I’m Sorry My Shyness Makes You Uncomfortable, But Please Stop Pointing it OutPosted: September 17, 2013 | |
In the last six months or so, more and more people seem to be “coming out” as introverts on the internet. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become more interested in my own introverted tendencies, perhaps it’s because I started sharing about being introverted so others have started posting introversion articles on my Facebook page (which I do appreciate), but whatever the reason there has been a flood of posts like “I’m Introverted and Sociable” or “10 Ways You Know You are an Introvert.” Another popular theme for introversion posts is “I’m Not Shy, I’m an Introvert.” In my readings about introversion, I’ve discovered that while our society is slowly becoming more aware and accepting of the introverts around them, shyness is still viewed as an undesirable trait. But I’m a shy introvert who wonders why my shyness is such a big bother to other people.
The Problem With Shyness
Admittedly, being shy can cause problems. In my experience, shyness can make it difficult to meet new people. Likewise, it can make it difficult for me to join in a conversation when in a large group. Finally, shyness added to a disastrous first few months of vicarage, where my struggle to interact with others heightened my anxiety about attending church.
However, I’m not trying to argue that shyness isn’t a problem for me. I’m just trying to figure out why other people have a problem with my shyness.
Shyness Makes Others Uncomfortable
I know shyness isn’t necessarily a trait someone is born with and that it can be controlled, but why does it matter to others if I’m shy? Are they the ones feeling panicked in a social situation? Are they the ones who feel overwhelmed by a room of strangers? Most likely not.
I think what it comes down to is that my shyness can make others uncomfortable. It can make people uncomfortable when I don’t immediately engage in small talk, it can make people uncomfortable when I very obviously hang back in the crowd, and it can make people uncomfortable when I don’t speak or smile.
When people become uncomfortable, they try to “fix” my shyness by saying incredibly thoughtless, unhelpful things like:
I’m not saying that I don’t ever want to be invited to join a group–sometimes I really am feeling too shy to include myself. But there is a big difference between demanding that I stop acting shy and join the group and having someone politely say, “Oh, hi! Would you like to sit with us?” And for the times I actually don’t want to be around others? I might try to stretch my own comfort zone and join the group for those who tried to politely include me. I mean, I’m shy and introverted, not mannerless!
Another popular comment of people trying to “fix” my shyness is this:
Along with the not talking much, I’m told I don’t smile and that I’m shy. None of these are completely true. I can talk a lot when I’m comfortable or passionate about a subject. I can smile–you can look at my wedding photos for proof–I just don’t smile all the time. And I’m not always shy, it just depends on the circumstance.
The Hermit Crab Analogy
Now I’ve heard the excuses for why people behave this way: They’re just trying to make me comfortable and help me come out of my shell. “Come out of my shell”–let’s take a moment and examine that phrase. In college, I had some pet hermit crabs. When I picked up one of my hermit crabs, it would immediately draw back into it’s shell. In order to get it to come out of its shell, I would hold them quietly in my hand for a few minutes. It would inevitably begin to peak out and eventually crawl over my hands. It just took a little time and gentleness.
Now imagine for a moment that I tried to get the hermit crabs to come out the same way people sometimes try to get me to come out of my shell:
The hermit crabs would have stayed in their shells until I left them alone. The same goes for me–if people try to have me “come out of my shell” by pointing out that I’m being shy, I’m most likely to withdraw further from them.
What Actually Helps With Shyness
I have been (slowly) working on my shyness and consequent anxiety. Sometimes I make myself go to an event even if I know I’ll feel socially uncomfortable. Sometimes I’ll force myself to start a conversation with someone I don’t know particularly well. Sometimes I’ll even introduce myself to a stranger. *gasp*
However, if someone wants to help me “come out of my shell”, there are some things they can do to help. They can ask if I want to join the group, but make it clear that they won’t be offended if I don’t join (for example “Are you comfortable where you are or would you like to join us at our table?”). Even better, they can ask if they can join me so I don’t have to try to enter a conversation with an established party. Most of all, it is helpful for them to be aware that if I am shy, I may just be quiet for awhile and that it isn’t anything personal against them.
Are you shy or have a close relationship with someone who is shy? How do you cope/help them cope with shyness? What do you find unhelpful when dealing with shyness?