Beware the Quiet Ones: A Look Inside the Mysterious World of Shy People

I have always hated the saying, “it’s always the quiet ones.”

After a mass shooting or a despicable murder, this is a common refrain. Reporters interview neighbors who knew the suspect and they usually mention how unassuming the killer was. He was quiet and kept to himself.

I can’t recall any specific events or words spoken, but what I do remember is the anger I always feel after hearing others agree.

“It’s always the quiet ones,” someone inevitably says.

(Forgetting the extroverted charm of Ted Bundy, of course).

And the audience at home, listening in rapt tension, generally agrees with this. They start looking at the quiet people in their lives and wonder: is he quiet because he’s plotting something?

Chances are the answer is no. Chances are that quiet person is simply that–just quiet–and wants to be left alone. That person is either suffering from social anxiety, is an introvert, or doesn’t like to make a spectacle of himself.

Personally, I’ve never been victimized by a shy or quiet person. Quite the opposite: it’s  people who can’t shut up who bother me. They run their mouths until they say something offensive. They can’t take no for an answer. They bully and tease. They steal the spotlight, interrupt, and berate.

But it’s the quiet ones who are suspect, who are carefully watched for any signs of psychopathy, But why, other than the methodical plotting of serial murder, would someone be shy or quiet?

Fear

Shy and quiet are not the same thing. Shy means you’re afraid to talk to people (generally), while being quiet means you just choose not to speak.

There are many reasons why a person may choose not to speak to others, but if you’re deciding every single day to keep your mouth shut, there must be a reason for it. As a quiet person myself, I can provide some insight into two reasons.

Insecurity and ineptitude.

As I said earlier, I’ve found that most people don’t trust the quiet. And the quieter you are, the more suspicious you appear. A quiet person leaves everything up to interpretation. They are a blank slate. People are natural gossips and always curious, and so they fill in that blank slate with assumptions and opinions and details, many of which aren’t true at all and are usually negative.

Exacerbating this truth is another: talking to people is difficult. Choosing topics and the right words to express them. Reading your audience. Figuring out what other people want from you or how you should act. Balancing talking with listening. Some quiet people simply can’t navigate all of this trouble.

The quiet person knows he’s different and lacking something fundamental to being human–the easy ability to communicate. He listens to the conversations around him, perhaps wishing he knew what to say. He can tell the people around him think he’s weird and awkward, heightening insecurities he already has.

He’s probably tried and failed to talk to people with ease and charm, and so now the prospect is frightening. And most people avoid their fears. In the end, it’s just easier just to keeps his mouth shut.

Modesty

In college, I took a sculpture class. (Side note: I suck at making sculptures).

My professor was young, maybe in his mid 30s, and handsome for a professor. He was “hip.” I think he had a nose ring. He found out one day that I liked the band Kings of Leon (a brand-spanking new band back then) and burned their most recent album on a CD for me.

He was a man of few words, always watching and listening, smiling to himself. I sensed that he was always thinking about something deep and fascinating, but would never share it with anyone.

He was a good professor and from what I could tell, a talented artist. He was intelligent and interesting and paid attention to the people around him. He was quiet but not cut off from the outside world.

One day in class, he said to no one in particular that most people talk and talk and talk, but rarely say anything at all. Truer words were never spoken, and they bring me to the second motivation for being quiet–modesty.

Some people put themselves on display. Every thought and feeling is expressed, every achievement and talent boasted about, every opinion shared openly. A quiet person like my sculpture professor doesn’t like to impose themselves on others.

That person understands there’s a time to say what you think, and a time to keep it to yourself. Or maybe he doesn’t think his thoughts, feelings, achievements, talents, or opinions are interesting enough to share with the world. Or he just wants to hide, averse even to positive attention.

Introversion

Introverts and extroverts don’t really understand each other.

I can’t comprehend someone deriving energy and excitement from being around other people. Other people tire me out–and that’s how introverts function.

To an introvert, the outside world can be a bit too over-stimulating at times and when that happens, they retreat into the inner sanctum of their own thoughts. They are comfortable with being quiet and are always thinking about something, real or imagined.

The introvert has an internal energy meter. When she goes out into the outside world, with all of its stimuli and people, that meter is full. With every conversation, no matter how minor, the meter decreases, like a battery. Eventually, there’s no energy left and the introvert needs to recharge.

At this point, the introverted brain literally loses the ability to form words and sentences, or listen to the words and sentences spoken by others. It’s a crushing fatigue, pulling the introvert down into quiet oblivion.

Energy returns only in an environment of solitude, quiet, and stillness. A calming, familiar place, a solo activity, a nap. And once the energy bar is full again, she can go back into the world, fresh-faced and ready to speak.

I’ve never understood why quiet, shy people inspire such suspicion and distrust. Of course, this depends on the person and their overall attitude and behavior. A quiet person with an intense, borderline inappropriate stare is a creep. A quiet woman with an air of confidence is a snob.

But are they secretly plotting something sinister? Likely not. More likely they simply don’t know how to start the conversation.

YOUR TURN

Are you an extrovert or introvert? How do you feel at the prospect of talking to people? And if you’re not shy at all, what is your impression of people who are?

Photo Courtesy Pexels and  Himanshu Sharma

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Have More In Common With Drug Addicts Than You Think

Certain people are very easy to judge. Bad reputations remain unchallenged. Opinion becomes truth.

It’s easy to judge a drug addict, for example. We’ve all heard and perhaps repeated common beliefs about such people: they’re weak, selfish, self-destructive, they’ll do anything for a hit, they don’t care about the people who love them.

I disagree with all of these descriptions, mostly because they’re far too simplistic. In my short life, I’ve known many people who’ve abused substances and I’ve listened to their stories. What I’ve learned is that nothing is ever simple as a list of adjectives.

And I’ve always ended up wondering why. (As a writer, I’m programmed to do this. I can’t help it) Why does a person become addicted to drugs? What were the choices and circumstances that led down that path? What personal struggles contributed? Was it some inherent quality or something that happened to them?

It takes a little effort to try to understand another person. All you have to do is look inside yourself, to some point of similarity. Because it’s there.

Have you ever wanted to forget a difficult memory? Wished your mind would stop chattering? Felt you couldn’t overcome something because it was too hard? Hated yourself with every fiber of your being?

If you can answer those questions honestly, that’s a start.

A Life Without Love

The compulsion to use drugs was explained to me once like this: “no one cares about me, so I’ll do what I want. If I had a woman, or a kid, that would be different. But I don’t.”

Beneath that statement is a very sad truth–a lack of self-worth.

All of us look outward for reassurance, for confirmation that we are valuable as human beings. We instinctively expect certain people to shower us with love–our parents, siblings, extended family.

But if, rather than reassurance, those people instead berate and abuse us, we are left believing to our very core that we are worthless.

Very few people are strong enough to look inward and believe that they’re good enough, with no outward confirmation. If the outside world says we’re ugly or stupid, etc, we believe that rather than love ourselves.

Return to that quote again: “If I had a woman, or a kid, that would be different. But I don’t.” Most people live for others, not themselves. While we may act selfishly and do things for ourselves on occasion, our true motivation is the happiness of the people we love.

Imagine you already believe yourself to be worthless, because that’s what the world has told you. Imagine also that you are alone, with no one care for. It’s just you, hating yourself, with no motivation to be better.

If drugs erased these feelings and replaced them with a euphoria you can’t experience otherwise, do you think you could resist them?

Leaving Your Problems Behind

This one is pretty obvious: people use drugs to run away from their problems. The fellow reporter I worked with at a newspaper years ago drank himself into oblivion to forget about the day his daughter was run over by a snow plow.

Drug addicts are weak, right? The rest of us deal with our problems, you may say. But do you, really? Think about it. Avoidance takes many forms.

We all escape. To clear our minds of the day’s stresses, we play video games, watch TV, read a book. Go for a run, hike, go “out” with friends to dance or drink.

Healthy escapes, yes, but this is the point if similarity.

Do you avoid confrontation by refusing to have an opinion in an argument? Or do you use passive aggressive tactics to get your way? Are you well aware that your cholesterol is too high, yet you put off changing your diet because it’s too hard? Or maybe you know your spouse is cheating on you, but bury yourself in distraction–work, hobbies, you name it–so you don’t have to think about it.

We all close our awareness to problems we can plainly see, stupidly hoping the problem will go away. It doesn’t. It never does–not until you deal with it. But dealing with it is too hard. As you read this, you’re probably thinking of that thing in your life you want to avoid.

Now imagine that thing is bigger. The death of a child. A rape. A failed marriage. Being in a car accident. A combat tour overseas. You already avoid the small problems, the things you probably could deal with if you tried. Do you really think you could handle something worse without turning to an unhealthy escape?

I doubt I could.

The Power of Chemicals

Think about the people in your life. I bet, like me, a handful of them are addicted to pain killers.

I know three people who are. The opioid crisis in my county is so bad that the foster care system can’t handle all the children taken away from addicted parents.

Anyone could end up in this place. You. Me. Your brother. Your grandmother. The path is easy, because it often begins with a doctor.

You get hurt, you have a condition, and you need pain relief. The doctor gives you a pill. And you think–“it came from the doctor, it must be okay!” Before you even know what’s happening, your body can’t live without that little pill.

I’m not saying anything ground-breaking here. The point I’m trying to get across is that the path to drug addiction can start innocently, the point of entry guarded by someone in a position of trust. It doesn’t have to be illicit, the drugs purchased in secret and illegally, injected with dirty needles. The drugs can be in a prescription bottle you pick up at Walgreens.

In my experience people underestimate the overpowering and insidious effect of chemicals on the human body and mind. I did.

My own point of similarity is birth control. It was prescribed to me at sixteen, by a doctor who listened to my problems for five minutes and took the easiest route to fix them. For eighteen years, my body grew accustomed to that chemical support and didn’t know how to function without it. Over the years, the pill gave me numerous health problems, among them irritable bowel syndrome and chronic anxiety.

My point is that we are not our true selves on chemicals. Our bodies and minds aren’t functioning naturally while under their influence. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Some of these influences are necessary to improve our health, of course. But others can have drastic consequences. And though it may be a far cry from more illicit drugs, the use of legal ones proves at least one point: that we are at their whim.

Photo Courtesy Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels.

Your Turn

Has drug addiction effected your life? What do you do to escape?

The Criminal Character: Tommy Shelby, Walter White & The Audience Who Loves Them

Movies and TV have made the gangster kind of…sexy.

Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Tommy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Billy in The Departed (no, not a gangster, but pretending to be one). Ray Liotta in Goodfellas (yes, I’m serious…) Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire…

No. I’ll stop right there. Sorry Steve Buschemi, but ewww. Not even for a second.

The gangster as presented in movies and TV is physically magnetic and alluring, fodder late night fantasies. The bad boy who needs a good woman to tame him. The man who takes what he wants, without hesitation. Who comes home from his latest brawl with boo-boos that need to be mended…

But the appeal of the gangster is far deeper than that.

I was pondering this question as Cillian Murphy strutted down the gritty streets of early 20th century Birmingham in the second season of Peaky Blinders. I’m now in the fourth season and I absolutely love this series, like everyone else. And it dawned on me that I’ve been this place before–enraptured with a story about gangsters.

Some of my favorite movies and TV series revolve around this law-breaking characterBoardwalk Empire, The Departed, Public Enemies, Goodfellas, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, The Untouchables, Breaking Bad. Even Oscar (and if you haven’t heard of or seen this movie, your life is not complete).

I have a thing for criminals, apparently.

As I was admiring Tommy Shelby’s beautiful face, I asked myself: why? Why do I enjoy movies and TV shows about criminals? Why does anyone, because I am definitely not the only one.

Gangsters Reach for the Stars…By Breaking the Law

The first answer that came to my mind was that the gangster–or generally, the criminal–as dramatized in movies and TV, rises above society’s rules to take what he wants in life. We enjoy watching his successes because we, here in the real world, are tamed and obligated by those same rules.

And the gangster, of course, wants exactly what we want: happiness, achieved when our dreams are fulfilled and our daily struggles are over.

The beautiful house and a comfortable life. Freedom from a hated job, and the obligation to work that hated job. The safety and contentment of the people we love, and providing for those people. The ability to snap our fingers and get what we want or do what we want. Money often achieves all of these things.

In our normal, everyday lives, there are obstacles everywhere, preventing us from reaching these goals. We can’t get the job we want because of nepotism in the workplace. The bank won’t give us the loan we need to buy the nice house. Rules prevent us from moving forward as quickly or as easily as we want.

The trouble is, we all have our place in this world, based on where we were born and into what family and circumstances. Often, we only have so far to move from the place we start from, especially if that starting point is closer to the gutter. How far we go depends on our grit and determination. Only the extraordinary person can rise above challenging circumstances to reach their apex of their dreams. Legally, that is.

Not so for the gangster. Those rules don’t exist for him. He rises above society and its trappings to make his own rules and capture success on his terms. That is very appealing. Seen from this viewpoint, a life of crime is a kind of freedom (fictionally speaking).

Take Walter White in Breaking Bad. He spent his whole life doing things the right way, following the rules, even as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis. Society put up a wall that he could not climb. So he went around that wall.

On the other side is something we rarely enjoy in real, everyday life: being on top and in control, a master of your own fate.

How Movies & TV Explore Light & Dark, Good & Evil, & Everything in Between

In all the gangster-themed TV and movies I’ve watched, such characters are used in two ways: to expose man’s utter cruelty and inhumanity, or to confuse the audience by revealing his many contradictory sides.

The gangster can do very bad things. But he’s also human. He wants what we want, and despite his evil acts we can empathize with him. It may be uncomfortable to admit, but the bad man can also have a good heart.

Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire is a serial killer. Let’s not mince words. He’s killed dozens of people and does so seemingly without hesitation or remorse. But when he’s alone in his room at night, he cuts out pictures of happy families and pastes them into a scrapbook, dreaming about what he believes he can never have: a normal life. Service in World War I stole that normal life from him, turning him into a sniper who couldn’t switch off that killer instinct when he got home. It also gave him a ghoulish face wound, which he covered up with a rather eerie prosthetic mask.

He’s a fan favorite, I believe because he was a contradiction. He had an evil side and yet he was a tender, broken man, who loved and cared for a young orphan, fell in love, and created a little family just like he dreamed. We rooted for him.

For this very reason, I’m excited for Tom Hardy’s upcoming Al Capone flick, Fonzo, which I expect will paint an unexpectedly sympathetic side to a famous psychopathic gangster.

This contradiction of good and evil is fascinating, because it lies in all of us. We all want simple, normal things, to be surrounded by people we love and to protect them,  and to achieve our dreams. But we could also become killers, if the circumstances were right. Light and dark is in all of us.

Of course, fiction gives us a miraculous gift: the ability to see and analyze all these different sides and hidden motivations. We aren’t afforded the same access in real life. We rarely know why people do things, and so are resigned to watch life unfold from the outside and shake our heads, utterly confused by the events around us.

But stories give us a good window into understanding inscrutable people. It allows us to empathize, to walk in the shoes of someone we normally wouldn’t understand, to find common ground.

And yes, it’s possible to find common ground with a criminal.

Featured image courtesy United States Bureau of Prisons [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Your Turn

Can you think of any other reasons why the gangster character is so appealing? If you  disagree, I’d love to hear why. If you have a favorite fictional criminal, tell me about him or her.