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All Day Long Wearing a Mask of False Bravado: Stop Hiding Your Sensitive Nature and Thrive

masks in the desert

I learned early that blushing, slow responses and tentative answers would always be out-shined and outgunned by the gregarious and confident.  I learned to compensate for my lack of brashness by pleasing others and graciously cooperating. As a teen, I pretended to not be disappointed when the sleepover for two became a slumber party for six. I put on my, the more the merrier faceAs an adult, I took on more and more responsibilities because strong people can juggle.

Daring and bright individuals handle lots of activities with aplomb and live for chances to immerse themselves in group interactions.

I buried the lumps in my throat, the sting of sibling comparisons (sister is a bold extrovert) and  my over-sensitivity. I learned how to extrovert because being confident and outgoing is way cooler and more respected in our culture than being a sensitive soul.

Vulnerability = Easy Prey?

I spent the last five years honing my vulnerability and the previous 38 fighting it.  It wasn’t safe to get upset or show my feelings for most of my life. I always felt there was someone waiting to take advantage of my weaknesses. I had to stay strong even if it meant denying my true nature. I never ever wanted to appear weak, dependent or indecisive.  I hated myself when my voice cracked or when I couldn’t shake it off.

I moved as if I had it all under control.  I worked hard to be strong. I multi-tasked and over-parented like a good solid extrovert.

I cried softly in the shower and silently into my pillow.

Magic of the Tribe

Then I found safe spaces and non-judgmental friends. I gathered a tribe of kindred softies who showed me a different kind of strength — internal strength. I started by meeting pivotal linchpin individuals in various forms of the arts (music and writing mostly). They changed my view of myself by introducing me to others who were also thinnish skinned and sensitive. Immersed in these relationships I was heard, valued and understood. Emotions were accepted. I was championed. It was glorious and nourishing to admit imperfection and doubt. It was freeing to embrace the real me — soft spoken, tender-hearted, slowly thoughtful and solitude craving.

Introvert Extroverting

Assertiveness is not natural for me but I do it. Chatting up strangers and mingling in groups is draining but expected. Sticking up for myself and asking for space is so damn hard but I won’t compromise (anymore). I act like I can handle anything even when my energy wanes and my feelings sting just below the surface. I perform so I don’t get overlooked or undervalued. Being strong is a struggle and I get tired but a few things sustain me.

What Is Sustaining?

Knowing that my sensitivity not only heightens my emotions, it gives me a keen sense of beauty and empathy.  My inner world is sustaining. I am strongly affected by music, nature, the arts and other’s feelings. This is a gorgeous thing.  A gift. A oneness. It draws out creativity in the form of universal ideas and sentiments which allow me to connect with others. My relationships always have the potential to be deeply meaningful. Not everyone can say that.

Safe spaces and nurturing relationships sustain me. In safe spaces I find strength to take off the mask and reveal tears and/or unrestrained joy.

Do you alternate between bravado and sensitivity? Introverting and extroverting? Do you get tired of playing strong?

I’ve always loved the line, All day long wearing a mask of false bravado, from Player’s1977 song, Baby Come Back.  I’m excited I got to use it in my writing!  See the video below and listen for the lyric.

If you are interesting in reading more about sensitivity start here:

The Highly Sensitive Person – Dr. Elaine Aron

The Highly Sensitive Person in Love – Dr. Elaine Aron

If this post spoke to you try these:

Energy Envy and an Introvert Meltdown Curtailed: The Power of Having Your Sensitivity Valued – space2live

Go Lightly Even if You Feel Deeply – space2live

How to Be Lively Energetic and Vibrant When Your True Nature is Thoughtful, Introverted and Reticent – space2live

Introverted Not Incompetent: Validating Softer Life Skills – space2live

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30 Comments

  1. Jenn February 4, 2015 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    I find that true strength is among those who are willing to be so open that they risk ruin. Those who never bear their soul, never show their vulnerable qualities…are truly weak. “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis
    Without love what good is anything?

    • Brenda Knowles February 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm - Reply

      Amen. There is true courage in vulnerability. Connection too. Thanks for the comment and the great C.S. Lewis quote.

  2. […] All Day Long Wearing a Mask of False Bravado: Stop Hiding Your Sensitive Nature and Thrive […]

  3. […] All Day Long Wearing a Mask of False Bravado: Stop Hiding Your Sensitive Nature and Thrive […]

  4. […] the main characters in the Purim story or reveal parts of themselves that are concealed under the masks of day to day living. Celebrants are encouraged to enter an altered state – via alcohol or sheer rowdiness and joy […]

  5. Dyan Sohn August 26, 2013 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Beautiful article, so validating, and so what my life has been. Never thought of things in terms of Introvert/Extrovert. But I am making the connections thanks to your site. All the talk of energy in this article. I have suffered with Chronic Fatigue for over 25 years-pushing myself to show up, when I really have needed to be still and go within. I also have struggled with low Adrenal function. Same thing really, stress related, depleted states.
    Making all the connections now. If my TRUE nature is to be more quiet and still, and I fill up through solitude, no wonder I have these physical problems!
    I am doing things differently now. Saying no to social get togethers, being true to myself, listening to my inner wants and needs. Sitting and being in silence, spending time in nature. Wondering if anyone else has had similar physical problems? I know in mainstream society it is becoming epidemic. Wondering how much of it is or could be, Introverts pushing to be Extroverts?
    Just some thoughts I wanted to share. Thanks again, for the article, and sharing your journey. It is exactly what I need to read in this place and time.

    • Brenda Knowles August 27, 2013 at 7:56 am - Reply

      I have wondered the same thing. I have sensitive friends who push themselves out into the world and end up completely depleted and sometimes in physical pain. Speaking for myself, there have been two times, just this summer, when I noticed after a particularly stimulating day (waterpark with the kids or a whole day of socializing) I was dead tired the next day. I mean, my body felt so heavy, I just wanted to lie in bed. I am not sure if it is getting worse as I get older or I am just more aware or I simply don’t get the time to recover like I used to as a young person but the physical aspect is real.
      All of the need for anxiety medication also makes me wonder if there is a link to introverts going against their nature.

      Thank you for your thoughtful insight. I think we are on the same trail. I am so happy you are making eye opening discoveries about yourself. Exciting.:)

  6. lawliett79 July 28, 2013 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Wow. I would love for you to expand on your “I spent the last five years honing my vulnerability and the previous 38 fighting it.” I’m 25, and I see myself spiralling into a bottomless hole..not that I ain’t already halfway down.

    As I grow up I feel that I am withdrawing more and more into myself; this started getting really bad about 4 years ago, that was when my also-introvert grandfather passed away. Reason being I went for family gatherings only because he wished all his grandchildren to be there, and seemed to be looking out for my presence more.. After he left, I just felt I need not go back anymore, as I was always dragging myself there.

    Of course, all these while, this extreme and debilitating introversion has shown itself in every social situation I’m in – be it school or work ; i’m perfectly okay shopping myself and getting help from the sales assistants, although some of them bully me through rudeness etc because they can tell I’m meek – I can never fit in anywhere, not even in my immediate family. And yes – all these while I have always worn a mask. But as I grow older, the facade is getting harder and harder to maintain, as I am getting bone-weary and the “I don’t give a flying ph***” slips through cracks, all the time. That manifests itself either as ‘complete withdrawal’ or ‘attitude’. Suffice to say, I have no friends whatsoever.

    The funny thing is, I am a fan of a boyband, (not so much a fan as using them more as an ‘escape from reality’ as their antics drive me to hysterics – the much-needed release from the stress of having to act ‘stoic’) and in that group, I have more-or-less identified them ALL as introverts. My favourite guy in that band of five, is the more Romantic Introvert, and I would say his facade was, and is, painstakingly well-maintained. – Everyone sees him as a cool, snarky one with an attitude – Impressive, especially for the amount of exposure they have. It takes one to know one, eh..from the first glance I already pegged him to be a “more glammed-up, more confident, more snarky, more good-looking” male version of me.

    Now, if only I could just be like him. But honestly, it’s way harder than it sounds; and even as a celebrity, I’ve heard that others say he’s aloof and cold to them. Bad. But other than that, I don’t know what other mask I can put on.

    • brennagee July 30, 2013 at 7:53 am - Reply

      In the last five years I’ve realized it’s vulnerability that connects me with who I am and the people I want to know. If I allow my vulnerability to peek out then I get to meet and connect with others who feel the same. Prior to this time, I hid any self-consiousness or “weakness” because I didn’t want to get run over by people who thrived on power. I didn’t want to appear to be easy prey – someone who could be dominated. I had some aggressive people in my life.

      Would you consider yourself a shy person? Do you get physically anxious around people? Where and how are you energized? When do you feel most alive? It sounds like you could use some space to renew. Is there a place where you could go to get away from the individuals who currently fill your environment?

      Perhaps if you let the mask slip you will find a tribe that supports you. Vulnerability can be freeing. Be careful of resentment or hostility but it’s OK to let your guard down and be open and exposed. That is where the healing and connecting starts.:)

  7. Casey Sheridan July 16, 2013 at 9:35 am - Reply

    I would love to be the center of attention in a crowd, no matter the size. In my imagination I can be, in various situations, but in reality….NO WAY!
    In my day job, I’m fortunate to work for a small company. I can work at my own pace, prioritize as I see fit, and generally, work on my own. But there are times when we do trade shows. I have a love/hate relationship with trade shows. I love to walk around and see what’s there, but I hate that fact that I’m expected to be an aggressive salesperson. YIKES!
    When I’m there and a customer approaches our booth, I have no problem smiling and greeting them, asking them if there is something I can help them with, but if they say “No, I’m just looking.” I back off. I let them know that if they have any questions I’m happy to help them. Even doing that is draining and at the end of the day, I can’t wait to get to my hotel room. I want my space!
    But I can’t even do that. I’m now expected to hang out with my boss, his wife, his two daughters, and the grand kids for dinner and chatting. Ugh.
    This introvert is limited in the extrovert department. And I’m not changing it. So there. (lol)

    • brennagee July 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      I had a similar job to yours years ago. I loved it when my boss let me work independently but did not like it when I was put in charge of setting up a career fair. Lots of phone calls and glad handing. I also used to go with my dad to trade shows for the shoe business. I loved getting out and looking around but always felt unsure about selling and answering unfamiliar questions. All of this also reminds me of how I like to go hear speakers at conferences or a women’s club but dislike the after part where we have to mingle and promote ourselves. I’d rather talk about it with one or two people and go home.

      Thanks for your response. I can definitely relate. I hope to find a job that allows me to work on my own for the most part. I like making friends at work but don’t want constant collaboration.

  8. Zen Greenway July 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I am often mistaken for an extrovert because I perform music and am generally anxious to please in social situations. So when I’m feeling surrounded by people who seem totally relaxed and strong while I’m cringing inside, I like to think that some of them are just as uncomfortable as I am. Maybe they’re just hiding it well, like me. It makes me feel less inadequate.

    • brennagee July 15, 2013 at 11:34 pm - Reply

      Yes, I wonder how many extroverts are just introverts masquerading. I actually some people think they are extroverts because they have been wearing the mask for so long. Thanks for reading and commenting. What type of musician are you?

      • Zen Greenway July 16, 2013 at 8:26 am - Reply

        I used to be kind of new age-y, art music-y (back in the day when I wanted to perform professionally). Now I’m more blues-rock-y because of the bunch of guys I play with, but I still write what I like to call “evocative” music. When I decided to stop pursuing music as a profession, I thought, “Well, that’s it. The best is behind me now.” Then I started jamming with these guys and it opened up a whole new world for me. We play a lot of parties and because I’m mostly there for the music, for the most part I get to socialize only as much as I want. It’s a 10% extrovert’s dream! Surrounded by people, but I have an excuse not to talk!

        • brennagee July 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm - Reply

          I have another introvert friend who is a lead guitar player. I think he loves his job for the same reasons you mentioned. He gets to selectively socialize at the gigs and always uses the excuse of playing to dissuade others from expecting him to spend a lot of time mingling.
          Evocative music sounds yummy. How great that you found another musical outlet to refresh your outlook. I think I am 15-25% extrovert.:)

  9. Lisa "MeMa" Perez July 13, 2013 at 11:42 am - Reply

    I am an overwhelming extrovert whohgas benefited from connection. However, I am dating a devout introvert who recently has shown me the benefits of introversion. The trouble is that I gave difficulty finding the silence, the peace, the internalization of thoughts, ideas, concepts to allow creativity to flourish & recharge my batteries. I also find it hard separating from those surrounding me, demanding that I not evolve & just continue to be the beloved extrovert they’ve grown to know. Finally, how can one maintain introversion given the age we live in (such as in this fellow blogger’s post about the growing world, where bottledworder writes, “A stretched world that’s already shrunk so small that I don’t know where to look to expand my mind anymore.”)? It is a challenge to find these quiet places, moments to explore what it means to be truly free…

    • brennagee July 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      It is extremely difficult to find quiet and expansive time. Have you tried meditation? I say that as if I do it regularly but in truth I don’t. I used to and it was very calming and peace-giving. Another good time for quiet is early in the morning before the house is awake. I understand completely how hard it is to get away from extroverted expectations. I faked it for long enough that it is difficult for my children to understand why I like to have time to myself. Your extroverted cohorts feel slightly rejected when you dare to say you don’t want to be consistently social. Have them read, Introverts Explained: Why We Love You But Need to Get Away From You.;)

      Nature and coffee shops. Two places we can go to expand our minds. Bookstores work too. I know the world is buzzing and distracting us from finding that space to live freely but with awareness hopefully we can take a little of it back. Breathe, pay attention, slow down and evolve.

      Thank you for another thoughtful comment.

  10. Lucy July 13, 2013 at 7:55 am - Reply

    Thanks once again Brenna, I really love to read your inspiring and insightful posts. They remind me that even though it feels like we live in an extrovert’s world, there are still many introverts – it’s just that they might be hiding behind, as you say, a mask!

    Something I’ve been contemplating lately is jobs which might suit introverts as I am looking for part-time work currently. I saw a vacancy for a shop assistant at Pets At Home a few days ago which was great because I am qualified to work with animals and I enjoy it, but it’s just the customer service part of the job which made me reluctant to apply…the thought of being trapped behind a till and having to tend to the needs of so many as quick as possible frightens me. I spent a good two days worrying over the vacancy but it turned out that the vacancy was gone when I finally looked at it again after the second day. I don’t think I could imagine myself having a job which involves constantly answering the phone either! I wondered if you had any advice to give on which job options could work well for introverts?

    • brennagee July 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      I put a question out to the introverts on the space2live Facebook page asking for PT job ideas. So far a library or a bookstore are the suggestions. I love bookstores and I know someone who works in the coffee shop at a Barnes and Noble and calls it her dream job.:)

      I worked behind a till several times. I wasn’t all that great at it. If it was really busy I would get flustered counting the change back and sometimes make mistakes. One place was a gourmet food store and I did love learning about all the different coffees, chocolates, cheeses, etc. but working the register occasionally tripped me up.

      I’ll let you know if any other job ideas pop up or you can follow the thread on the FB fan page. I think being a waitress would be horribly hard, so I would avoid that. Could you do research for someone and get paid? I always thought that sounded like a good work independently job.

      Could you be a dog walker?

      Thanks for commenting and posing a great question.

      • Lucy July 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm - Reply

        Thanks for asking on your FB page, I’ll follow the post for more ideas. 🙂 I don’t think I could fit a dog walking service job into my future schedule yet but it’s certainly a great idea!

  11. Joy July 12, 2013 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    Beautifully articulated! I can so relate, I call myself an introvert in extrovert clothing and recently started a journey to undo decades of Type A conditioning. I’m learning to accept “sensitivity” as a compliment. Thank you for sharing!

  12. OneHotMess July 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    As I have mentioned before, all of my seven children are introverted, as am I. Several still see me as an extrovert as I am quite good at pretending to be one. It helps that I live in Maine where few are friendly and that I am from out west where nearly everyone is friendly. As a result, I appear extroverted simply by contrast.

    • brennagee July 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm - Reply

      I always marvel at 2 things when I hear from you – that you have 7 children and that they are ALL introverts. How did you manage that??? Imagine if they were all extroverts. Oh my!

      I suppose people always see you within a group or large family and assume you love lots of stimulation and interaction. Friendly is good. Enjoy your pseudo-extroversion. Perhaps you can reap the benefits of both temperaments.;)

  13. Tom July 12, 2013 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this insightful and instructive essay. You said things I needed to hear.

    • brennagee July 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      Oh yay! I’m so happy to light up your day.:)

  14. Ann July 12, 2013 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    Oh by the way…I use to play fake introvert. It never worked for me. It was like a man with a ton of facial hair trying to pass as a woman!

  15. Ann July 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I look forward to every Friday afternoon and your blog!

    I find myself needing MY time lately! I reread your blogs and find comfort in knowing that as an extrovert I still need my alone time. It is peaceful and fulfilling. In fact the past 3 months I have not taken Ann time and I found myself physically ill for it.

    Thank you again for making it acceptable for me to need it!

    You inspire me beyond what I can say or write! I wish I could look into your eyes and say thank you! I feel like our souls connected a long time ago and I have found it again! Thank you!

    • brennagee July 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm - Reply

      I love that you are an extrovert but need your downtime too. It gives me a fresh perspective. The man I am dating is like you. He is alive out and about with people but definitely needs his introspective alone time.

      I have a feeling you glow as an extrovert. I’m glad you know you can’t pass as an introvert.;)

      You are such a sweet passionate woman. Thank you for your very kind words. I do feel we would have a great connection in person. I sense your contagious enthusiasm.:)

  16. writecity.wordpress.comLauren July 12, 2013 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    This beautiful post really spoke to me. I, too, played “fake extrovert” for years and years. It’s harder in some ways to be the real me, finally, but so worth it. Thank you.

    • brennagee July 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      Isn’t it strange how being yourself is often the hardest thing to do? It should be effortless and natural. Thank you for reading and commenting. I love it when writing resonates.

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