Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Coming out as an Introvert

“All this talking, this rather liquid confessing, was something I didn't think I could ever bring myself to do. It seemed foolhardy to me, like an uncooked egg deciding to come out of its shell: there would be a risk of spreading out too far, turning into a formless puddle"
                              - Margaret Atwood 

“All the quiet people should be sent off to a corner,” someone said dismissively during a discussion of how a talkative group in an office were disturbing the not-so-talkative ones. But how should these poor, quiet souls cope with all the noise? That was an easy solution. Why, of course, that’s what headphones were for. 

I bristled inside but in true introvert fashion couldn’t come up with a quick-witted, think-on-my feet kind of response. I should have said: “Maybe the chatty ones should be put in a room, so the people who are actually working can work.”  That was the kind of snappy come-back I wanted to give. Only it sounded kind of rude to me. 

But that might have been okay, since what this person said was downright rude too. Only, it’s not considered out of place to say something like this. Today, it’s normal to speak down to or disparagingly about introverts. If you are quiet, it must be because you have nothing to say, because you have no opinions of your own. For some reason, it doesn’t mean that you could be a thoughtful, reflective person who considers every side of the argument. Somehow, it also doesn’t mean that you may not want to share half-baked thoughts. It’s easy for our quiet to get filled up by other people’s interpretations. 

This is true in many cases, but I have to confess that it’s also true that sometimes, I confuse my own introversion and my fears. When I am just plain scared of coming out and saying what I really think, I falsely attribute it to being reserved and introverted. Separating these two strands – when I am acting out of fear and what is a normal introverted reaction – has become extremely important in clarifying who I am.   

What’s also become hugely important is fully accepting my introversion, instead of struggling against it because it does not fit the extrovert ideal. I do intellectually understand that my way of being is as valid as any other. But the work now is to reframe what I’d been told were my weaknesses. For example: Depending on the situation, being able to spend time on your own can become a huge strength. When you are in the middle of a big transition, such as my move to a new country, being able to provide support to yourself in the absence of friends or family makes you much more adaptable. 

For most of the last year and a half (since my move to the U.S), I felt this compulsive need to find and fit in with people until I realized that what I am looking for is my own tribe, and that can take time to find. In the meantime, instead of constantly looking outside, I could turn inside for nourishment. Like many other introverts, I connect deeply with nature, music, and all that is bigger than us. Finding ways to integrate that in my life, like taking photography classes to nurture my connection with nature, has helped me connect to a source bigger than me. Whenever I am engaged and present, I am not lonely. 

But for this to happen (and I am still in the process), I had to let go of beliefs that said that my ways of functioning as an introvert were wrong. My beliefs also said that to be healthy and happy meant being similar or equal to an extrovert. It doesn’t. 

As introverts, we need to stop apologizing for our preferences and start reclaiming our nature. We also need to stop buying into the myth that everyone needs the same things to be happy. When we can do that, we can start growing into our true happiness. 


  1. I think you have and continue to adjust to your new life (new in so many aspects) very gracefully. We all look for happiness here and there and in acceptance, but true happiness is only available within ourselves. I am very very proud of you!

    1. Thanks Roopali. It felt good to hear that ! Verbal appreciation is really important to me :)

  2. My understanding of an introvert is that... they tend to get their energies from inside...extroverts tend to get their energies from outside...
    energy.. inspiration... whatever you call it.. hope .. Now I don't see it as a black and white... 'No man is an island !!! :)'.. so don't run with it..

    Fitting in--
    Correct me if I am wrong on this... in most management books they always say something like.. 'In the east its more about fitting in.. in the west its more about standing out'... Ritu don't know if I told this to you... but I've been proud of you since you started working et al... dancing...

    Watch this movie... 'pursuit of happyness'... its the pursuit...

    1. Yes, that's the basic difference. No, it's not black and white. It's not that introverts don't need other people. We are just different in the kinds of interactions that energize us. Introverts find making small talk with people they don't know draining, while extroverts get energized by meeting people. We can talk as much as any extrovert, but only when the topic is a passion or the person we are talking with is someone we connect with.

      About fitting in, yes that's broadly true, but workplaces in India are also about standing out.

      Thanks Hersh. I am proud of you too - you are a generous, resilient soul.

      I love that movie too.

  3. which all books talk about introverts?? could you share some literature on it??

    1. These are the valuable ones: Susan Cain's Quiet, Laurie Helgoe's Introvert Power and Sophia Dembling's The Introvert's Way.