“[A]t school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.” ~Susan Cain     

The Protective Shell

Like turtles, introverts arm themselves with a protective outer shell.   This comes in handy when we face people and situations that endanger both our energy levels and our self-esteem.  It also helps us survive insults and criticism from insensitive extroverts. Unkind words bounce off our shells instead of penetrating our soft, squishy interior.

Our shell manifests itself in our guarded nature.  We tend to be slow to trust new people and slower still to reveal our true selves to them.

The Porcupine Effect    

 For some introverts, metaphorical armor isn’t enough. Years of enduring hurtful comments from brash extroverts (ie. “you’re weird”, “party pooper”, “you’re too quiet”) can cause us to develop a porcupine-like exterior.  Our spikes begin to come out at the mere mention of the word “extrovert”.

One need only browse through the comments section of introvert blogs and pages to confirm that many introverts harbor feelings of hostility toward extroverts. Some honest self-examination revealed that I too have succumbed to the porcupine effect.   Well-intentioned extroverts stir up hostility in me because they remind me of people who hurt my feelings in the past.  Speaking of which …

The Extrovert Bully                                                                                                         

A few years ago, while standing in line in front of Darcy’s Pub, I encountered an introvert’s worst nightmare: the drunken, obnoxious extrovert bully.  I’m sure you’ve come across his species before.  This kind of extrovert is loud, pushy and completely oblivious to the feelings of others.  He relishes spewing slurred insults at anyone who seems different.  He is also master of pointing out the obvious (ie. “you’re really quiet”).

That fateful night, Captain Obvious decided that I would be his target.  Being the genius that he was, he immediately picked up on the fact that I was different.  “Why are you so quiet?” he stammered loudly.  “It’s weird and I don’t like it.  You should talk more.”

Words escaped me.  A vicious retort formed in my mind, but couldn’t find its way past my lips.  Instead, one of my loyal and totally fierce extroverted girlfriends unleashed her fury on him. But it was too late.  The damage was already done.

This experience and several others sharpened my quills and made me more leery of all extroverts.

The Wounded Turtle                                                                                                        

Of course, the porcupine effect isn’t the only way that introverts react to extrovert bullying.  Often, neither sword nor shield can protect us from hurtful words and situations.  Instead, we internalize things. We begin to believe that something is wrong with us.  We become like a wounded turtle whose shell has been ruptured.

So, what happens when a turtle’s shell is penetrated and her gummy green interior is pierced?  Well, if this tortoise is anything like me, she’ll lock herself in the bathroom and cry for 20 minutes because someone told her she’s strange (don’t tell anyone, but this actually happened to me last week – can you recognize me in the picture below?).

Wounded Turtle


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Replies to This Discussion

I have been told I'm too quiet - anyone have any stories of Extrovert bullying they would like to share?

I know that extrovert bullying was what caused me to be "painfully shy". When I don't feel especially threatened I'm not all that shy. Middle school I basically tried to disappear. Sometimes I could go a whole school day without saying a single word. There's a young adult novel called "Speak" that captures how I felt. Reading about "select mutism" it mentions people who are quiet, and then people don't expect that they'll say anything, so it's a vicious cycle.

There were people who told me I shouldn't be so shy, who meant well. I was very awkward because I felt so nervous. Then there were people who were asked me how come I never talk, or said "you have a mouth!" Needless to say, interrogation or yelling didn't help me come out of my shell. The only thing that helped me come out of my shell was a less hostile atmosphere.

That happened to me too Prog Rock Girl so it is why I thought it necessary to post an article about it.

There was a Spanish guy at one place I worked who was casually and loudly offensive a lot of the time.  A friend called him a "young fart", as in, he farted up the emotional atmosphere. 

People made the usual cultural excuse "he's just very Hispanic".  But being that way isn't actually part of Hispanic culture so far as I know.  He wasn't Hispanic-looking, so I'm guessing his "Spanishness" was from Spain, not South America. 

Someone else at that workplace said that this guy stepped on people every opportunity he saw.  He was talking about emotionally stepping on people, doing things to make them feel bad.  This guy did his job managing the computer system without being awful to the users of it.  So everybody had to put up with the personal insults. 

I have been told I'm too quiet...

A college math professor told me I need to toot my own horn because no one will toot it for me. He was right; I've carried his words for more than fifty years.

I too learned to keep quiet. My parents, my dad more than my mom, taught me.

Two years after that professor told me to toot my own horn, I kind of stumbled into working for a computer manufacturer and did work in which I could largely remain quiet. I married a teacher who said as little about herself as I did about myself. She quit teaching and did part-time sales work. I went with her to a morale-building workshop, got inspired, and joined Toastmasters.

Now, 40 years later, I tell people I joined Toastmasters and haven't stopped talking yet.

Years after my parents died I learned why they'd so seldom spoke. My dad's grandparents had been peasants in south Germany where they had been taught that people who were talking were not working.

Others here in America have told me they too had European ancestors who'd been taught the same.

In Dorothy (Law) Nolte's semi-poetic Children Learn What They Live, one line reads Children learn shyness when they live with ridicule.

My dad had used a leather belt to keep me quiet; my mom had used ridicule. I stayed out of their way by reading. I won most school spelling bees and have a huge vocabulary.

In college I met a few people who were far more extroverted than I. I never heard even one word of bullying from them.

The "team bullying" I've heard was always done by a team's leaders. Their followers remained quiet.

Does any of the above "ring a bell" for you?

You don't have to be an introvert to suffer from arrogant asshole acts. Our sick culture encourages men to act like that. Fight back with militant feminism, I say.

During the late 1970s in SF, I was active with Common Cause and when the National Board came out in support of the ERA I joined SF NOW to get the ERA ratified.

During that period, a program brought a panel of women sex workers to a meeting. It brought out more SF NOW members than any other program I went to.

One of the women on the panel said that taking money from men is the highest form of feminism.




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