I’m Sorry My Shyness Makes You Uncomfortable, But Please Stop Pointing it Out

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:

join the group

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:

not talking

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:

hermit crabThe 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?


5 Comments on “I’m Sorry My Shyness Makes You Uncomfortable, But Please Stop Pointing it Out”

  1. Very well written 🙂 I’ve seen the flood of posts as well, and while it’s a step forward, I’ve seen people denying the “shy” aspect, too. I just wish that more people DID understand shyness, as well, because I think we’ve been in the same shoes from time to time with people wanting us to “be less shy.” Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Katrina says:

      I’m glad you agree! I can’t say I’ve done nearly as much reading about shyness as I have introversion, but I think people are less willing to embrace shyness because it’s seen as something that can be fixed. Consequently, there seems to be a mentality that if you are shy, then you’re just not trying enough.

  2. […] might be wondering why I’m once again adding a disclaimer to my shyness after demanding that shyness be accepted a few weeks ago.  It’s because Dr. Aron succinctly describes the negative aspects of being called […]

  3. Anon says:

    I really hope those “I’m not shy; I’m introverted” posts aren’t judging shy people! I like them, but I certainly wouldn’t approve of them if they were basically implying the same thing about shy people that they’re trying to set people straight about when applied to introversion.

    Personally, I can’t stand being called shy, not because I disapprove of shyness, but because I just don’t like being misunderstood or told what I’m feeling and because I hate that so many people think that anxiety is the only reason someone wouldn’t socialize much. It’s like they’re denying that introversion even exists as a legitimate trait and saying that everyone is an extrovert but some are just too scared to show it. I hope pointing out that that’s not true is what those posts are going for.

    • Katrina says:

      I agree that it is important to differentiate between introversion and shyness–there are certainly times when my actions are motivated by my introversion and not my shyness! And I could see how being referred to as “shy” when you aren’t actually feeling shy can be frustrating.

      I think what concerns me is the sheer number of these “I’m not shy, I’m introverted” posts. While it seems that so many are proudly embracing their introversion, people are still frightened about being labeled as shy. The funny part about this is that the majority of people feel shy at some point in their life–it’s incredibly common! Surely there has to be some positive aspects to being shy. I’m hoping to start reading up on shyness more in the near future. 🙂

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