Introverts everywhere, get ready to shudder your way through this article. If you fall anywhere on the introversion spectrum, especially if you are a more extreme introvert, odds are strong that these charming little bon mots are an unwelcome part of your day to day life in the extrovert world.
Well-meaning but clueless extroverts may toss the following phrases your way in an attempt to be helpful; to correct something they consciously or unconsciously perceive as a flaw. In reality, the characteristics they are trying to correct are actually things that are fundamental to your nature as an introvert.
The particularly troublesome issue here is that as introverts (especially if we are also highly sensitive people), we may tend to internalize these well-intentioned yet toxic messages and develop a lot of shame and self-judgment around our introverted personalities. Growing up as an introvert, I heard a lot of these obnoxious phrases more times than I can count. Talking with fellow male and female introverts from different walks of life has confirmed that there are a good many variations on this theme of introvert-shaming that a lot of us have to live with every day.
Luckily, as an adult, I’ve surrounded myself with a lot more people who “get me”… I have come to understand the trait of introversion and how I embody nearly every aspect of said trait…and most importantly, I have discovered that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert, and that I’m far from alone. Current estimates state that one third to one half of the whole human race is made up of introverts!
So, fellow introverts! Let’s unite to take down these veiled and not-so-veiled attempts at introvert shaming (that is, unite quietly, privately, from the comfort of our own homes)! It’s time to stop the cultural phenomena of extrovert-worship and give us inward-facing folks our due as being worthy counterparts to extroverts.
Take a deep breath, my introverted friends; here we go….
Lighten Up! Don’t tell us to lighten up. If an introvert is in a serious mood, demanding we “lighten up” is a sure-fire way to make us withdraw further, and moreover, earn you one of our signature silent death-glares. Commanding that someone instantly be in a better mood is one of the most unhelpful things you can do. Additionally, we may not be in a bad or serious mood; we are just thinking or daydreaming. Don’t assume we are sad or pissed off if we fall silent and seem serious from time to time.
You Just Need to Bust Out Of Your Shell! Many introverts are naturally more cautious, reserved, and slow to warm up. This does not mean we are trapped in some sort of shell. Yes, some of us are shy and some of us struggle with feeling unpleasantly inhibited or awkward in social situations. But there is not a secret switch hidden somewhere that gives us magical shell-busting powers. If your introverted friend or family member is struggling with low self-confidence or social awkwardness, a much more helpful approach is to (1) give us time and space to warm up (2) don’t shame us, and (3) help us see positive aspects of ourselves that are worth sharing with others rather than assuming we are stuck behind plate glass that we just need to muscle up and bust through.
Why Are You So Quiet? I’m quiet because I’m plotting your imminent demise. Just kidding. But seriously, we introverts tend to process our business internally, rather than bouncing endless ideas off other people. We like verbal space within conversations to analyze and consider before popping off. We are deep thinkers who tap into long term memory storage rather than just working memory during average conversations and often go through a range of thoughts and feelings before we speak. For these reasons, we may appear “quiet” to outside eyes and ears, while our minds are far from quiet!
SMILE! I’m not a trained monkey. I don’t smile on command. I smile when I am happy or amused by something. Just because I am not walking around grinning from ear to ear at everyone I see does not mean I am an unpleasant person. I hear from my introverted female friends that this is a particularly common command they hear. As a male introvert, it seems to be more accepted to have a neutral facial expression, while female introverts are harassed about it more frequently. This points directly to our culture’s imperatives that women need to be warm, friendly, and borderline apologetic for their existence. This is incredibly sexist, and it needs to stop.
You’re Up in Your Head Too Much. You might as well tell the sun to stop shining or Garfield to stop eating lasagna when you tell an introvert to get out of their head. There’s a name for people who are up their heads….thinkers! And since when has thinking been a poor use of time? A certain Greek once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. If that is the case, we introverts each live several worthy lives over. We think a lot…get over it! If you’d like to engage us, perhaps ask us what’s on our mind or tell us what’s on yours to stimulate conversation rather than offering a criticism.
I Don’t Get Why This Is Such a Big Deal For You. Ugh. Not only are introverts deep thinkers; we are deep feelers. If we are having a strong emotional response to something, there is a good reason for it, and we need time and space to process our reaction. When this is happening, we may or may not want support. We may just need some time on our own. If you really care about us, please realize that something that may not seem like a big deal on your end may feel devastating on the inside to us, for a variety of reasons. If you care, offer support and/or space as the case may be; if you don’t care, bounce!
You Need To Be a Better Team Player. Introverts do our best thinking alone. That’s the bottom line. We don’t process information out loud by throwing our mental spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. We need quiet and space to be our creative, deep thinking selves.The trend of making group projects such a cornerstone of schools and workplaces is so very, very obnoxious to us introverts, and it will bite society’s butt in the long run if introverted kids aren’t given enough space in school. The same goes for introverted adults in workplaces. We need to recognize and accommodate both introverted and extroverted learning, thinking, and information processing styles.
My Family / Friends Think You Don’t Like Them. If you are in a new romantic relationship with an introvert, and are taking things to the next level by incorporating them into your family or even just your friend group, please know that this can be a very damaging thing to say. Introverts are just not effusive with newer people in their lives, even if they do like them and want to get to know them better.Hearing this type of thing will only serve to make an introvert feel more awkward and isolated. Instead, if your friends and family say something like this to you, just let them know about your partner’s introverted nature and that they will need a little extra time to start feeling comfortable. And keep the comment to yourself rather than passing it on to your introverted partner.
You Need to Get Out More. Not everyone needs to be a social butterfly. I’m just fine at home with a beer and a good book, thank you very much. I don’t have a secret longing to be out there bopping around as the life of the party every Saturday night. If you like my company, invite me out! And thanks for the invite! Just realize that I will not always be down to party, and it does not mean I am depressed, antisocial, or that I don’t like you. It just means that as an introvert, I require more solo time to decompress from daily life and to recharge my batteries.
When I First Met You, I Didn’t Really Like You. But Now I Think You’re Great! Ouch. Just ouch. I have heard this from a couple friends and acquaintances and it did NOT give me the warm fuzzies. Introverts don’t spill their guts when they first meet someone. It’s in our nature to hold back a little bit before warming up. Even if this is true, it’s not a very nice thing to say to friend. I have had female introvert friends tell me that they often hear an ugly sexist variation on this one: “when I first met you, I thought you were a ‘bitch’”. This is related to the “SMILE” directive discussed above, in that it is a (perhaps unconscious, but still very troubling) attempt
Unhelpful Things to Say to an Introvert: The Bottom Line
All of this has NOT been to say that we introverts need to be coddled and treated with kid gloves; most of us have deep stores of resilience and are very strong people. Instead, it is a call to recognize the psychological and interpersonal diversity within humans and to respect our differences rather than making us feel less-than for our introverted style of living and relating. It takes both extroverts and introverts to make the world go around, and we complement each other. So let’s build on each other’s strengths rather than try to force all of our different shapes into one extrovert-ideal mold! Let me know in the comments if I miss any of your very “favorite” unhelpful things to say to an introvert.
Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.
What is a Thinking Introvert? It’s simple, right? You are either an introvert, who…