Stop Calling Me “Quiet”: Overcoming Shyness in the Face of Haters

On YouTube, there a wonderful woman named Marie Dubuque who makes short videos with the intention of helping people overcome their social anxiety and shyness.

I encourage you to check her out.

With over 10,000 subscribers, she gets questions from viewers who are upset or frustrated that they are often referred to as “quiet.”  They’re bothered by the fact that they can’t quite break out of that perception, and that stigma (not just the anxiety, but the perceived shame of being quiet) is holding them back from really showing off their true personality.

On her YouTube channel, Marie brings up an interesting point about the term “quiet”—it’s not quite the insult you think it is.

You see, if someone in your class or at your job or at a party calls you out for being “quiet,” what they’re really saying is “you don’t provide me with enough opportunities to talk about myself.”

In fact, Marie has brought up this fact several times in her videos.

And although she’s likely not the first person to share this information, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Have you ever noticed that the people who suggest that you’re quiet are always the most talkative, outgoing people?  There’s a reason for that—if you’re not eagerly willing to engage them in conversation, they feel unable to fully express themselves.

More to the point, they feel that you’re robbing them of an opportunity to drone on and on about themselves.

So they call you quiet as a result.

Overcoming the quiet label

So how do you get past being slapped with the “quiet” label?  Well, let’s first start by removing the stigma that’s attached to being quiet.

First off, there’s nothing wrong with being quiet.  You might be shy or quiet because you’re socially anxious.  Or, you might be “quiet” because that’s just in your nature.

Whatever the case, you’re not abnormal.  And you’re not weird.

You’re just you.

A quick story—when I was in high school, I never volunteered to talk much in class.  I just never wanted the attention on me.  And I think, in part because I was an only child, I was just a bit more quiet and reserved than some of my peers in school.

But I was a pretty good student.  And I was always attentive.  And I was always on time.  And I never caused a problem in class.

So when it came time to apply for college, I had to seek out a couple teachers to write my college recommendation.  And I had one specifically in mind—my English teacher.

I did well in English.  Did well on the tests.  Fared well on the papers.  I even showed initiative once by staying after school (for over an good hour, mind you) to discuss a recently graded paper.

While not perfect, I was always committed to learning and being successful in that class.

But at the end of the day, my English teacher refused to write a recommendation for me.   And told me so to my face.

Here I was a student who was never tardy.

Who never missed a class unless I was sick.

Who got good grades and always turned his homework in on time.

And who never caused trouble.

So why, then, wouldn’t my teacher write my recommendation?

Because I didn’t speak up in class.  Because I didn’t voice my opinion.

Because I was quiet.

Big Picture Time

Whether you think you’re quiet, or you’re often called quiet by others, always try to look at the big picture.  Because you have other qualities that you bring to the table.

Qualities that others can’t match.

Qualities that make up for you being “quiet.”

That’s what my teacher failed to recognize on that day.  That my innate personality, or my shyness in class, didn’t diminish my other great qualities as a student.

She failed to realize that I had dedication and perseverance.

She failed to realize that I had a drive to succeed.

She failed to realize that, while I may be quiet, I’m a great listener.  And that’s a far better quality than someone who talks all the time anyway.

But most of all, on that day, my teacher failed to look at the big picture: that being quiet didn’t define who I was as a student or who I would grow to be throughout college as a young adult.

Stop calling me “quiet”

First off, and I’ve mentioned this a few times now—stop caring what other people think.  You have to.  I know it’s not easy.   I’m not saying it’s easy.  But I hope that, through me repeating these words, it’ll slowly find a comfortable resting place in your psyche.

Stop caring what other people think.

Second, in order to remove the perceived negative stigma of being quiet, it’s also important to let other parts of your personality shine.  Maybe that can be through an eye-catching T-shirt, or a bright new pair of shoes.

Maybe it can be how you choose to style your hair on a particular day.  Or, maybe, you start bringing knickknacks or personal pictures to your job and place them around your desk.

Think about the ways you can express yourself without actually having to verbally express yourself.  Always think about how, upon someone walking by your desk or seeing you in an elevator, can he or she get a brief taste of who you are or what you like without you even having to have said a word.

Doing this helps naturally spark conversation.

“Oh, you’re wearing a ‘Ninja Turtles’ t-shirt today?  How cool.  I loved the ‘Turtles’—did you know they’re making a new movie?”

“Wow, is that a photo of your mom on the desk there?  She seems nice.  I’m going to see my mother this weekend in New York.  Where does your mother live?”

People don’t often think about non-verbal communication.  It’s not always body language.  It’s what you wear.  It’s how you present yourself.  It’s the things you surround yourself with.

Those things spark conversation naturally.

And trust me, you’ll be seen as less quiet.  Why?  Because it breaks the ice and allows people to, ultimately, find ways to talk about both you AND themselves.  And that’s what people love to do—talk about themselves.

Another thing you can make sure you do is, if and when you find yourself in social situations with others, is to always make sure you speak up—even briefly—whenever you know something about the topic.

Because you know what’s the worst thing?  Being in a social situation with others, and realizing that five minutes…ten minutes….fifteen minutes have gone by, and everyone in the group has said something but you.

It’s like, internally, you’re keeping a running time of how long it’s been since you uttered your last syllable. And now, you fret and worry over both not having talked for close to 20 minutes, but also what you will eventually say when the time comes and how it will come off to others since you’ve been so, well, “quiet.”

But wouldn’t it have been better if you had chimed in during the part of the conversation when it was relevant to either your life or things you personally enjoy?  So when the conversation eventually got around to Broadway plays, and you remember loving “Dreamgirls” years ago, you should’ve said something.

Even if it was brief.

If the conversation eventually found its way to online dating, and your aunt had the absolute worst experience using an online dating website, you should’ve chimed in.

Even if it was brief.

By doing that, you take some of the heat off yourself.  The pressure is gone.  Not only did you talk about something you know, you helped remove that stigma of being “quiet.”

The same goes for those in school, too.  Look, you absolutely know your teacher is going to start randomly picking on students to answer a question, right?  And it’s always awkward, especially if you’re socially anxious.

But it’s especially awkward if you don’t know the question, right?  You feel embarrassed that you were called on to answer a question about the Myan Empire in History class, and then, if you don’t know the answer (or take a wild guess and get it wrong), you feel downright humiliated.

I’d recommend—again, I know it’s hard—that you become a bit more proactive in these situations in hopes of both easing your anxiety and removing the label of “quiet.”  So if you know who assassinated Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, and the teacher is looking for a hand to go up and answer the question, well, raise your hand.

You know the answer.  And wouldn’t it be better to talk in class when you know the answer than being forced to talk in class when you have no idea?

Forward thinking

Crushing social anxiety, shyness, and obsessive fear and worry isn’t easy.  And removing the stigma of being “quiet” won’t happen overnight.  But, always try to remember: Being quiet doesn’t define who you are now or who you will grow to be in the future.

Ever watch a Janet Jackson interview?  She’s massively quiet—to the point of appearing almost painfully shy.

But when you think of Janet Jackson today, what do you think of?  Does her quiet nature jump to the forefront of your mind, or the fact that she’s one of the most successful music artists of all-time?

Always remember—being “quiet” doesn’t define who you are.

You Also Might Want to Read:

  1. Is Social Anxiety Making You Appear Rude to People?
  2. Does Social Anxiety Make You Feel Like You Wasted Your Youth?
  3. How to Build Confidence If You Have Low Self-Esteem
  4. How to Overcome the Fear of Awkward Silences
  5. How to Overcome Social Anxiety? Enjoy Your Failures

Also, here’s another video by Marie in which she discusses why people have such a problem with those that are “quiet,” and how you can be more talkative in social situations.

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