Anxious and Introverted: In Defense of Introverted Males
In the not-so-distant past, our society valued the “strong, silent type,” a type of man who speaks infrequently but can be relied upon as a strong partner, friend, and coworker. But modern society seems to prize outgoing extroverts more and more, and this can be a big frustration for quiet, introverted males.
But what is an introvert? About 1/3 of people are true introverts, meaning that they “refuel” by spending time alone. Introverts can be talkative, but they also require plenty of alone time so they can have the strength and patience to reengage effectively with the people around them. (Read more about introversion from this wildly popular article from The Atlantic.)
Many introverted males seek therapy because they think there is something wrong with them. One client had a coworker joke that he was “autistic” because he didn’t talk much. Other quiet men have their spouses complain that they “don’t care” because they don’t articulate their thoughts verbally—even though they shower them with time and gifts. Society seems to tell the quiet, introverted male: “If you’re not the life of the party or talking through the entire meeting, you must not have much to contribute.” And this can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety in men, specifically social anxiety in which men feel forced to talk even when they have nothing to say, and when they do talk, they feel intense pressure to make it something good. This can leave men feeling drained, unappreciated, frustrated, and inadequate. Especially when the most extroverted men around them seem to be saying nothing at all, even when they use a lot of words!
Quietness makes insecure people more uncomfortable. Think about it: if someone is already insecure and they are faced with the seemingly blank slate of a quiet person, the insecure person often translates the quietness to mean judgement or superiority. Though loud people can be annoying, they can be comforting companions because you always know where you stand.
So what’s a quiet male to do?
Get clear about who you are. Introversion is a type, not a flaw. Recognize that anyone’s discomfort with your silence is their own issue and most likely a product of insecurity.
Own it. If you are a quiet, introverted male, plan for time to recharge and refuel. If you’re going to break out of your shell and go out for drinks after a long, socially-demanding day at work, give yourself some alone time beforehand. Go on a walk or a drive. Refueling is important for everyone, but especially introverts.
Be honest with yourself. How much of your introversion is ruled by social anxiety? When you choose not to speak, is it truly because you have nothing to say at that moment, or is it because you are afraid to speak, that the demand to speak is too great? Again, introversion is not a flaw, but if you are in a cycle of feeling intense pressure to speak but feel too nervous to do so, consider therapy for social anxiety. Short-term therapy can help you claim your “strong, silent type” proudly and balance the social demands of this extrovert-loving society.