“We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.” ~Mary Dunbar
“I don’t want to sit by Teresa. She doesn’t talk.”
I was ten years old and at a fundraising dinner for my travel softball team.
It was that dreaded moment after I had gotten my plate of chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans, and had to choose a seat at a big table.
I sat down next to my teammate who I looked up to. She was two years older than me. She was fierce and badass. She said what was on her mind. She didn’t take shit from anyone.
Clearly, she didn’t feel the same about me because in response to my sitting next to her she said, “I don’t want to sit by Teresa. She doesn’t talk.”
This happened twenty-three years ago, but I remember it so clearly, partly because comments like this one were not unfamiliar to me during my childhood. They had taken other forms like: “Why don’t you talk more?” “Why are you being so quiet?” “What’s wrong?”
Despite the frequency with which I received these comments, I was always caught slightly off guard by them, because my mind was far from a quiet place.
At the fundraising dinner, I remember thinking, “Was I really not talking? I guess I’m having a full-on conversation with myself in my head.”
I remember noticing all the different types of people at the dinner. All the shapes and sizes of bodies. I remember how loud it sounded and how hectic it felt. Some people were rushing to fill their plates with chicken and mashed potatoes. Other people were standing in the corner, waiting until the line died down. Little kids were running around. Chairs were being moved and screeching across the floor. I was wondering why we had to do a silly fundraiser dinner.
I was dreading that moment when I had to fill my own plate and choose somewhere to sit. I was conscious of how our team was dividing up into the usual cliques. I was unsure of where I belonged. I remember how uncomfortable I felt in my ten-year-old body.
So, when my teammate commented that I didn’t talk, I was initially confused because my mind was very active. Then I was hurt, and immediately started to question what was wrong with me.
And I froze. Now I certainly wasn’t going to talk!
If you’re introverted, quiet, or shy, then you know the debilitating effect such comments can have, especially as a kid.
Through my teenage years and into my adult years, this incident, and many others, shaped the belief about myself that I was too quiet, which was really the big underlying belief that something was wrong with me.
I felt the pressure to bend and contort myself to fit the mold of a world that seemed more suited for the bold, loud, extroverted people than for the cautious, quiet, introverted ones.
In high school, I remember hanging at friends’ houses so lost in my own head, spiraling about what I should say, which usually resulted in me freezing and not saying anything at all.
In college, I tried to fix my inadequacy with drinking because I found that with a little liquid courage I could open up and be “normal.”
As an adult, I would hide out in the bathroom at conferences so I did not have to engage in awkward pleasantries with a stranger at a high top table eating stale muffins and drinking bitter coffee.
I didn’t really have a fear of talking, sharing, or raising my hand in class or in a meeting. It was that in-between time of socializing and small talk that was paralyzing. I felt like this time was for cracking jokes and witty comments, and I felt woefully unable to do such things.
But now, at thirty-three years old, I have overridden that internal narrative of fear and inadequacy, and I have written a new story that is grounded in intuitive knowing. It’s a knowing that…
1. My quietness is connected to my perceptiveness and, together, these are two of my greatest strengths.
I am able to read the energy of a room of people and quickly intuit their needs and desires (sometimes!). My quietness also makes me an expert space holder for my clients.
2. My grounding earth energy is welcome and appreciated.
Just yesterday, I reconnected with a friend from high school, and she told me how she always admired my silent power.
3. My verbal contributions to groups are few but thoughtful.
Numerous people have told me that they know when I talk, they want to listen, because it will be something thoughtful and meaningful.
4. Non-verbal communication that comes from deep within the body is sometimes even more powerful than words.
I have full on conversations with strangers, through the eyes alone, and sometimes these conversations leave me feeling fuller and more connected than any verbal conversation ever does.
To uncover these knowings, I excavated my inner landscape through all the usual routes—you know, journaling, meditating, running, breathing, dancing. Let me pause on that last one. If there’s one thing I know for sure in this life, it’s this: dance more.
I begin every morning by dancing to one song. During this practice, I deepen my connection to my body, to myself. Through dance, I express parts of myself that I am unable to express in words. I have released physical tension and overcome limiting beliefs simply by dancing them out. Sometimes our fears and worries are simply energy that needs to be moved through the body.
Dancing is also about embodiment. We can do all the mindset work to overcome our beliefs, to understand why we are the way that we are, but at some point, we have to stop trying to fix ourselves and simply be who we are. And dancing is one of my favorite practices of being.
I want to leave you with a few thoughts:
Nothing is wrong with you. There is no “right” way to be or to express yourself, except for the way that feels true and safe for you. Each of us is a unique being with a multifaceted personality, and sometimes, we are full of paradoxes. We get to be introverted and extroverted, courageous and cautious, feminine and masculine.
Lastly, for those of you who do not identify as being an introvert, here are a few things that I want you to know about me, an introvert:
1. If I am quiet, do not assume something is wrong. In fact, when something is wrong, I will clearly and boldly speak up about it.
2. Don’t mistake my introversion for aloofness or pretentiousness. I am actually deeply aware of, engaged with, and inspired by all that is happening around me. I am simply taking it all in.
3. I love people. And I also need time to recharge after socializing.
4. When you call me out for being quiet at a social gathering, it feels like I’m being attacked. (Well, it used to feel this way, not so much anymore because I am confident in my quietness now.) But please trust that I will speak when I want or need to.
5. At social gatherings, I love sitting back and observing. It brings me joy.
6. Small talk is hard for me. But it does not mean I look down on small talk.
7. Sometimes it takes me a little longer than others to formulate a response to a question. So have patience with me.
Extroverts (and all who are reading!), I want to know about you too. Feel free to drop any things you want me to know about you in the comments below.
Here’s to me being me, and you being you, and us being connected through it all.
About Teresa Towey
Teresa Towey is a coach and mentor for women. She curates individual and group spaces to guide women in returning to their wild, visceral natures through connection to the body and the earth. She has a special focus in helping women express their sensuality and live in alignment with their menstrual cycles. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram. DM her to schedule a free 1:1 session!