by Lauren Reiff,
Every introvert, at some point in their lives, has encountered the notorious, “you’re so quiet!” — said with some combination of wide-eyed amazement and tender pity. There’s often something sympathetic about this observation that makes us introverts involuntarily squirm. After all, we do not think there is something fundamentally wrong with our quietness, even if we are, at times, self-conscious about it.
What such a statement implies is that we’re merely lying in wait, a little helplessly, for an external agent to “break us out of our shells” (to use another of our familiar biddings) so that we can, at long last, experience the world as an extrovert. Experience the world as an extrovert — isn’t that what’s behind these needling comments?
For the extrovert, the outward environment proves most stimulating. Their playground, so to speak, is the external sphere. For the introvert, their “playground” is the opposite — the internal sphere. So, it’s no surprise that the former are the people who look upon us with the aforementioned mixture of surprise and unsolicited compassion when they notice us tight-lipped and reserved. They want us to join in on the fun! They want us to break out of our shells!
To extroverts, group conversation and fraternizing usually trump private thought. Sometimes they are confused when looking upon us — quiet and contemplative and seemingly unengaged. Our dearth of contributed words might bewilder or even bother them.
Sometimes extroverts are blind to the reasons behind our quietness and assume we are struggling with debilitating shyness, secretly wanting to contribute to the conversation as much as they do. With that said, here are four reasons introverts might “not be talking right now.”
Why Introverts Aren’t Talking
1. We’re incubating ideas.
In general, extroverts love to discuss their ideas out loud, and with much less caution than your classic introvert. Often, their ideas aren’t fully formed, and this is intentional: they’re thrown out with the express intent that they’ll be molded by those around them and subject to collaboration, discussion, and commentary. The ideas of extroverts may be tossed out quite boldly, without a lot of censorship or refinement, precisely because for them, the censoring or refining happens in the external sphere. This accounts for the extroverted tendency to think while speaking.
Also, extroverts typically have no desire to hoard their own thoughts as a means of constructing their inner world — in the manner that an introvert might feel inclined to do. The introvert may take pride and comfort in solely “owning” their thoughts before they are released into the world. This allows us to feel our own agency. Introverts, technically speaking, are more sensitive to (and perhaps slightly suspicious of) their environment, so it makes sense that they have an incentive to disclose their thoughts more carefully and selectively. The extrovert, in contrast, has no real reason not to publicize their thoughts.
The introvert’s need to protect and nurture their ideas privately is a process I call “incubating.” So, if we introverts are not presently talking, this may be because our minds are churning away with internal dialogue that hasn’t yet made it — if ever — into the public realm.
2. We’re natural observers.
In conversation — and life — extroverts jump off the diving board with fearlessness and/or enthusiasm. In contrast, introverts wade in slowly. When entering new situations, or just going about our way in the world, we may make a habit of noticing sensory details and cataloging all the observable things around us. All this is done not only on a superficial level (for our own interest), but also to satisfy a characteristic impulse of ours to study our surroundings.
At this point, I may be veering too far into philosophical territory, but I believe one of the defining differences between extroverts and introverts is that the former is quick to insert themselves into the world and adapt, so there’s no intermission of contemplation. There is barely a barrier between the extrovert and the world, between him and objects. Research shows that even as babies, extroverts demonstrate less fear around the unknown, which to them, may even read as alluring.
In contrast, introverts have much more of a discernible barrier between themselves and the external world, and they are slower to trust their surroundings, preferring to gain grounding and awareness before entering.
To the introvert, jumping in and swimming is jarring. Furthermore, it would require skipping over one of the most fundamental aspects of being an introvert: our natural habit of observation. This quality helps make us good thinkers, writers, artists, and more. So, if we’re not talking, we may be occupied just the same, but in a manner that others cannot see.
3. We’re having a conversation with ourselves instead.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, and any introvert is sure to nod their head in agreement. Personally, I am called “spacey” because of my tendency to retreat into my head, pulling my attention from the outer world and refocusing it on my inner one. From there, full-fledged discussions take place. In fact, much of what an extrovert might hash out with another person is, for the introvert, dealt with via some simple “talk therapy” with ourselves.
It’s unfortunate that, for introverts, much of their identity is not seen. But introverts are not lacking in conversation — far from it — it just happens that a lot of the conversations they participate in are invisible!
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4. We simply have nothing to say right now.
If we have nothing to say, we may not say anything at all! We do not particularly enjoy trotting out some bland topic of discussion just to fill the silence. We are economical with our social energy, after all. And our “loyalty” to the social realm is generally just plain weaker, compared to extroverts.
Introverts, don’t fret over the “you’re so quiet” remarks. Such comments may make you feel like you’re lacking something, but you are categorically not. Quiet can be powerful, too.