What people totally get wrong about you when you’re a private person

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What people totally get wrong about you when you're a private person
I’m probably crying inside here! (Kidding, probably just saw a bug)

I envy anyone who is able to open up to acquaintances and sometimes even strangers about their personal lives. When shit goes down in their lives, you’ll hear about it, and there seems to be something really freeing about that. I wouldn’t know as I’m one of those super private people who needs a subpoena to get anything out of me. Well, unless you’re one of about five super-trusted people in my life who get to hear everything. Just ask my partner — he is always shocked when someone describes me as “quiet.” But quiet I am to most people.

I think a lot of us fall under the category of private, reserved, or whatever term people have used to describe our stoicism. Certainly the term “introvert” has taken on a life of its own, though I think of this as something slightly different. The problem is, if you don’t talk about your life, people will assume some pretty off-base things about you. And as a person who doesn’t talk at length about this kind of thing (obvs!), I thought it might be time to see who else is feeling a little misread. Here’s what I’ve found that people will totally get wrong about you when you’re a private person…

Still waters run shallow

You think if you’re quiet and mysterious that folks will think you’re, well, quiet and mysterious. More often than not, I probably just seem like a blank slate one can safely assume is boring as hell. Is it true? Not for most people. But if you’re not sharing much, there’s not much to know. The benefit of the doubt is NOT usually on, “this person probably has a rich internal monologue going on!” (praise hands for fellow INFJs? No? Damn). Quiet people have the potential to have a lot going on in their heads that you just don’t know about. That’s how humans work. It’s just really easy to assume otherwise.

What people totally get wrong about you when you're a private person
All The Feels Vinyl Sticker

You don’t feel things as deeply

“Oh my gawd, I wish I could just bottle up my feelings and go on with my day like you do,” is an exclamation I’ve heard on more than one occasion. Yep, I wish that, too, but sadly, most of us can’t use repression as an actual coping mechanism and be okay. Private people may not be talking about their lives much, but we’re certainly living it just as much and dealing with the same feelings at the same levels. Someone who is more dramatic or able to easily emote outwardly may seem like they have the monopoly on FEELING ALL THE FEELS, but we’re just emoting them while alone, to our trusted circle, or agonizing in silence. It’s there, I promise, we’re just not projecting it out in the same way.

Your life is awesome

I once heard that shyness is actually a form of self-aggrandizement since it implies that if you’re self-conscious of how you’re perceived, that you assume people actually give a shit about what you do. As a formerly shy person, this is a pretty freeing thought. If people are mostly just worrying about what people are thinking of them, then they’re not thinking about you. Freeing, n’est–ce pas?

For the most part, if you don’t tell someone what’s going on with you, there isn’t anything to assume is going wrong. I know I recently had a dose of this reality when a friend of mine admitted on social media that they aren’t likely to share their struggles online and therefore it only SEEMS like everything is awesome for them. This is something we’re all guilty of, myself very much included. It’s easy to have a friend who is private who seems like everything is hunky-dory because they just aren’t talking about their problems. And it may be because they think nobody actually cares (since everyone’s pretty much just trying to live their own lives). If you’re wanting to pry open a reserved person, let them know that you’re one of the people who really does care.

You’re stuck up

As an insecure person (see point above!), I’m not likely to be called stuck-up by anyone who knows me well. Arrogance has not been a definer by most who know me. Lots of other faults, sure. Just not that one in particular. If you even consider arrogance a fault at all. But when you’re not opening up and sharing your life trials with someone, it can totally feel like they just don’t think you’re worthy of their confidence. I totally get this one. But once they get past whatever keeps them private (insecurity, trust issues, maybe nothing at all?), you’ll probably find that they’re cool as hell.

Are your waters running deep and silent? Show me some solidarity or let me know how I’m totally off-base!

Comments on What people totally get wrong about you when you’re a private person

  1. this. so much this! with family, neighbors and the like; the assumption is that I am snobby and a bitch. I may be a little bitchy but I am really just uber private … found out by watching the most of my family implode over “over sharing” that you can never take back anything you say, and eventually anything you share can come back and bite you. I think about everything that I say, all of the time

  2. I am a private extrovert, if that makes sense. I learned exactly what you point out a long time ago. Worse, I found that people pry MORE when they imagine you are hiding stuff. Such is human nature.

    So in a semi-friendly environnement (like work or with people I am not really close to) I am bubbly and friendly. I listen a lot. I share tons of inconsequential things, day-to-day stuff, what my kid has done etc.

    The truth is this is the nice flower garden in my front yard. There is a LOT of crap in my past, the things they make movies out of. And obviously, you accept and move on, but you are still scarred. I don’t want anyone poking around in my squishy innards. I’m like a glass of swamp water, nicely decanted. The water on top is pure and sparkly, but there is a large layer of settled muck underneath. And no way am I diving back there.

    So I don’t seem that private. Perhaps a bit superficial. And I cultivate this impression. I guess you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Even someone who seems open might be holding stuff close!

  3. This rings so true to me. I’m an introvert on the autistic spectrum, and I find it so hard to open up and talk to people I don’t know. Somehow, 1 time out of 100, I just click with someone and we become friends. Or spouses. I’ve always had a handful a friends at any given point in my life, not lifelong friends, but close enough persons I care about. But other than that, IRL social interactions are hell to me. Corporate BBQ with my husband’s coworkers? Hell. Small talk at a networking luncheon? Hell. Small talk with travelers in a hostel? Hell. Small talk? Hell.

    I probably look stuck-up, cold, childish, immature, shy and probably outright boring. It’s okay. I have a very rich social online life where I can be myself. And a rich “real” life with myself, my husband and my furbabies. I try not to push myself too hard in social situations. If we click, it’s cool. If not, I’ll let you lead the conversation and I don’t care if you find me boring. Maybe I am. But my life is not boring at all, and that’s what matters in the end.

    • i am a super private person with an ASD son … makes us home bodies. It is nice to hear that you have a great online social life, because I can see him developing the same. Thank you

  4. Oh Catherine, every time I read one of your posts I think to myself “we have the exact same tastes and we seem so much alike” and now you post this and just kind of cemented it for me… I am a super introvert and often tell my husband that my dream life is just to be a hermit…. 🙂

    I think a lot of people probably think that I come off as bitchy because I don’t open up or like touching other people (please don’t come in for a hug!) but that’s just not who I am, plus everyone I know (minus my husband) has betrayed my confidence or used me in some way so now I just don’t trust anyone (that’s really kind of sad, I get it)

    and honestly, as I grew up, I was never good enough for my family (my mom especially) so now its ingrained in myself and my self-confidence/worth that Im not really worth talking to or seeing anyway, so I just assume that no one wants to talk to me so I try to make it easier on them by flying under the radar instead of them having to pretend they like me or have to talk to me… I really know this is so messed up, but its really how I feel and often find my inner voice saying this

  5. As the wife of a pretty reserved husband, its amazing to see how polarizing the effect is based on gender. Reserved women are seen as stuck up or superficial, but my husband seems to take on a different persona for each person he meets. He’s gotten everything from “he’s like that quiet reverential cowboy, staring into the sunset” (never ridden a horse in his life and really looks more apt to go viking) to “man, that guy just must be super deep” (he’s probably thinking about butts and has admitted to it). He’s usually pretty frustrated after a lot of interaction with people. Even close friends have come up with some pretty strange misconceptions. It’s almost like people want to fill in the blanks by making their own fantasy “broody male character” instead of listening to his actual interests and personality.

    • The ‘fan-fiction’ is real. My coworkers got busted for making up all kinds of racist drama (all the new staff who were people of color were apprehensive of me). The shallow end that I work with made up quite the drama for a year without putting it together that I don’t eat ham and don’t participate in Christmas. Quite a few people found themselves under a bus for the literature they crafted. Of course, my workplace is full of full on abuse.

      People are bad guessers, bullies, and lack cognitive abilities and/ or emotional intelligence. The excuse of ‘human nature’ is way too far. I’ve lived abroad. Humans do not do that. It is a petty low class behavior in America to constantly craft lies about people. Culture is learned, bullying is learned, having no respect for boundaries is abuse, not human nature.

  6. So true! Though on the flip side, I’ve also assumed people were deeper and more interesting because they were quiet and reserved, but then it turns out that there wasn’t much going on in their heads at all. I think I’m quick to assume that because I’m surrounded by shy introverts who come across quite reserved, but turn out to be absolutely brilliant, so the flip side throws me off lol.

  7. In many ways I am a private person, it’s a bit of a self preservation mechanism. I don’t want to hash and rehash all of the things I brood about because for the love of Pete I do it enough in my own head and with the few people I’m really close to – I don’t want to go over it all again with someone I barely know. But because of this I’ve been told I’m “mousy” or “submissive” when actually I am often dominant and bold when I feel its necessary or I’m in my comfort zone. Because of anxiety/trust/whatever-you-want-to-call-it issues it can take a while for me to feel comfortable.

  8. This post really resonated with me – but because I’m an over-sharer, with mostly extroverted friends. It’s really hard for me to interact with private people, and not assume they’re judgy or hiding information. It’s totally easy to forget that everyone has various comfort levels with disclosing information, and that’s OK!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Edit: in spontaneous irony, I, a gushy extrovert who is discreet at work, have responded to the discussion with copious amounts of information that is likely to garner a negative reaction. If the reader is offended by the following explanations, then that dear reader evidences why some people just zip it, rather than trying to explain anything important to people who do not care about them.

      One can be gushy and extroverted and still withhold information. It is a skill I have learned from several mentors. Once you make a big mistake via verbal diarrhea, one learns to zip it pretty fast. The quiet ones are likely to be protecting their career with preventing overshares or harmless dossier info that some immature person reacts poorly to. Many supervisors lack the skill to control harassment at all, so preventing it helps.

      Also, ‘Bitch shaming’ women for having discretion is abusive. Seriously, HR has paperwork for that.

      I’ve had several reserved colleauges over the years. It was always my instinct to gain their trust, rather than perceive them as negative. Sometimes, they were just being considerate of me! One was a late to marry late to babies herself and didn’t want to rub my nose in her blessings! When she found out that I can talk baby and preggo all day , she opened up. One of the others, never did open up, but I figured out later that he was probably protecting himself as a Jew from a bunch of publicly anti-semite students. Of course he would never tell us what he ate or anything outside of work. Some diverse, immigrant and mixed race colleagues are just emotionally tired of explaining their racial and ethnic backgrounds to every single human they talk to. So I just play the colorblind game, it may come up eventually and the world doesn’t explode if I never know either.

      As far as coworkers go, people work somewhere to earn money for food and rent. Not join a high school clique or to be judged by people who are in no position of insight. Being nosy doesn’t confer an ability to understand or appropriately respond to what they have to say. It is awesome sauce when coworkers are best friends outside of work, but it is total harassment that people are ostracized at work if they don’t match in personal lives or gossip proclivities; much of which is rooted in religion and class backgrounds.

      Maybe it would help to remember that you really don’t want the information. People deal with domestic violence, family estrangements, rape /incest survivors, and health concerns that are too esoteric for small talk. Mental health problems are very common in the US & UK. Sometimes, someone’s personal life is in transition, converting religions, fertility problems, a very long job search from under employed millennial. What is taking up their head is just a rat’s nest of unresolved concerns that are both not up for debate or opinion.

      Emotional vampires are real, blocking them off is essential. No one owes anyone that level of emotional investment outside of a spouse.

      It is a privilege to have a life that is actually ‘party conversation’. Sometimes they are just stopping problems or don’t want to focus on the drama outside of customers for a few hours.

      Talk about harmless stuff. It’s all good!

      If you made it this far, Congrats and Thank you. If you are mad, now you know exactly why we don’t give you displaced anger targets at work.

  9. As someone who has no problem opening up (and a bit of a problem *not* opening up), I find it hard to date, and tend to make the assumption a guy just doesn’t care that much if he’s relatively quiet. Any thoughts on how to gently crack the shell when you like someone you’ve been dating a few months but there seems to be an emotional barrier, and you’re getting so little info from them? Feels like things aren’t “progressing” anywhere but how do you know how a person really feels if they are evasive with said feelings? I can’t tell if it’s insecurity, self-preservation, or he just doesn’t like me that much. I get the sense that question would make him uncomfortable and he’d make a joke and change the subject. Then there are the guys who are super open with their feelings and in retrospect it often turns out to be a red flag to emotional instability. I can’t figure this stuff out and I have had more dates and more relationships than anyone I know. I’m feeling like either giving up or going with a crazy, but openly passionate dude.

  10. I experienced this problem at university, being the ambivert NFP that I am, many people I associated with assumed that my outward persona (smiled a lot in public, friendly and polite) that I was ‘happy-go-lucky’ all the time, and people didn’t take me seriously when I told them I suffered from depression and anxiety. I had to find distance from this and found that this expectation I had of myself (that it was only acceptable to express happiness) actually created these problems and created more pressure to my life with the way I interacted with people. I have realised that I needn’t respond to people’s assumptions about me as people come from different wavelengths. There are people out there who will understand you without much verbalisation because they’re able to connect with you on a soul/intuitive level, and that’s much more meaningful and fulfilling. In addition to enjoying spending time alone, surrounding myself with people who I can connect with on a deeper level sounds fulfilling.

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