I am an introvert with a fairly quiet demeanor. I have felt misunderstood many times in my life because of my quietness.
I am also naturally shy. I usually tend to be reserved and held back.
When I am with people that I don’t know well, I take time to warm up and begin to speak. In a large crowd, I am liable to be found on the edges, out of the limelight, watching and observing.
Even around my close loved ones, people who I am comfortable with, I often am the one who speaks the least. My highly sensitive nature contributes to being misunderstood. I am emotional, and sensitive. I cry easily.
I feel most of my emotions – happy, joyful, angry, sad, thankful – deeply and show them physically with tears in my eyes.
My quietness, and highly sensitive nature affect my approach to life, and they have also led many times to assumptions being made about me or about my actions, by others around me.
My silence gets filled in with another person’s idea of what my motivations are.
When I’m quiet, other people often assume that I am snobby, or grumpy. When I’m emotional, or when I have an emotional spin on an opinion, I’ve had some people think that I’m a drama queen, or that I am weak.
Or, they assume I am illogical and my opinion means nothing.
Another way I am misunderstood comes from my need to be careful about how much time I spend socially, so I don’t risk getting burnt out.
There are times that those people I limit contact with think I am snubbing them and being cruel.
Being misunderstood is one of the things I find most difficult.
I get extremely discouraged when I discover it has happened. I have a strong love for people, and so when my motivations are not viewed for what they truly are, I usually feel very badly hurt.
The times I have been wrongly understood, I have felt powerless and mute.
In those moments, I always wish I had the ability to lay my heart out in front of the people who have misunderstood me, to show them where my motivations really are.
But I can’t lay my heart out in the way I wish I could. Instead I have to rely on my words. And that is a problem for me.
Being misunderstood happens to everyone. It is not a problem solely for Highly Sensitive Introverts. But the problem I have which arises from being an HSI, is that when I am very upset, my words fail me.
I cannot connect my mouth to my brain properly.
When I am misunderstood, it upsets me. I feel a lack of validation as a person. As soon as I feel upset, I lose the ability to explain myself.
I become mute, and I end up feeling as though I am at the mercy of their opinion. Helpless to defend or make them understand who I am or what I am thinking.
Sometimes, because I am unable to form clear thoughts anymore, I begin to question if perhaps their misconception of myself and my thoughts – is right. I lose confidence easily.
There was a situation in my life this past year where I was greatly misunderstood, and although it was painful at the time, it has taught me an important lesson.
I had an acquaintance who interacted loosely in the same group of friends I was spending a fair amount of time with at that time. I had never felt much connection with her directly, but it was a pleasant acquaintanceship.
I assumed there was that level of basic mutual like and respect, which is normally there for pleasant acquaintances.
A discussion came up one day about positivity. This acquaintance held the opinion that anyone who tried to look at life positively in any way was fooling themselves, and that the only real way to get through life was with a heavy dose of cynicism.
I gently disagreed.
Her opinion struck me as very black and white. I stated my opinion. I said I thought that a person could choose to see the positive things in their life and still be realistic about the hard things too.
My acquaintance became very abrupt and dismissive towards me at this point. She came at me verbally, and (my paraphrase) she basically said that I was living in denial.
That I needed to get my head out of the clouds and stop thinking I could paint all the problems in the world pink and pretend they weren’t there.
My words failed me at this point, and I backed away from the conversation.
First, I was surprised and upset by the force of this frustration coming at me from a person I had always treated with kindness.
But mostly, I felt deeply dismayed at her opinion of me, because it was so far off from the truth of what I was thinking and saying. I felt misunderstood.
I tried to re-explain, but her demeanor made it clear that she was closed to what I was saying. She had formed her opinion on the subject of me, and she had made her mind up about what she thought I’d said. That was that.
I felt hurt and confused for a while afterwards. I dislike confrontation, so part of my upset centered there. I felt embarrassed and ashamed by the tension the conflict had caused, even though it was not my doing.
When I dug deeper however, I knew there was more to it than simply being upset about the conflict.
I didn’t like how it felt to be misunderstood. I didn’t like the feeling of being unable to explain myself. I was distraught for a while. I rolled the conversation over and over again in my head.
I thought of all the things I “should” have said. I criticized myself for not having been quick enough in mind to have said them.
“If only I had said X, then she would have understood”. I lost sleep. I questioned myself, my opinions, and my value as a person.
Time can be a wonderful thing. Over time, emotions settle. Searing pain and upset fades. The fog of confusion clears.
The disagreement with my acquaintance did not resolve over time. What did resolve was my response towards me as a result of the disagreement.
At first, I had turned all the blame of the misunderstanding towards myself. Every time I said “if only I had…”, I was telling myself that the actions and opinions of my acquaintance was MY responsibility to change.
In actuality, my responsibility is only to my own actions and character.
It is not my responsibility to make someone else like me, or understand me. I do not mean to be confrontational. Confrontation would only bring stress and bitterness into my life.
What I mean is that there is a time for letting go of feeling responsible for someone else’s actions and choices.
My acquaintance responded to me the way she did, and held the opinion about me that she chose. She misunderstood my thoughts. She misunderstood me as a person.
But those misunderstandings are on her, not on me. My responsibility ended at my words and actions. I knew I had conveyed what I thought to the best of my ability, but there was no opening. No effort to understand me.
Why she misunderstood me, I have no idea. Perhaps she had already disliked me and that tainted her opinion of what I said. Perhaps the subject touched a raw emotional nerve in her.
Perhaps we are just simply two people whose thinking does not connect.
There are a hundred different possibilities as to why she misunderstood me. Most of them have nothing to do with me.
There comes a point where explaining yourself more only leads to more confusion. Sometimes, if someone misunderstands you, they either don’t want to understand you, or they’re unable.
Letting go is not easy. But I consider it the only alternative that can lead to peace in some circumstances.
Letting go is a decision.
It is a decision to consciously turn your thoughts away from thinking “if only I had…” and instead tell yourself that you are only responsible for your thinking and your words.
You can only control your own actions and opinions, not theirs.
It’s telling yourself that what you did is done. That in this moment, now, it is time to let go to move forward.
Image Credit: Barta IV
A bend in the road led me to embrace my introversion, and to discover my identity as a highly sensitive person. As I have moved along the path in learning more about who I am, how to take care of myself as an introvert, and how to handle the challenges of life as an HSP - my love of writing has been rekindled and embraced once again. It intertwines with the journey I am on, and is reflected in what I write.