An open letter to everyone who has ever made me feel like there is something wrong with me—unintentionally or otherwise.
I am an ambivert. This means I have characteristics of both an introvert and an extrovert. There are one or two parts of being an introvert that I don’t think apply to me, but overall that’s the description that fits me best. I’m more than happy to spend time by myself and would rather stay at home and binge-watch a TV show or write than go out and socialize with people I’m not close friends with. While others seem to have no problem chatting away in new social situations, I get nervous about meeting new people. Small talk is difficult, and it’s even harder to do in large groups of people or with people I don’t know very well. Speaking up in class or giving presentations at school made me feel sick to my stomach.
But all my life, I have felt like being quiet and introverted is a bad thing. If anyone ever described me as quiet or shy, I felt like there was something wrong with me. Those words seem to come with negative connotations, like it’s something to be ashamed of or like I’m only half a person.
However, after 27 years, it’s pretty much ingrained in me now: I am Quiet.
And some people think it is a bad thing. But it’s not okay to feel that other people see a big part of your personality as defective.
So, on behalf of myself and everyone else who has ever felt put down or as if there’s something wrong with them, I ask you to do (or rather, not do) three things:
1. Please don’t make assumptions about me. People think they know something about me. They think they can make assumptions about my personality and things I will or will not do, or even things I can or cannot do. A friend once said to me, “You couldn’t stand up and talk in front of a crowd; you’re too scared to even make a phone call at work.” Not true at all and pretty belittling. I just sometimes worry about calling people regarding a subject I’m not very familiar with. If I have to talk about something I know inside out, it’s fine.
Someone else once commented, “I don’t blame you for not chatting to people; most people aren’t worth bothering with anyway.” Which just made me sound like I’m not friendly or that I don’t like anyone, and that’s not true either. I’m sure as a result of these assumptions, some people think I don’t have confidence. I may lack confidence in some social situations, but I actually have always had a bit of an ego. I love myself. I pride myself on being different and doing what I want to do without worrying about what people think of me. My quietness is not a reflection of my confidence.
2. Please don’t comment on my quietness. I hate it when someone comments on how quiet I am, especially in front of other people. I can’t put into words how low and humiliated I feel. I can’t stand being called on to contribute to a conversation that I’m happy to just be listening to, especially in groups of people I don’t know very well. It feels the same as it did when I got picked on to give an answer in class.
This is my personality. It’s just the way I am, and it hurts me a lot when people comment on it like it’s a flaw. I can be loud at home and with friends, but I can’t be loud on command, no matter where I am. And why do people never comment on extroverts in this way? “You’re very outspoken, aren’t you?” “Are you always this loud?”
3. Please don’t make me explain myself. Questions such as “do you ever talk?” or “are you always this quiet?” are not okay to ask—they make me feel about two inches tall. What on earth is a person supposed to say to that anyway? No, I’m not always this quiet, but you commenting on it in front of everyone is guaranteed to make it ten times worse. And being told that I need talk or that I need to come out of my shell is not going to help. I don’t have a shell to come out of. I am just fine. Maybe I just don’t feel like talking. Maybe I just feel happier if someone else starts the conversation.
I am not unfriendly, and it’s not that I don’t want to chat—I’m more than happy to. But I’m not happy having to explain myself just because I’m “quiet” or a little “introverted.” Extroverts don’t have to explain themselves, so why do I? People think that being this way is not normal; it’s seen as wrong or something that needs to be fixed. But I don’t need to be fixed.
People are the way they are. If everyone was the same, life would be boring (and nobody would be able to get a word in). And surely—despite their insensitive remarks—everyone knows that being quiet isn’t a bad thing, right? After a lifetime of being made to feel otherwise, I might need some convincing.