“You are so quiet.”
“I can’t imagine you being fun.”
“You’re going to snap one day and curse us out.”
“I bet you get crazy when you drink.”
These are the types of sentiments I hear on a regular basis as an introverted Black woman with social anxiety. I never know how to respond to these questions. Do people actually want an answer or am I just being humiliated? As an introvert, I’m constantly in my head, running through questions and dialogue. Add in the layer of social anxiety and I begin to feel panicked. Whenever I’m faced with one of these questions I just stare with a bemused look on my face shaking my head.
I went through life being the “quiet girl” to most people, while people that I’m close to would say, “you just have to get to know her.” But, people don’t have the patience to get to know you, especially not when you’re an adult. I’ve always felt different. Like most introverts, I attract extroverts as friends. I believe it’s the yin and yang factor. While I enjoyed the contrast of my friends, I didn’t see myself in them. I don’t have a large family –no sisters and I don’t relate to my mother whose desire for acceptance causes her to shape herself to fit whichever mold she needs to at the time. When I look to the media, Black women, especially those who are brown and dark skin, are always portrayed as sassy, loud, outgoing, and hysterically funny — the opposite of me.
Growing up I didn’t feel heard, and for a child who’s already on the quiet side that can be extremely detrimental. My voice and opinion didn’t matter so what’s the point of speaking up? I loved to write and would express myself fully in my diary. Around age nine, my parents found my diary, read it, and punished me for what I wrote in it. After that, I felt like I couldn’t trust my parents and my introversion grew not only when I was outside my home, but inside with my family where I should be most comfortable. This was one of those life-changing moments for me. I’m in my late 30’s and when I think about that incident I can still feel the shock, anger, and disappointment I felt towards my parents before I was even 10 years old.
Going to school as an introvert wasn’t difficult. I enjoyed being around my friends and teachers like the quiet kid. It wasn’t until after college when I started working in an office setting that I started to feel anxious around my colleagues. I would have stomach pains, dry mouth, and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was always on high alert. I knew I was introverted, people told me I was shy, but the feelings I had didn’t match. At work, I felt judged and, in a mostly white environment, I always felt my blackness, having to repeat my name, being asked how I could live in the city, and being reminded of my accent. I’d never experienced these interactions growing up in a Black neighborhood and going to predominantly Black schools.
On top of feeling anxious, the introverted side of me had no interest in having conversation eight hours a day and telling my coworkers everything about my personal life. Currently, I work in an office at a large company whose workforce is approximately 50 percent people of color. I’m no longer in the minority race wise, but I’m still treated as an enigma. Now I don’t fit into Black people’s ideal of a Black woman. Going into an atmosphere on a daily basis, and being judged for being quiet triggers my anxiety. However, I have no choice. I have a family, I need to make money, so I deal with it, no matter how uncomfortable and mentally exhausted I feel.
In my mid-twenties I Googled my personality traits and how I was feeling to get a better understanding of myself. I honestly didn’t know the true meaning of an introvert until I was an adult and started doing research. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines being introverted as “shy” but it’s just not that simple. As I continued to research, I found mental health professionals have a more in-depth definition for introverts, basically stating that we enjoy less stimulating environments and time to allow ourselves to recharge and reboot. Now that I could relate to. However, generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety are not always tied to being an introvert. I believe that my social anxiety evolved out of a bad relationship in my late teens to early twenties and low self-esteem. I wasn’t taught to love my quiet self. Although a lot of my anxiety symptoms have subsided, I see my social anxiety as a behavior I have to unlearn. I am comfortable with being an introvert even though it makes other people uncomfortable, but I desperately want to overcome my social anxiety.
Before getting married, my biggest issue was finding someone who accepted me for who I am. If I’m comfortable with you, you’re going to get all sides of my personality. Most men didn’t understand how I could be funny and have a flowing conversation with them, but clam up around people I didn’t know. I just didn’t fit the mold of how they perceived a Black woman to be. I don’t want to go on couples vacations or go out every weekend with your friends. I don’t want to go over to your mom’s house and sit and talk for hours. I’m sure a lot of introverted and extroverted women don’t want to do any of the aforementioned things, but just the idea of it would start the nervous thoughts and fear. Fear that the combination of my introversion and social anxiety would have me seen as the weird Black girl. When I met my husband I was on a personal journey that involved a bit of therapy and a lot of prayer to accept myself while still trying to overcome social anxiety. Having a patient and understanding partner helps, but I still see it as my issue alone.
Now that I’m a mother, I’m put into more situations where I have to socialize with strangers. Most of these are quick situations where people just say “hi” to my toddler or say she is cute and ask her age. I know the older she gets the more these interactions will grow, especially once she’s in school. I want the mama bear in me to be able to stand up for my child because I plan on raising a responsible, opinionated, and adventurous child. Being an introvert with a busy, high-energy toddler hasn’t been easy. I’m sometimes so tired of talking that my voice hurts. Having a schedule has helped the day feel less chaotic and allows me to recharge. I also try to take naps when she does and implemented quiet play an hour before bed. Although she’s still just a toddler, I make a conscious effort to make her feel heard in the way that I wasn’t. I give her choices to point to which fruit she wants, or what color she wants to wear. Just little things to help her build confidence and her decision making.
As an introverted Black woman with social anxiety, I want to be accepted, acknowledged, and represented. I don’t feel the need to say everything I think, and I’ll never be the loudest person in the room, but I do have a voice. So do many other Black women like me.
My name is Kia. I’m a college-educated, full time working mom and wife maneuvering life through a big city as an introvert with social anxiety.