August 5, 2015

How to Help a Shy Girl Speak.

"Timid Tass," Bryan, Flickr Commons

She seems quieter than most of the people you know.

Maybe her words are spoken at a lower decibel. Maybe she articulates the day with long spells of silence. Maybe it’s some combination of the two.

You know she has good ideas because she shares them sometimes, with you. You wish she would find her voice and unleash it, and you want to help her.

Understand that she already has a voice.

She’s just selective about how to use it.

Her comments on the world, her missives of the heart, her fire-bursts of daydreams are not shared with everyone.

If she passed one to you, it was a gift: a little nosegay of hand-picked blooms from her cottage walk, lovingly tended from seed to ripeness, plucked and wrapped in home-dyed ribbons.

Why did she do this? Perhaps, she thought it would please you. Perhaps, she liked you and the act of giving pleased her.

None of it was casual or happenstance.

You were chosen.

You were trusted.

You—and no one else.

But her small voice is so beautiful, and you want the world to hear it.

You might carefully gain her permission to share, but this consent must be informed and precise, and followed to the letter.

Do not presume to broadcast in her voice.

Do not surprise her with a spotlight.


When you do this, the words are no longer truly hers.

It is you, stealing her voice away from her, wresting it from her arms, digging up her garden and dragging it elsewhere to make it your own.

You’ve decided that you know better than her what her voice should sound like.

Remember that she chose you.

Remember that you were trusted.

When you brandish her words without permission, it feels like betrayal.

But you know her low self-esteem is unwarranted. She should have more pride in herself.

Shyness, as the world calls it, is sometimes derived from severely painful experiences. It is sometimes rooted in conditions like anxiety. These things are not always so, but either or both might be part of her story.

It is neither your power nor your place to declare her traumas healed.

When a voice is what has been lost, its reclaiming is an epic quest which is hers and hers alone. It is a central theme driving through the core of her life, and when she wins it at last, her joy will be unparalleled.

Understand that the shy girl needs most of all to become her own hero. Voice is the essence of identity, and finding it herself is the only way she can be healed.

Be an ally—not another voice-stealing foe she needs to overcome.

Remember that she chose you.

Remember that you were trusted.

Do not co-opt her narrative.

How can you possibly support her?

Give her safe space to speak (or not speak) when she chooses.

Don’t pressure her into situations of publicity — or intimacy — with which she is not fully comfortable. Don’t be offended if your office party, your family dinner, or your attempt for a serious one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversation make her squirm toward silence. This is not about you.


Listen, and accept that sometimes silence is an answer—and not an angry one.

Make confidentiality the rule, and not an afterthought.

When she speaks and her words light up your heart, tell her they have done so. Tell her when her voice sings beautifully, and tell her how you would like to share it.

Offer to amplify her voice, if you have some means of doing so, but live by the code of consent, always.

Honor her struggle by being a friend, not a promoter (unless she asks you for that).

Remember always that she chose you.

Remember always that you were trusted.

What happens if you decide that respecting her shyness is silly?

She will leave you.

She will leave you, and maybe it won’t be a loud dramatic parting, or even right away. Shyness has a problem with being direct, so she’s more likely to step away slowly, in bits and pieces, as you demonstrate how little of her trust you can carry.

She will leave you and you won’t hear it coming, because you are too busy talking about her to hear what she actually says.

She will leave you, and you’ll wonder why—because all you’ve ever wanted to do is help her.

She will leave you, because you won’t let her speak.



The Art of Shyness.


Author: Katie-Anne Laulumets

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Photo: Bryan/ Flickr

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