Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a new mantra spontaneously arise as I’m going about my affairs: “F*ck being shy—I’m done with that!”
It’s funny, because I don’t recall a moment where I consciously decided to adopt this. It has just emerged, seemingly of its own volition.
And I’m kinda liking it!
I would never have described myself as chronically shy. And over time I find myself claiming to be so less and less. But I have suffered from varying degrees of shyness throughout my life.
In the past, people who know me well have dismissed such claims as nonsense because they knew the extroverted side of me. And, as many do, they assumed that I couldn’t be both. But, in fact shyness and introversion are not mutually exclusive.
Shyness is not a lack of desire for social interaction, or for putting ourselves out there and trying stuff. Shyness is an internal barrier that holds us back from interactions and activities that we’d actually really love to participate in. To quote The Smiths:
“Shyness is nice, and
Shyness can stop you
From doing all the things in life
You’d like to.”
That is the striking difference between shyness and introversion—shy people often want to do things that introverts have no interest in doing. They want to, but they don’t. They feel anxious about trying new stuff or interacting with new people and they choose to remain in their comfort zone rather than endure the anxiety that accompanies its expansion. Fundamentally, shy people suffer from a fear of being judged.
Introverts, on the other hand, are less concerned about the good opinion of others. I would describe introversion as a preferred way of interacting in the world (although it’s not one of choice), while shyness acts as an impediment to interacting in our preferred way.
I have a combination of introversion and shyness. The introvert in me has no need or desire to change that aspect. She enjoys time to herself—more than that, she needs a good deal of it in order to be calm, relaxed and her best self with others. The introvert in me turns down opportunities because she has no interest in them, and she is unconcerned about how she’ll be perceived for doing so.
And there is nothing wrong with that; no part of me perceives that as something that needs to change.
The problem lies with the shy part of me, because she is as outgoing as non-introverts. So, she does desire—and need— social interaction with others. But, shyness can hold her back. I often struggle to express that aspect of my personality unless I’m in the company of people who know me fairly well. I may want to do something—go dancing, join a debating team, deliver a presentation—but anxiety prevents me from embracing it. I say no to opportunities that excite me. I don’t go to places and events that entice me.
Or, I should say, I didn’t.
Because, slowly but surely, over the last decade I’ve been getting a great deal better at this. And this year, I hope to conquer the curse of shyness completely—if the first couple of months are anything to go by.
For me, it’s coming to the fore in the form of “shameless self-promotion”. In the past, I would have regarded this (on the part of others, for I would never have been guilty of such a crime) as a negative trait. But between my recently completed apprenticeship with elephant journal and steady progress in The Artist’s Way, I have—quite surprisingly—found myself admiring shameless self-promotion when I see it.
And, what’s more, I’m becoming much bolder in that regard myself.
The key for me is “shameless”—why should we feel any shame in promoting our work or, indeed, ourselves?
It’s quite a revelation to me to suddenly have this perspective. I previously valued a more humble approach and preferred to have others recognise my efforts without any prodding from me. But I’m coming to realise that, in this hyper-busy and hyper-information-saturated world, many people have little or no chance of being aware of what I’m up to if I don’t tell them about it. In fact, when I think of it from my new perspective, is it not way more conceited to expect people to keep themselves up to speed on my latest act of brilliance? Like they have nothing better to be doing.
It’s up to me to shine my own light. And it’s up to you to shine yours. We need to let go of our fears around how we’ll be judged. There are people out there who will resonate with us deeply and others who won’t at all. We need to accept this and make our peace with it.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Over the last few years, that quote has been instrumental in my tentative steps to overcome my shyness. And yes, shyness can be overcome. My own process in that is now morphing from tentative to a determined mission. I will not let shyness be the reason I don’t live my life to its fullest.
But as a partial introvert, I’m keen to be true to that aspect of myself too. I’m up for expanding my comfort zone, but I want to honour important boundaries as well.
If we’re going to respect the introvert in us (for those who share that personality type), while simultaneously overcoming our shyness, then a good dose of self-awareness will need to be applied on an ongoing basis. While honouring the introvert in us serves us well—by ensuring we meet our own needs.
Giving into shyness holds us back.
Whenever we feel the inclination to say no to something, we need to be sure about why we’re doing that. Is it a genuine lack of interest, or does the idea of saying yes bring up fear or anxiety? If we had no fear, what would we do? Would we accept or reject the opportunity?
The guiding principle should be: “What do you want to do?” Let our desires be our compass.
When we’re sure that the shy part of ourselves is acting up, then what? How do we gently ease ourselves forward? Psychologists suggest that, again, self-awareness is the solution. Or, to be more precise, replacing self-consciousness with self-awareness. The key is to recognise that we are putting too much attention on how we’re feeling in a situation and not enough attention on the other person. 
When we give our full attention to whomever or whatever is right in front of us—otherwise known as being fully present—we generally find all anxiety dissolve. The apprehension around what we will say next and how we will be perceived for saying it disappears when we find ourselves authentically engaged in a conversation, instead of playing it out in our heads first.
My own way of overcoming shyness in a given situation, is to take some long slow breaths and set a clear intention around how I’d prefer to feel instead. In most cases, it has stood me in good stead. And I have noticed that when I feel the fear and do it anyway, I feel less fear the next time the situation arises.
With practice, my feelings of shyness in a particular scenario start to diminish. As I become more comfortable with certain people and situations, I have no need to feel shy around them. And as the number of people and situations which induce feelings of shyness in me diminish, so too does my overall tendency towards it. I am becoming more at ease with the unfamiliar and more willing to explore new opportunities.
So, if there’s something new you’d like to try, then why not try on my new mantra for size and see how it fits? I probably should have mentioned earlier that “Ask” by The Smiths has also been playing endlessly in my head as a soundtrack. Who knows, this may have been just as pivotal as the mantra.
Just in case, here it is for your own benefit:
Shyness is the New Solution. Psychology Today website, January 1, 2000.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo via Google Images