Letting It Out

by David Mein

I want to start by linking to a video that went viral a few years ago, which I think a lot of introverts can relate to. The important part is the beginning, in which two contestants on the reality show America’s Next Top Model are eliminated. One of them is, quite naturally, brought to tears by the bad news, while the other handles it more stoically. The show’s host, Tyra Banks, however, doesn’t like the quieter reaction. She interprets it as meaning the contestant didn’t care enough about the competition and decides to confront the contestant about this.

This three year old video that I just got around to seeing struck me in particular because it’s an example of something that I’ve sometimes experienced. I’m talking about an entitlement others feel to have me share my feelings with them.

I have to say, first off, that I know nothing about the show or the contestant. Maybe there were other reasons Tyra Banks thought she didn’t care. Maybe she didn’t work very hard at the challenges. This post really has nothing to do with the video; it’s about what I saw in it.

I think this is something other introverts can relate to. Maybe you don’t feel the same entitlement from other people, but I’m sure you’re sometimes made to feel like you’re supposed to “let it out.” Something that is a perfectly natural reaction for extroverts, but introverts are more inclined to want to keep things inside (hence the name).

It’s not that we don’t express our feelings to others; it’s that we want to express them on our own terms, when and to whom we choose. And it’s not that we’re superior beings because we control our emotions “better,” it’s just that we handle emotional situations (like hearing bad news) differently.

The problem is that there is an assumption about how people are “supposed” to react in these kinds of situations, and this assumption is based on how extroverts would react. When we don’t react the way we’re supposed to, people will then go on to assume that it’s because there’s something wrong, i.e., we’re suppressing our feelings, or those feelings weren’t there to begin with, or we don’t really care.

In everyday life, of course, it’s necessary to somehow communicate what’s going on inside your head in the interest of smoother work or personal relationships. There are plenty of times when the other person needs to know what you’re thinking or feeling, though you might not always want to communicate it.

The real challenge is finding the balance between communicating thoughts or feelings that need to be shared in order to maintain a relationship and following your natural inclination of keeping things inside. This is made more complicated by the fact that we sometimes do need to let it out, but doing so isn’t always considered appropriate.

I have no idea where that balance lies, but I would certainly like to know what you think (comment if you have an idea). My only point is there seems to be this idea that the only right way to deal with an emotional situation is to “let it out.” Some people might even take it as a personal offense if you don’t “let it out” to them. In the end, though, your feelings are yours and it’s up to you what you do with them.

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