When many people think of someone who has Selective Mutism, they often think of someone who is very shy, quiet and enjoys spending time alone rather than with people.
What if I was to tell you that I have Selective Mutism, I am not in any way shy (and I never have been) and I lean more towards having an extroverted personality?
Seems shocking, right? For most people who have never heard me speak would disagree. However, those who have heard me speak and have gotten to know me for my true personality would definitely agree with me. The thing to remember here is that whilst I do have Selective Mutism, meaning that I am completely silent in certain situations, is that Selective Mutism is just a mental illness that I happen to have. It is not me; it does not reflect what my personality should be like in any way whatsoever. Underneath all of the anxiety, there is a person that I and many others have gotten to know. That person is who I am. Selective Mutism does not define me, just like any mental/physical illness that you might have does not define you.
The truth is I absolutely love talking. When my anxiety will let me, I literally cannot stop myself from talking, even if it is complete and utter nonsense. I am at my happiest when I am talking. This could partly be because I do suffer from Selective Mutism and so I do know what it’s like to live without a voice so I don’t take it for granted – I appreciate every word I am able to say out loud. However, I do believe that it is mostly because of my mostly extroverted personality. When I am anxiety free, I tend to talk in a pretty loud voice, and trust me when I say this, that soft spoken voice you may have heard? That is not the volume of my natural voice.
I have always said right from the start that the most heartbreaking thing about Selective Mutism is that it hides away your true personality. The people who never hear you talk will never have a clue what your true personality is. This causes them to create their own idea of who you might be, but usually their idea of who you might be is actually the complete opposite to what your true personality really is. I would be willing to bet a large sum of money that the people who have never heard me talk would never in a million years even consider the possibility that I could have anything even close to an extroverted personality.
I would also be willing to bet that you may also think that I have low confidence? What you may not know is that Selective Mutism has nothing to do with lack of confidence, but rather extremely high levels of anxiety. In actual fact, a lot of the negative beliefs I have about myself are anxiety based; not a lack of confidence.
Spending time alone is something that I don’t often enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a little time alone, even the most outgoing person in the world would need some time alone. Not only am I happiest when I am talking, I am also happiest when I surround myself with people. I do notice that when my Selective Mutism isn’t bothering me, I sometimes do tend to prefer to take more of a lead and I get such a high from talking to people. The longer I go without doing that, the more miserable I tend to become and it’s only when I begin to spend time with people again and feel that high that I get once again, that I realise why I’ve not been feeling myself. However, my high anxiety levels mean I am often forced to spend time alone which can often leave me feeling miserable.
Selective Mutism is my own worst enemy. It not only hides away who I really am, but it also stops me from doing the things that my personality type longs to do. To other people, it won’t make a difference if I’m extroverted or introverted. Most people aren’t bothered by that; different personality types are what keep the world interesting. However, to me, it makes a huge difference. Just like someone who is an introvert may be unhappy if they were forced to go to a busy party, I am unhappy by the fact that my anxiety often forces me to live the life of an introvert. Being unable to express who you really are can have a severe impact on someone’s life. Being an extrovert and having SM do not mix well together. If you are an extrovert yourself, you can imagine what it would be like to want to express that so badly, but being unable due to extreme levels of anxiety.
Whilst I am aware that no one fits into one singular category when it comes to personality types and that everyone has traits of them all, I do lean more towards the side of extroverted than I do introverted. I have traits of both, just as everyone does, but for me, the extroverted side of me seems to be the more dominant side of me that wants to come out the most but is often starved from being able to do that due to my extreme levels of anxiety.
I’m not the only person who has Selective Mutism and an extroverted personality. Every time I talk about this topic with anyone else who has SM, the majority of the time they say they could’ve said exactly the same about themselves, word for word. There are some people who have an introverted personality that have Selective Mutism – Selective Mutism affects people with all different types of personality types. SM doesn’t seem to have a preference for what kind of personality type it decides to affect. What I do find heartbreaking though, is that there does seem to be more people who say they have extroverted personalities than those who say they have introverted personalities. This means there are far too many people with SM that are living their lives not being able to live their life the way their personality type naturally wants to live. The most heartbreaking thing of all is that it doesn’t matter what personality type anyone with SM has, but the fact that there are so many people with absolutely incredible personalities who are unable to express who they really are and their personalities are being hidden away from the world by this wicked anxiety disorder.
The next time you see someone who seems quiet, please don’t point it out, they may actually be a loud person underneath it all; desperate to show the world who they really are. Don’t even make jokes such as, “you talk too much!” etc. It could be more damaging than you realise.