“You quiet. … Gotta watch out for them quiet ones.”
I got that a lot growing up. I used to get kind of offended; now, I realize all those people had a point. You do have to watch out for the quiet ones–but not for the reasons everyone thinks.
Like many introverts, social situations practically give me hives. My palms sweat at the prospect of small talk and networking. I detest banquets, awards ceremonies, plated dinner events, and anything else that means milling around with a drink in my hand, trying not to nervously laugh and wildly gesticulate while making what I hope is a moderately witty rejoinder.
But conflict is worst of all. Conflict is my Kryptonite. I avoid it at all costs, and that’s a lot of work. It involves brushing off slights, swallowing hurt feelings, ignoring subtle digs and backhanded compliments, deflecting insults, thanking people for their not-so-constructive criticism, and pretending I’ve completely forgiven someone when I’m still just working on it.
In short: it takes a lot to goad me into being vocal about my discontent. But once I’m there, I will go all the way in. Not only will I address the topic of the current argument with laser-like focus; crisp, concise sentences; and an unwillingness to concede too many points, I will reach back to all the other times I was infuriated and said nothing, so that the current exchange isn’t just a disagreement. It’s an epic blow-out.
This is what makes the quiet ones dangerous. Most people think it’s because we’re “sneaky.” I say it’s because we sit with our emotions before we react to them. I say it’s because we’re wasp’s nests. Poke us before we’re ready to civilly discuss an emotional offense and see what kind of unnerving, surprisingly assertive response you get. It might be written. It might be emailed. It might be via phone. Or it might be all up in and through your personal space. But whatever the medium, it will be unexpectedly unpleasant.
If much has been made of the stereotypical Angry Black Woman, with her contrary, outspoken views, her ornery attitude, and her teeth-kissing, eye-rolling demeanor, not enough has been said about the black women who tamp down their emotions for peace-keeping’s sake in her professional or personal life. This could be because not enough people believe we exist. But we’re out here, dwelling among all the extroverts who have no problem speaking their minds, initiating confrontation, and diving headfirst into conflict.
According to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator profile on women like us–INFJs: introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging–we’re more likely to hold our anger in until it manifests as a health problem than we are to find healthy ways to communicate our issues before they begin to fester. So not only should others “watch out” for us; we should be wary of ourselves. If you’re like me, biting your tongue–sometimes for years–so that you feel liked, feel loved, or are seen as easygoing and amiable rather bitter and resentful, start taking small steps toward voicing your discontent with a situation in the moment you experiencing it. Start being upfront with your family and friends about how their comment or action made you feel. Start resolving, rather than resenting.
It will not be easy. And it won’t happen overnight. In fact, you may spend the rest of your life, working against your personality type to make significant progress. But it’s necessary work, and through it, you’ll find yourself feeling a more genuine serenity than the kind you’ve been pretending to have.