty badly, hurry decide please I need help!
M: Hello city morgue?
T: How are you today?
M: Next of kin or coroner?
T: Mmm neither
M: Sorry only coroners or next of kin can inquire about autopsies.
T: Actually I was calling about…
M: Ah lady they’re dead they can’t take it with them, try calling the living, bye.
This works too in dating scenarios:
W: Are you a player?
M: Yes I’m a player with myself.
W: Eww, you play with yourself.
M: Yes, I tend to enjoy single player campaigns on the xbox.
W: Oh, I thought you were talking about something else.
M: No, you were just thinking about something else, you have such a dirty mind.
M: Is sex all you think about? We just met and already you’re thinking about sex.
M: Can’t we just grab a cup of tea or coffee, and get to know each other first?
W: No that’s not all I think about.
W: Sure we can go get some tea.
M: Great let’s go, just keep your hands where I can see them, don’t want you getting any funny ideas. <== (I say with a wry smile)
This assumption as an opportunity works to build self confidence, if I assume the sale, the connection, the interest, that everybody likes me, kind of thoughts and beliefs it often holds true because it will come out in my body language and in micro expressions on my face, besides empaths tend to pick up on my positive vibe and assume they feel positive too, which is good for them because they tend to absorb everyone's negativity and think they too feel negative, when in reality it's not them it's the other person, this can be very taxing to an empath. So be kind and see assumptions and underestimation as an opportunity to showcase your best selves.
Many people underestimate me because of my quiet nature and try to test me until I lash out at them, and then they realize that this lone wolf can deliver a nasty bite. Some people regard me as a real life James Bond or Jason Bourne thinking I am highly dangerous( well I’m a martial arts expert). But I do have …dare I say it..a tender gentle side to me as well,it’s just that very few people get to see it. And so I go about my life trying to find people who are worthy of a deep interesting conversation to connect with but there aren’t many around where I live so I stay quiet and people think I’m aloof and stupid. But the few who know me think I am a great person.
I love reading your articles, so often you say exactly what I feel. It’s like you reach into my soul and say the things I wish others new about me. I really appreciate that, then if there is someone I really want to share with, I can give them a link to your blog and maybe they will understand me a little better. If they really want to.
Well written, Michaela. You really bring it home.
I will turn seventy-five in November and overcame my shyness many years ago. It was a long process but I came to love public speaking and putting on workshops. I get very positive feedback regarding my skills but people get confused when I am not engaged in social media or readily accessible in other ways.
People ask for my cell phone number but I tell them it won’t do them much good as my phone is usually locked in the trunk of my car. It is there for emergencies. Chit chat is not an emergency. I value my personal time and am never lonely. I have no need to fill my life with how cute someone’s cat is, what they had for lunch, or how their day is going.
Working in the counselling profession for many years, I developed empathy, patience and understanding. For those who value my friendship or have need of my advice and direction, I am always there for them. Otherwise, I am extremely happy in my private world where things make sense to me.
Thank you, dear!
The second week of my second year of college, I forgot to do this. I ran out of steam! Thank you for reminding me how just mentioning things about myself can help. Love!
Thank you for this post. I really like it. Would you mind if I translated this post into Vietnamese so that Vietnamese people can read this post? If I am allowed to share your post in Vietnamese, I swear I will give credit for it.
yes, that’s find as long as you give credit, and link to the original article. 🙂 thanks!
thank you so much
This article has saved me on a really bad day… I have finally become fed up with being underestimated and I’m ready to do something about it, in my own way. Thank you so very much Michaela. Knowing I’m not the only one who experiences this and that I don’t have to sell myself short by trying the extrovert formula for success is so reassuring.
“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?”
Since Spanish was my first language, I was in ESL because I didn’t speak the language. Despite learning the language, I still didn’t speak unless spoken to, so I remained in ESL with no exit exam. The teachers never questioned my work or even my performance in classes, and even though I attended school every day and graduated from all my classes they kept me in ESL. Your story is all too real for me. When I think back to my school days, I was a ghost to every teacher I ever had. It had a lot to do with me being obedient, never missing school, never being in trouble always passing my classes but never speaking to the teacher. I felt trapped in school understanding that I was missing out on my education but not knowing how to express it. I underestimated my capabilities in school without the right support. If my first-grade teacher had not held me back, I would have graduated at 16. In first grade, my teacher held me back not because I did poorly, but because I didn’t speak to anyone.
As soon as I was released from a trapped education system, I made up for it without thinking about it. I reverted to how I felt in my home country. A bigger-than-life me, doing what I wanted, when I wanted, with a good heart and good intention, even if no one understood. I could not bear to see the people in my life hurt, so I protected those around me or anyone in danger. When it wasn’t about making new friends or talking to new people without a real reason, I was this monstrous extrovert with unimaginable accomplishments. Not knowing how to express my accomplishments people would naturally tear me down which caused me to feed on their negative energy to create a positive atmosphere for myself and my accomplishments. I am a galaxy of contradictions.