Woe Is Me! “My Family Mocks Me for Being Introverted. Help?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am a 17 year old boy who is not very social and I have the worst time of my life in parties and social gatherings. My younger brother (13 years old) however is a great conversationalist. People admire and love him. I overheard an aunt of mine complaining to my mother on how antisocial I am and what do others in my extended family think of me. I try my best to put up a good behaviour and talk to everyone, but I just don’t feel the need to do so. My parents pass snide, indirect comments about me everyday and it becomes especially difficult to deal with it when we’re having dinner or are together, etc. Please help?“
— A Man of Few Words
RP: This perpetual fear of “log kya kahenge” too often gets in the way of how parents see their kids, and stops them from giving real advice from the heart. Sit them down and tell them what you need. No one knows you better than you. People misread extroversion as being well-adjusted or comfortable in your own skin, but really they are unrelated. Some of us get energized by being around others and some feel depleted, everyone is wired differently. It is not an indication of how you feel about the people you’re meeting, your parents, or how happy or adjusted you are.
You need to share with them what drives you and how you want to socialize. It’s their job to believe what you say, and if you lay it all out, then you can have a real conversation about how to balance what they want and what you want. Maybe they want you to accompany them on visits to one particular relative but you want to only stick around for a short time. Or there’s a regular family gathering that you don’t want to go to as often as them. By talking about it, they can get to know you, and not take this personally.
It’s very likely that this is all out of concern and they just want you to be happy. But let them hear that the forced socializing is not going to make you happier. And their snide comments and relaying back to you what the aunt has said will do more harm than good. If both sides can accept the other as they are, they leave room for you to socialize as you want, and you step out of the comfort zone for some situations that are important to them, that will leave everyone feeling understood and respected. This is probably one of many ways your relationship with them right now will evolve from being parents to a child to being parents to an adult. Good luck!
AS: I’m sorry you’re going through such a tough time. All you’re doing is being your natural self, and it seems like people around you just don’t get that. I think it’s important to let your close family and friends in on this, just the way you’ve said it in your question. They won’t know how you feel until you tell them that their comments can be hurtful and insensitive. These comments can also be a result of your parents thinking that you are distancing yourself from them, and, to an extent it’s normal for them to be concerned. It’s possible that they are also looking for some reassurance from you, that you’re okay and this is just how you prefer to be. I think if you actively communicate that to them, they will give you your space, and take your side the next time an aunt whines about it. Hang in there!
KB: Society — for some inexplicable reason — idealizes extroverts who don’t show the slightest bit of shyness or discomfort in large social settings. And while it is, indeed, a lovely quality to be a social butterfly and enjoy buzzing around a crowded room and being the center of attention, it is also a wonderful quality to not need to perform for others, to be content with your own thoughts and company, and to not need the presence or acceptance of others to feel at peace. I want to tell you unequivocally that your family is wrong to chide you for your personality, and your parents are especially wrong to pick on you. As you grow up, you will find more and more people who are like you, and who value your personal style. You may find, one day, that when you are surrounded by others who accept you and understand you, you feel comfortable enough to be that social butterfly in their presence. Personally, if I had to choose, I’d rather talk to the quiet, cerebral person in the room over the performing, spotlight-hogger any day. Chin up, one day you will be surrounded by people who love you and cherish you for who you are. In the meantime, do your best to brush off your family’s rudeness.
LG: You are perfectly fine just the way you are. Chatty extroverts are overrated, and society places way too much pressure on people to be entertaining and ‘on’ all the time. A star isn’t a star without an audience! In other words, can you imagine how awful it would be if everyone was chatty and excitable all the time? Sounds a bit like hell to me. So don’t compare yourself to your brother, even if other people do. You’re different people with different personalities and different strengths! I’m sure you shine in ways he doesn’t, too. (I suspect having the self-awareness to reflect on this topic and reach out to others is one of them.) I’m sorry your parents pass comments — maybe they’re just teasing and don’t realize how much it hurts you? I suggest you tell them; it’s likely they’ll really try (if not always succeed; habits are hard to break) to change how they talk about your introversion.
As much as I understand not feeling the need to make small talk (ugh) with anyone and everyone, sometimes it is necessary just to be polite. Here’s the trick, as an introvert: Get the other person talking so all you have to do is nod and smile. A good way to do this is to think of one open-ended question to ask each person you expect to see. Try to make it about something you know they’re passionate about or like to talk about. Work might be an option for some people — “What are you working on right now? What do you like about it? What is challenging about it?” And hobbies are a safe bet — “How’s your dancing going? What do you enjoy about it?” “What’s next for you?” or family members — “How’s your daughter/son? What’s new with them?” If it helps, pretend you’re an investigative journalist tasked with investigating people’s lives. Regardless, your family will be so touched by your sudden interest in them (like I said – just nod and smile while your brain is elsewhere) they’ll stop giving you a hard time. Good luck, Still Waters.
DR: I’m sorry you have to go through this. Being forced to interact with people can be laborsome and anxiety-inducing. And while it’s nice that you’re trying, I would recommend that you stop forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to. You’re not obligated to change yourself for them, just because they’re your family. Why don’t you conserve your energy instead, and channel it towards picking a college or career that’ll take you away from them ASAP, so that you don’t have to put up with this? I know families are important, but if they can’t accept something that’s so innate to you, and feel the need to taunt you about it, then it’s their loss. As for extended families, if they’re bothered by your introvertedness, then I’m afraid it’s leading me to think that they’re just bitter people with no lives of their own — do you want their negative energies lingering in your life anyway?
I mean, you could sit your family down, and explain who you are, and what you feel — but, frankly, it’s not your job to educate them. On the other hand, as a family, it’s their job to provide a safe, inclusive environment for you. They failed at that. Please don’t let that failure take a toll on you? Perhaps, you can speak to a therapist, if it might help you deal with this scenario better — but, not to change yourself; to deal with the negativity your family has inflicted upon you. Good luck!