I’m Probably a Terrible Pastor’s Wife

Some friends have asked me how life as the pastor’s wife is going.  I tell them the truth: I hardly notice.

I hardly notice because I’m hardly at church.  Aside from the few minutes before and after service (when I’m not running late or needing to dash out the door before Babykins explodes), I don’t see people from church.  I don’t go to Bible study.  I don’t go to the women’s group.  I don’t even go to midweek services.  Really, the biggest impact being a pastor’s wife has on my life is my husband’s energy levels (It’s Lent, he’s tired).

Most of this stems from the vulnerability of new motherhood.  It’s hard to leave the house to attend extra services when there’s a good chance that it will end in tears.  It’s difficult to find the motivation to go to Bible studies when it’s likely that I will have to bare my breast to feed Babykins.  It’s darn near impossible to find the gumption to strike up a real conversation when my sleep-deprived brain is trying to remember how adults interact with each other.

So I keep my distance.  I don’t try to get involved.  I stay out of the members’ lives.

You might say that this is normal.  New mom in a new town and all that.

But the disturbing part of all this is that I don’t care.  Not knowing members doesn’t bother me.  Aside from making awkward attempts at small talk on Sunday morning for the 10 minutes I might see people, I’m fine with not knowing anyone in church.  Sure, I’m lonely throughout the week, but loneliness is easier to deal with than carefully figuring out how to develop any sort of relationship with members of my husband’s flock.

It’s that attitude that probably makes me a terrible pastor’s wife.

 


The “Lonely in a Crowd” Conundrum

Between Babykins’s cold and the frigid temperatures last week, I hadn’t been leaving the house much.  Consequently, I could count on one hand the people I talked to in a week and a half.  I was getting lonely being cooped up in the house with a baby.

(“But wait,” you may say, “Aren’t you an introvert? How can you be lonely?” Actually, it’s fairly easy for introverts to be lonely.)

On Saturday I realized that church was the next morning.  I would leave the house!  I would see people!  And then this happened:

going out

 

The End

It actually turned out to be a good Sunday for Babykins and me.  We stayed in the sanctuary for the whole service and caught the second half of Bible study–something that hasn’t happened since she was a month old.  


Introvert Monday: The Best Way to Survive Your Own Open House

Open houses are unstructured parties with lots of people making small talk.  It’s no surprise that most introverts dislike open houses.  I’m no different.  Unless I know the majority of people attending an open house fairly well, these shindigs are draining and stressful.

Despite my dislike of these parties, my husband and I decided to host our own open house.  I have heard several pastor’s wives recommend inviting people from church into your home and an open house is supposedly a good way to do this.  My motivation for hosting an open house was purely selfish:  If I do this party thing once, then I wouldn’t have to worry about not seeming “inviting” to congregation members for at least a year.

Still, the prospect of flitting about my house socializing with people I barely know seemed daunting.  However, I found the best way to survive hosting an open house came down to two steps:

1. Have a baby

2. Host the open house while the baby is still young so you spend most of the time either feeding her or trying to get her to nap in the peaceful sanctuary of your bedroom.

It worked like a charm.  I spent over 2/3 of the time in our bedroom.  Granted, this was because Babykins was having an anti-nap day.  Still, dealing with a fussy baby was way better than small talk.


Introvert Monday: Phone Aversion

Phone adversion

In a fit of severe loneliness a few weeks ago, I asked one of my online communities for advice to cope with being a new person in a small town.  One of the suggestions that people mentioned several times was “phone dates” with close friends.  *Cringe*

I finally had to admit that I suffer from phone aversion.  It’s hard enough for me to get my act together and call people on a good day, it’s an impossible feat for me to do so when I’m feeling down.  After I admitted my aversion, several other people commented that they also had a tenuous relationship with their phones.  I wasn’t alone!

Then I remembered:  Introverts typically don’t like phone calls.  Don’t ask me why I always forget this, but it’s such a relief to know that my phone issues aren’t something unusual.

Why don’t introverts like the phone?

Marti Olsen Laney concisely describes introverts phone phobia in her book, The Introvert Advantage:

“Here’s how most introverts view the phone: It’s an interruption that drains energy and requires losing focus, which you have to gain again; it requires expending energy for “on-the-feet thinking”; it doesn’t provide innies with Hap Hits.*  Introverts can have so many dips of energy during the day that they are not able to expend energy at the drop of a hat.” (Pg. 184)

That jarring ring-tone ruins the focus that introverts like to maintain.  It’s a demand for a conversation that you’ve had no preparation for (when starting an impromptu conversation in person, at least you have a few moments to register that a person is coming towards you with the intention of talking).

Likewise, a huge chunk of non-verbal communication is taken away when on the phone.  One introvert describes it as, “There’s no ‘text and subtext, body language. . .I can’t “place myself” properly (if that makes sense), when it’s not face-to-face'” (The Introvert’s Way, pg. 66).  There’s no way for introverts to convey that their momentary silence may be that they are thinking about their response–there’s just awkward silence.  This can lead to either the other person continuously chatting and not letting the introvert get a word in or lead to the introvert panicking and creating a nonsensical monologue.  I find the latter usually happens to me.

How to cope with the phone

Fortunately for me, I actually don’t have many people that I feel I need to talk on the phone with–just immediate family and close friends (and even with the close friends, I’m pretty terrible at maintaining phone contact).  Because I have such a limited number of people who call me, I’ll generally answer if I can (actually making a phone call is another beast to deal with).

However, for those who aren’t so fortunate to have limited phone contact, here are some common tips:

  1. Let your voicemail pick up the message and call back during a set time.
  2. Schedule phone calls with friends and family so you have the proper amount of energy.
  3. Don’t be afraid to end the conversation when there’s nothing left to be said.
  4. Try to keep yourself free to move around when on the phone.  Hands-free sets can help.
  5. Encourage and utilize use of other forms of communication like e-mail or texting (realizing that sometimes it really is necessary to have a conversation over the phone!).

That being said, some tips don’t work for me personally, especially since I also have issues with technology.  Many introverts don’t mind using video chat like Skype because it allows them to see the other person.  I personally don’t like video chat, mostly because I find technology glitches incredibly frustrating and more distracting then dealing with awkward pauses on the phone.  Likewise, texting isn’t a great way of communication for me.  I still have a flip phone, so repeatedly pressing buttons to find the right letter gets tedious.  If a texting conversation gets too long, I’d rather save time and talk on the phone.  But I do love e-mail!

However, technology might be converting more people towards the introvert’s view on communication.  Sophia Dembling explains in The Introvert’s Way:

“Interestingly, society may actually be taking a turn toward our way of thinking.  According to Nielsen, we’re making fewer phone calls than we used to (we peaked in 2007), and in 2008 it reported that people were sending and receiving more texts with their mobile phones than they were making or receiving phone calls” (pg. 69).

Perhaps less phone chatting is in all of our futures!

How do you feel about phones?  Are you an introvert who doesn’t mind phone calls?  Are you an extrovert who abhors them?

*Hap Hits can be described as “hits of happiness”.


Introvert Monday: Introverted Mothering

At nearly 32 weeks pregnant, the excitement and worry about the upcoming arrival of Baby is heightening.  One of my bigger concerns is the fact that motherhood is a 24/7 job.  I’ve worked with babies and toddlers through my daycare and nanny jobs.  I know how demanding and exhausting they can be.  On especially hard days, knowing that I could leave got me through quitting time.

But motherhood has no punch-out card.  Motherhood has no guaranteed breaks.  This is unsettling for my introverted self.  What if I can’t find the quiet time that I need?  How do I find that balance between caring for my child and having alone time?

Thankfully, I won’t be the only introverted parent on the planet.  Many introverted mothers have and currently are lovingly raising their children.

Obviously I can’t speak from experience about balancing motherhood and introversion.  However, I have been looking for advice on introverts surviving (and even enjoying) child-rearing.  Here are some of the top tips I’ve found so far:

1. Carve out alone time into every day.  Since introverts need alone time to recharge, it is vital that they get this time every day.  According to Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage, “Focusing twenty-four hours a day on the needs of another being can be extraordinarily taxing.  Introverted moms need to find ways to take breaks and be completely alone or shift into a relaxing adult activity,” (pg. 135).   Making children’s nap time/quiet time a priority is a good way to make this happen.

2.  Don’t be afraid to tell your children “No”.  Sometimes keeping up with kids’ schedules, especially when you have several children or an extroverted child, can be exhausting.  That means to keep your sanity, you have to say “no” to some activities.  It could be a long term activity–like joining another sports team, or a one time thing–like playing tea party when all you want is 10 minutes of peace and quiet.

Sometimes this also means that you have to create rules that may seem strict to others.  I liked this author’s rules about no unnecessary noise.

3. Find social outings with your children that you are comfortable with.  Not to say that introverted mothers should never try something out of their comfort zone.  However, if a specific activity or social situation makes you perpetually uncomfortable, don’t force it.

One introverted mother stated in this Today Parents post, “It is somewhat selfish of me, but for the most part, my daughter only has play dates with kids whose moms I also connect with.”  Since the new norm in the world of  playdates is for the mothers to socialize while their children play, this can be draining if you don’t connect with the other mother.  She also advises bringing something like a book to activities to signal that she doesn’t want to make small talk.

4.  Don’t feel guilty about needing time away from your children.  Parenting requires sacrifice.  Your children need you, and that means giving up or cutting back on some things you enjoyed before children.  However, as an introvert, having time to quietly recharge will make you a happier, healthier mom.  That alone time may need to look different than before you had kids (i.e.–it’s at a different time of day, the location changes), but it still needs to be there. 

And as your children age, “It’s important to explain to your children that you feel drained by too many activities, that you need breaks to recharge your energy in a way they may not,” (The Introvert Advantage, pg. 149).  Even if they don’t understand immediately, you’ll introduce to them the fact that people have different temperaments.

Introversion and motherhood can coincide

Being an introverted mother can have it’s challenges (as does extroverted parenting).  However, introversion can also help with parenting.  Introverts may be able to better listen to their children when interacting with them one-on-one.  Likewise, they may overall take better to the enclosed world that parenting small children create.

Hopefully I can take my own advice come October.  🙂

DSCN1065

And remember, at least you’re not like a cat who can birth 7 kittens at once!

Are you an introverted parent?  How do you find a balance between your children and your introversion?  

 


Introvert Monday: So It Returns and Overview

Well, it’s been in a year since I’ve consistently posted on Introvert Monday.  Apparently working full time took more out of me than I expected!

At any rate, I’m hoping to restart this series and find exciting facts and stories about introversion.  Yay!  But since I haven’t written much about this topic in the last year, I thought I would spend today doing a brief overview of what introversion is.

1. Definition

There are many definitions of introversion floating around, but the general gist of introversion is this: “What constitutes an introvert is quite simple.  We are a vastly diverse group of people who prefer to look at life from the inside out.  We gain energy and power through inner reflection, and get more excited by ideas than by external activities.  When we converse, we listen well and expect others to do the same.  We think first and talk later,” (Laurie Helgoe, Introvert Power, pg. 13).

2. Introverts need alone time

Introverts regain energy by having time to themselves to think, dream, ponder, etc.  This is compared to extroverts who get their energy from interacting with others.

3.  Introversion and extroversion are traits that are found on a spectrum

I’ve had many people comment that they thought they were introverted, but they enjoy so-and-so activity.  This is partly because no one is 100% introverted or extroverted.  You’ll meet introverts who work in fields that require a lot of social interaction and you’ll meet extroverts who occasionally retreat from the world.  In fact, even introverts need social interaction and even extroverts need alone time.  The key is how much an introvert or extrovert need.

In fact, some people may fall close to the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum.  They’re called ambiverts.

4.  Introverts aren’t necessarily shy!

This is a mix up that happens a lot.  Just because a person is introverted doesn’t mean they struggle with severe shyness.  Many introverts have no problem talking to strangers or public speaking, they just have to find time alone to regain their energy.  Likewise, extroverts can be shy.  This can be extremely difficult for them because they desire more social interaction but may have problems finding it.

5.  Introversion/extroversion is only one aspect of personality

People are complex.  To try to define them by one personality trait is ridiculously simplistic.  However, I’ve chosen to write about introversion because it is an often misunderstood aspect of personality.

If you would like to know more about introversion, check out my “Resources for Introverts” page.  I would love to hear if you have any suggestions for further reading!

If you aren’t sure where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, you can take a quiz here.


The Forced Fourth of July

forced of July

 

My husband and I made it safely to Iowa a week ago today.  We’re still trying to make the adjustment to our new life.  There’s been issues with a wet basement, lots of phone calls and texts for my husband as he starts entering his role as Pastor (of course, he isn’t officially a pastor until ordination on Sunday), and just plain exhaustion.

There are some good things that have come with the move as well.  Some of our family were able to make a daytrip to our new home to help with unpacking–something that wouldn’t have been possible while at seminary.  We’re enjoying have central A.C. and a dishwasher.  I met my new midwife a few days ago and I think I will be fairly comfortable under her care.

Overall, there’s nothing unexpected about this move.  That is, until you take into account a congregation and the giant Fourth of July celebration.

Normally I would consider Independence Day one of my favorite holidays.  Since kids aren’t in school, it hasn’t gotten ridiculously commercialized.  It’s one of the few major holidays that celebrating with friends or family is acceptable.  It’s laid back and fun.

However, this year it’s a bit of a bummer.  We’re new in town, so we don’t have any friends to celebrate with (*sniff* Woe is me).  Plus, our new town has an enormous 4th of July festival that draws people from all the area’s small towns.  There are games, there is a parade, there are fireworks, and who knows what else.  Being in a small town, it also means that the congregation members are involved with the festival.  The church even has a float in the parade.

Consequently, my husband and I are in a bit of a bind.  On one hand, we were told numerous times at the seminary that a good pastor (and by default, his family) is part of the community.  That means doing things like attending the 4th of July celebration.  On the other hand, we’ve been here a week and I’ve meet less than a dozen people in town.  All I want to do today is hang our decorations while eating chocolate, not go out and mingle.

Consequently, I’ve started using the dreaded “O” word.  I feel obligated to attend the festival because of my husband’s position.  We went to a benefit dance last night because I felt obligated to go since someone had purchased us tickets (the dance was a dismal social failure on our part–I’ll probably write about it in the near future).  I feel obligated to watch the parade since so many congregation members will be in it.  Never mind that I don’t know them.  People will ask if we attended and if we enjoyed it.

I know next year will probably be better.  Next year we might even be excited about the 4th of July festival.  But for right now, it’s tough to know how to balance unspoken (and, admittedly, perhaps imagined) expectations with our emotional health.

I hope you all are having a great Independence Day despite my melancholy post.  Just to let you know, I’ll be rolling out some changes to my blog soon.  I hope you enjoy them! 

 


Introversion, Shyness, and the Pastor’s Wife

A Facebook friend had posted this on her wall today.  I was uncertain how this article about helping the pastor’s wife would come across, but his list actually proved to be insightful and clear.  To be honest, I don’t know who the author of this blog is and what denomination he belongs to (or even if his other writings are complete rubbish), but he mentioned many of the stressors that pastor’s wives can face.  #3 rang especially true for me:

No two pastor’s wives are the same. Some love having others in their homes. Some sing or play an instrument. Some love shepherding the women around them. Some are extremely outgoing. Interestingly, those tend to be the expectations that are placed on all pastor’s wives. The problem is that some pastor’s wives are very shy. Some don’t like large groups. Some find it difficult to build relationships. Pastor’s wives, just like every other group of people, are different. Have realistic expectations. Some people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone God never intended her to be. This is simply unfair. Have realistic expectations of your pastor’s wife.

I’ve heard over and over again that I don’t have to do anything I wouldn’t want to do as a layperson, but this is one of the few times someone has mentioned personality in relation to the role of pastor’s wife.  It gave me a little hope during what is proving to be a fretful month.  And hurrah, I’m not the only one who is shy, doesn’t like large groups, and find it difficult to build relationships!

Do you have a pastor’s wife who doesn’t fit the “traditonal” role?  What do you like about her (I’m trying to be positive here)?  Are you a pastor’s wife with a personality that doesn’t meet the “traditonal” expectations?  How do you help congregation members understand this?  


Introduction to HSP

At long last, I’ve written the post on Elaine N. Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person.

When I went through my first round of counseling back in 2011, my counselor gave me a book to read entitled The Highly Sensitive Person:  How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.  I was initially a bit hesitant to read the book because, well, it sounded cheesy.  However, I was desperate enough to try just about anything at that point, so I went ahead and read it anyway.

It was a breakthrough for me.  Suddenly there seemed to be an answer about why I was having problems holding myself together, why I couldn’t function in the chaos at work, and even why I cried so much as a child:  I was a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

What is a HSP?

Being highly sensitive actually has a straightforward explanation.  According to Dr. Aron, who coined the phrase “highly sensitive”, it simply means, “you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations.  It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way,” (xiii).  Basically, HSPs is more effected by their environment because their nervous-system picks up on more in its surroundings.  Because of HSPs’ sensitivity to their environment, they are likely to be more affected by things like loud noises, other people’s moods, and having to do too much at one time (for a self-test about being highly sensitive, go here).  My personal favorite sign of being a HSP is sensitivity to hunger because I turn into a terrible monster when I skip meals or snacks.

However, high sensitivity can also be hard to define in relation to shyness/social anxiety and introversion because many traits of HSPs are also found in shy people and introverts.  So what makes being highly sensitive a distinguishable trait and not just an outcome of being shy or introverted?

HSPs Aren’t Necessarily Introverts

Admittedly, HSPs’ style of socialization is very similar to introverts’ style of socialization.  However, the motivation behind these social styles can differ.  While the defining characteristic of an introvert is the need for alone time in order to recharge, HSPs “avoid people who come in the overstimulating packages–the strangers, the big parties, the crowds,” (97).  HSPs will prefer small groups or being alone so that they won’t feel overwhelmed by their environment.  This certainly explains why some introverts can handle a crowd without going comatose while some introverts become frozen like small animals facing an oncoming car when entering the din of a large party.

Since 70% of HSPs are introverts (98), their motivation for quieter socialization may be a combination of the need for alone time and avoiding being overstimulated.  However, that leaves 30% of HSPs falling into the extraverted side of the spectrum.  For extraverted HSPs, “you have a large circles of friends and enjoy groups and strangers. . .You still find other sources of arousal difficult, however, like a long work day or being in the city too much,” (98).  Consequently, the terms “highly sensitive” and “introverted” cannot be used interchangeably.

HSPs Aren’t Necessarily Shy

Many of HSPs’ social habits can make them seem shy.  In fact, it is not uncommon for HSPs to actually be shy.  However, they are not the same because, “Shyness is the fear others are not going to like or approve of us.  That makes it a response to a situation.  It is a certain state, not an always-present trait.  Shyness, even chronic shyness, is not inherited.  Sensitivity is,” (91).  So while a shy person can work on being less shy, a sensitive person can only change their reactions to being sensitive.

The reason many HSPs appear shy is because of their reactions to arousing situations.  They may hang back in a crowd or not talk much.  But Dr. Aron explains, “Remember, overarousal is not always due to fear.  Thinking it is fear can make you feel shy when you are not,” (91-92).  Take my experience on vicarage for example.  The social time between the service and Bible Study was extremely crowded and very loud.  When people tried talking to me, I couldn’t understand what they were saying because of the bombardment of surrounding conversations and the distraction of people milling around.  Since I couldn’t contribute to any sort of small talk, I had several members say things like, “You don’t have to be afraid of us” or “You’re very shy.”  Then I felt self-conscious about my inability to converse, making it more difficult to talk to others.  It also saddened me that a vibrant church community and large Bible study were things to be celebrated, but only brought me torment.

Now, you 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 shy:

Unfortunately, the term shy has some very negative connotations.  It does not have to; shy can also be equated with words such as discreet, self-controlled, thoughtful, and sensitive.  But studies have shown that most people on first meeting those I would call HSPs considered them shy and equated that with anxious, awkward, fearful, inhibited, and timid.  Even mental health professionals have rated them, more often than not, this way and also as lower on intellectual competence, achievement, and mental health, which, in fact, bear no associations with shyness.  Only people who knew the shy people well, such as their spouses, chose the positive terms.  Another study found that the tests used by psychologists to measure shyness are replete with the same negative terms.  Maybe that would be all right if the tests were of a state of mind, but they’re often used to identify “shy people,” who then bear a negative label.  Beware of the hidden prejudice behind the word shy. (93)

She eventually suggests using the term “social discomfort” instead of the word “shy.”  I’m not trying to stop from thinking of myself as being shy, I’m trying to explain that there many reasons that people appear shy and that shy people shouldn’t necessarily be written off as socially incompetent.

The Cons of The Highly Sensitive Person

While I highly recommend this book for people who constantly feel overwhelmed by the world around them, there are some aspects of the book that I didn’t particularly relate to.  First, there is an entire chapter devoted to spirituality.  I find when books try to cover all aspects religious practices by calling it “spirituality”, it generally comes off as seeming trite and flakey.  While there are some little nuggets of useful information buried in the chapter, for the most part I would have preferred that she left her audience to make their own deductions about how their personality trait may affect their religious practices.

Secondly, there was a lot of discussion (and an entire chapter) about “healing wounds,” especially the emotional wounds from a misunderstood childhood.  While I certainly had some rough years growing up, for the most part I look back on my childhood as a happy, healthy time (Good job, Mom and Dad!).  While I’m sure many of her readers did have difficult childhoods, it just didn’t pertain to me.

The Pros of The Highly Sensitive Person

However, there was a plethora of helpful and insightful information presented in Dr. Aron’s findings.  She had great insight into handling social situations as a HSP (something I found particularly helpful because the tips from my introversion books didn’t always help).  Since she is a HSP herself, Dr. Aron understood the struggle an overarousing situation can create.

Likewise, she had an entire chapter devoted to healthcare and the HSP.  She explained the sensitivities HSPs can have to medicine and the difficulties they may face when interacting with doctors.  I especially enjoyed her insights into the use of antidepressants and antianxiety medicine, something doctors can be overeager to prescribe to HSPs in order to “fix” their personality problem.  She was very diligent in weighing the pros and cons of these medications and left it up to readers to decide what was best for them.

Finally, I enjoyed reading The Highly Sensitive Person because it shows that people are complex.  After spending months reading about introversion, it was interesting to look at some of my behaviors from a different perspective.

Are you a HSP?  What do you like most AND least about your trait?  Are you a non-HSP introvert?  What do you see as similarities and differences between introversion and high sensitivity?  Are you an extroverted HSP?  How do you handle your personality trait?  


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?