An innie in an outie’s world

Published: March 21, 2012
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If it’s possible for a child to have a heart attack, I may have had four on my first day of school. From barely interacting with two adults, I was suddenly expected to interact with 30 kids.

Growing up, I was such a quiet child, especially compared to my loud, older sisters that my parents would often forget me. They sometimes failed to remember they had a third child.

Once, they lost me at a supermarket and realised it when the store manager called. Had it not been for him, I’d be a feral child living in aisle six gorging on cereal and candy bars for the rest of my life.

No offense to my parents, they just didn’t know what to do with a little person like me.

Innately introverted

Had someone explained to them that I was innately different and that I had no control over this difference, it probably would’ve been easier on all of us.

For one thing, I wasn’t shy, I just enjoyed my time alone. It was much later in life that I figured that I fell on the deep end of introverted spectrum. For us introverts, getting lost in our thoughts, daydreaming for hours and being intoxicated by a book is a much better option than yapping away all day. While extroverts feel energised when they’re around people, introverts end up feeling tied down and tired after too much social interaction.

Parents of introverts

The biggest fear of parents these days is that their kid may end up neglected in class and by peers. So they push and coerce the child into socialising more. This, for the hypersensitive, introverted child who already realises he or she is different, makes him feel even worse for his supposed shortcomings.

An introvert at school

If I wasn’t weirdly quiet enough, my full-blown weirdness kicked in when I started school. If it’s possible for a child to have a heart attack, I may have had four on my first day of school. From barely interacting with two adults, I was suddenly expected to interact with 30 kids.

I felt betrayed by my parents, attacked by these alien creatures who looked like me but didn’t act the slightest bit like me, and most of all petrified of the authoritarian teacher who graded me on talking in front of these menacing heads.

Sitting alone during lunch hour, I would draw up elaborate plans of running away. I would pull my older sister from her classes and beg her to take me home. I’d even bribe the school chowkidaar to let me out.

And when all else failed, I quietly observed kids my age from a far and imitated their behaviour at home in a desperate attempt to fit in, to be noticed and to somehow embrace this normalcy that came naturally to everyone.

Conforming to extroversion

The social pressure of being extroverted is so subtly aggressive that most introverted children have no choice but to conform. I must have done a pretty good job of childhood imitations because by the time I was a senior, I had successfully changed myself. I continued my extroverted streak for years.

I was so good at putting on a pretentious front that I landed a job in external affairs. I went around every day from stressful presentations to business meetings, brainstorming sessions to group activities, and high-powered lunches to corporate dinners.

I’d come back drained from all positive energy, drenched in layers and layers of self-hate and depressed to surprisingly new lows. Life, itself, seemed taxing.

Hidden gifts of the introverted child

One of the reasons why introverted kids turn extroverted is because of the lack of encouragement and career options available to them. When you turn on the TV, everyone successful is loud, social and opinionated. Take politics, marketing or even the entertainment industry for instance, it pays to be on the extroverted side of the spectrum.

However, there are exceptions to the rule. Take Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein for instance. All introverted but still larger than life.

Introverts are gifted listeners, very observant, and focussed. These qualities go hand in hand with creative forms.

Find your strength

After years of being in the limelight, I finally went back to the skills I used as a coping mechanism for my social awkwardness — writing. And I haven’t looked back since.

Read more by this author here.

Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid

A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at www.thecityalive.com and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.