I’ve always been pretty introverted. This manifests itself in different ways at different times – sometimes I’m relatively more socially engaged, sometimes less so. But it’s always there, just a part of my personality. Quiet. Reserved. Shy.
It’s not a trait I’ve tended to love about myself. It makes talking to people difficult, and saying even something simple can be a challenge. There are probably opportunities I’ve missed out on because of my bashfulness. Aside from that, it’s frustrating to have to build up the nerve just to say hi. I’ve often wished I could change my shyness and introversion, eliminate it from my personality.
More recently, I’ve begun to be better able to make the best, or even be proud, of the shy part of my personality, and there are various thoughts/techniques that have helped me. Of course, everyone’s path of self-acceptance is different, but I know I’m not the only one who struggles in a society where quietness is sometimes devalued.
And so that leads me to the first reassuring fact I remind myself of: You are not alone.
Sometimes, it feels like no one else is going through what you are. The thing about shyness is that it often prevents people from stepping into the spotlight. And who are the people you notice most in day-to-day life? The people in the spotlight. Inherently, shy people tend to fade into the background behind those who put themselves forward. This magnifies the illusion of isolation - but, whether you know it or not, there are countless other people who can relate. I’m not the only shy person in the world. Nor are you.
This blog’s title is “Shyness”, and I’m using the term “shy” throughout as somewhat of an umbrella term for everything on the spectrum of shyness, quietness, introversion, reserve, etc. – because I’m all of them, and because some experiences generalize among these characteristics. But in reality, these traits are different things, and can exist simultaneously or independently of one another. Someone can be shy yet outgoing, extroverted but quiet, social yet reserved, or introverted but talkative. There’s always some risk involved with personality labels, in that they can prove self-fulfilling. Personalities naturally change and develop throughout life, and it’s too easy to get pinned down by a label. By all means, celebrate that part of you, but on the chance it might change at some point, try to avoid defining yourself too much by introversion (or, for that matter, by extroversion!). Another thing to keep in mind is that levels of shyness can vary by context; maybe in class you seldom raise your hand, yet at a sleepover you can’t stop talking.
But sometimes, my shyness does get to the point where it’s genuinely problematic. It interferes with things I want to do, impedes my happiness, and that’s when it’s something I need to address. So I’ve been working lately on overcoming my shyness when need be. There are many methods of combating shyness, including the famous “just say hi” – which, while not necessarily bad advice, has never proved particularly helpful for me. What’s helped me personally is taking baby steps. Slow and steady wins the race… you needn’t go from utter silence to debating the meaning of life with every other stranger! Just find something that challenges you without being too overwhelming, however small or large that may be, and work on that. Push yourself out of your comfort zone that little bit - whether that means giving a public speech or participating in a class discussion is up to you, nobody else. I enjoy some competition, so sometimes I’ll make it a game with myself: If I introduce myself to one new person during rehearsal today, then I’ve succeeded. Of, i I want to ask someone something I’m nervous about bringing up, I’ll set myself a deadline – to “win”, I have to say it before time runs out. For me, the “prize” is typically just the satisfaction, but you could also give yourself more tangible rewards if it helps – if you meet your goal, then eat your favorite snack, or spend half an hour listening to music in a bubble bath. The more you make yourself do it, the easier it will be with time.
Another piece of advice from various sources which has helped me, especially when paired with baby steps, is visualization. Like anything, getting comfortable talking can take practice… so, practice! This can take place in action, talking in front of a mirror or with a family member or good friend. Or just do it in your mind. Have imaginary interactions. Think up things people might say to you. Visualize yourself responding and carrying on your end of a conversation.
That said, one thing can easily be overlooked in the attempts to overcome shyness, however: It’s not automatically bad.
Sure, sometimes shyness is frustrating, inconvenient, etc. I know that firsthand. But it let’s not forget there are advantages too. There are plenty of extroverted, outgoing people in the world. That’s great… but what good would life be if everyone was identical?
Often, people who talk less are better listeners; if you’ve ever been around someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise, you know the value of a listening ability. Plus, quieter people are less likely to gossip; your shyness could make you more trustworthy too, since your friends can rely on you not to let your tongue slip. Spending less time/energy socializing also means you have more to spare for introspection. Now, of course you don’t want to only devote your attention inward - there’s a big world out there to interact with. But, in moderation, spending time getting to know yourself is great.
For many (including me), shyness is related to not wanting to “mess up” - you can’t think everything through beforehand in the middle of a fast-moving conversation. Again, in the extreme this can be problematic, but it also means you’re likely to be more thoughtful, and to “look before you leap”. Chances are, you won’t make rash decisions, which will serve you well both now and in the future.
Shy or outgoing, talkative or quiet, extroverted or introverted, there are pros and cons to both sides of the coin. With time, I’ve learned to better come to terms with my shyness. To accept it, work with it, and even – sometimes – embrace it.
What about you? Do you consider yourself more extroverted, introverted, or ambiverted (in the middle). Do you ever wish you could change that about yourself, or are you satisfied just as you are?
Share in the comments - and don’t be shy about it! :-)