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Why It Hurts When You Call Me 'Quiet'

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

In a world of noise, I’m starting to believe that being quiet is out of fashion and frowned upon.

When I was five, I didn’t want to hug my mom’s friend because I was shy, so she lifted me by the arm, dislocating my left shoulder. In the second grade, my evil cursive teacher called home to report I was “too quiet” because I didn’t “interrupt or speak out like the other children.” In the fourth grade, my math teacher sent me to the school psychologist because I was “much quieter than my classmates.” My parents thought it was “odd” that I preferred to stay in my room reading V. C. Andrews all day instead of playing with my cousins at family parties (but, thankfully, they bought me loads of books anyway). These comments never stopped coming up during parent-teacher conferences, in college, over wine, in the office. Since I was 5 years old, I’ve been told being quiet is wrong — that something is wrong with me. So you see, when you joke about my quietness, it feels like a crime I am guilty of. A chronic illness. As if I failed to adapt in a society that just won’t stop talking. It triggers my social anxiety and makes me self-conscious.

I spiral.

Every time you nonchalantly slap “quiet” on my character description — and even worse, introduce me to someone, highlighting the label — you are asking me to defend who I am. To change who I am. When you ask why I am so quiet, you are asking me to explain something that can’t be explained. This is just who I am — who I want to be.

Every time you call me quiet, you hurt me — even if you don’t mean to. And, frankly, I find it rude. It’s the way you say it to me. About me. The tone of voice. The way you hesitate just before the word slips out. The negative stigma curling off your tongue and into someone else’s eardrum.

People assume I’m quiet because I’m shy or disengaged or not interested in them. In reality, however, I am none of these things. The truth is, I thoroughly enjoy listening. I’m curious about people. More specifically, I love observing them — their jokes, their stories, their insecurities, what makes them tick, their nonverbal gestures, their deepest passions, their unique style. Quiet people notice and appreciate all of these things, which mean so much more than words most of the time anyway, right? Don’t take it personally. Being observant and marinating ideas is how I prefer to navigate the world.

If you want to get to know a quiet person, don’t talk at her; talk with her. Try asking what she thinks about what you’ve said, and really listen. Ask her about her dogs, what she’s reading, her latest project. Whatever you do, don’t ask her why she is “so quiet.” Why do you ask that, anyway, I wonder? Does quietness make you uncomfortable?

Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

Originally published: September 6, 2019
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