Introversion is confused with a lot of different things. Most commonly, with shyness. Sometimes with narcissism. Often with misanthropy. (This annoys the bejeepers out of me. For the ten millionth time—introverts like people! Just not all people all of the time.)
But a reader recently brought to my attention another misperception that needs clearing up: Introversion is not passive aggression.
Introverts do not sit in silent resentment when nobody reaches out to draw us into conversation. Yeah, we get a little annoyed when we try to contribute and people talk over us, and we might be more likely to withdraw than try to muscle into a rambunctious conversation. But usually, if we're sitting quietly, it’s because we're sitting quietly. We don’t expect, or want, anyone to do anything about that.
Also: Introverts don’t necessarily dodge conversation to be mean or as a veiled message of dislike. Sometimes we just don't have the energy for it. Or we're seriously not in the mood. Sometimes we’re just busy and don't want to be interrupted.
And we don’t necessarily turn down invitations because we don’t like people in general, or the specific people involved. Unless we are putting out an obvious “Not if you paid me to hang out with you …” vibe, you may assume that any decisions we make about how we spend our time are related to energy management or the nature of the activity rather than a judgment call on the people involved. Oh, and if we decline an activity because it’s not our thing, it is not a passive aggressive judgment on people who do enjoy that kind of thing. Go, have fun. We’re happy for you. Different strokes …
Some people seem to believe introverts refrain from making decisions, such as choosing a restaurant, because we don’t want to be held responsible should the choice turn out to be a stinker. Wrong again. I mean, yes, some introverts might do that. But it’s not because they’re introverts. It’s because they’re passive aggressive introverts.
While I can be dithery about decisions, it’s usually because I genuinely don’t care rather than as a ruse to dodge responsibility. On the other hand, have been known to turn into a scout leader in groups of people, pulling the trigger on decisions when discussion is going in circles, and herding dawdlers and wanderers to get the gang moving.
The trouble with being quiet or withdrawing is that sometimes, people insert their own messages into our silence, and that presumed message is often negative.
Of course, we introverts do need to take responsibility for some of this and pay attention to when people need more information, and whether or when we are, in fact, being passive aggressive.
If you find yourself sighing loudly rather than saying what you need to say, you’re passive aggressive.
If you think it’s up to other people to draw you into conversation, you’re passive aggressive.
If you frequently say “yes” to invitations and then back out at the last minute, you’re passive aggressive.
If you sulk a lot, you’re passive aggressive.
Introverts can be passive aggressive, sure. But so can extroverts. Introversion and extroversion are traits; passive aggression is a behavior. And an annoying one at that.
So whatever your personality, if you’re passive aggressive, cut it out.
My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, 2012, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.