I come from a long line of Black homebodies. After recently reading the stories of Black introverts who struggled to get noticed or promoted at work or felt the need to act differently to be accepted or overcome stereotypical assumptions about their quietness, I considered my own relationship to introversion and the journey I’ve been on to accept that part of myself.
I am now learning to hold space for my quietness.
As my teachers so charitably referred to me in my school reports, I was always a reserved, quiet child; a conscientious worker. However, despite my timid exterior, I was very self-confident and secure in my competence. I listened more than I spoke, and this benefitted me.
Fast-forward to my late teens and early 20s, it started to feel like the world was set up for extroverts. I saw many people around me getting opportunities. Not because they were the most qualified or had something considered to say, but because they could shout the loudest or network with the ‘right’ people. I began to fixate on my quiet nature, believing life would be easier if I could advocate for myself more aggressively and change into an outgoing person.
At times, it felt like the ideal protagonist, the ideal employee, was an outspoken, middle-class white person. Trying to fit in or be heard above the noise was often draining. I turned down opportunities and lost confidence because fitting into environments where that type of person was valued more didn’t feel comfortable.
I should point out that, as a woman racialized as mixed, there is still plenty of room for me to be accepted as an introvert in certain contexts. However, it is hardest of all as a dark-skinned black person, where you’re expected to be super loud and entertaining and confident based on stereotypical beliefs (but not too much, or you’re assumed to be aggressive). Yet if you’re quiet, you’re more likely to be seen as rude, not a team player, untrustworthy, unintelligent, or unqualified for your job.
As my self-esteem plummeted, I asked myself: where did that quietly confident young girl go?
She was buried under the weight of a superficial culture that privileges speed, loud, exaggerated reactions, and fast response times. Entertainment over knowledge. Extreme polarities of opinion over mulling things over or compromise. She was swallowed up by the critical voices in my head that were determined to find fault with every aspect of me, inside and out, based on society’s expectations.
As the gap between my real self and seemingly perfect ideal self grew, so did my pain. I couldn’t accept myself, even though the people closest to me told me that they loved and respected me for my natural traits.
Eventually, the sheer exhaustion of willing myself to be something I’m not got to me. I started to work hard on accepting myself through counseling, journaling, and self-help books.
Yes, there are downsides to being a hermit; but I focused on the positives and what I’m good at while tossing out the images of people I compared myself to on YouTube, TV, Facebook by using those mediums less and less. In my personal life, at university, and in the office, I aimed to stay authentic in the face of overpowering prevailing personalities or others’ expectations of me. I started to see the advantages of being more reserved and decided to reclaim my gentle, quiet power.
Yes, there is power in not giving everything away. There is power in resting, in refusal, in careful planning. We need the thinkers and listeners of this world as much as we need the doers and talkers.
Now, I see my reclusiveness as a virtue. I pick up on a lot of subtle things going on around me that others miss. I think before I speak, which helps me to avoid saying anything I’ll regret. I set boundaries for myself, don’t need social engagement to recharge my batteries, and have fun on my own. Plus, an air of mystery never hurts. I am glad that my introversion allows me to reflect on things deeply. Although I must always be mindful not to let that deep thinking become unhelpful rumination.
If you are an introvert, just know that there is nothing wrong with you. Stay true to yourself and find your people.
If you are an extrovert, try to be more accepting and avoid judging people before you really know them.
What are some of the upsides of being an introvert in your eyes? How can we change society to show that we value introverts just as much as extroverts?
Hopefully, we can all take some constructive, empathetic steps so ‘shrinking violets’ don’t get so lost in our tumultuous modern world.