To be quiet in the Western world is a challenge. Ever since I was in junior high, I have often been labeled as a “quiet” person. While other kids seemed to light up the whole classroom with their jokes and stories, I was often the one sitting on the sidelines taking it all in. As I learned through social settings that being outgoing was considered more attractive than not saying much at all, I began to lose confidence in the person I was. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then about myself and the world around me that I have healed a lot of that low self-esteem. I hope to comfort any other “quiet” people out there struggling with their self-image.
To begin my journey into self-love, let’s date back to my junior year of high school where I was nearing the end of a friendship with a best friend. Our personalities were somewhat compatible but had their rocky differences. She enjoyed talking for long periods of time, gossiping and spending a lot of time around other people for excitement. As for me, I liked to stay inside, read books, or just research topics that interested me on the internet. Overtime, she became upset with our differences and told me “You must be depressed, you never want to go out as much as me and you just like to hang out with your cat! You have no life!!” Granted, I did like to stay home more than she did, but I did had a life outside of my cat (lol). However, I ended our friendship not long after because I found this type of talk (and more, of course) emotionally-abusive. To this day, I am very grateful I found the courage to walk away.
After this friendship ended, I started becoming more self-aware and curious about the phenomena of being “quiet”. I began typing in questions on google like, “Why am I so quiet?” and “What’s wrong with me?” Long story short, I found a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I have to admit, I have not read this book in a few years now so I cannot give direct quotes from it. However, this book changed my life. From what I can remember, the author’s theory (backed by anecdotal as well as scientific studies) was that the West encourages an outgoing persona to be associated with things like attractiveness and/or success. Therefore, when we look at quieter people who do not fit this ideal, there is a sort of societal rejection as if being this way is a sort of ailment. I also remember there was evidence that degrees of introversion and extroversion were based on levels of stimulation a person could handle (based on brain scans, etc.).Thinking back to how my old friend used to criticize me for being more reserved, I could see why she was very misunderstanding and why I felt so confused/insecure.
After reading this book, I got into the Myers-Briggs personality test (which I believe the book references) which helped me feel more secure in who I was as a person. If you are unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs, it is a very useful resource in understanding different personality types. It resonates a lot with the theory that there is a scale of introversion and extroversion based on levels of stimulation a person prefers. In this test, there are 16 personality types. For me, I tested as an INFP. I won’t get into that too much here, but you can go check it out on google if you’d like. It’s very spot on for a personality test!
The last thing I wanted to add is a cross-cultural reference. In the West, we value speaking over listening. In contrast, the Native Americans valued listening over speaking. They believed that everything done must have a purpose, including social interactions. Imagine today if less people felt pressured to talk and more people could relax in silences. Customer service employees may not feel so pressured to engage with strangers and perhaps those having a bad day could remain silent without shame. You feel me?
This isn’t to bash people who naturally enjoy talking more, but to shed light on this social issue which I believe is a form of misunderstanding in our society. All I ask is that we learn to accept people for who they are and for the unique flavors that they all come in.
Who’s with me?