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Circumstantial Shyness

July 1, 2008 | 5 Comments

Post to the Host:
I'm a psychiatric nurse practitioner and recently I have been thinking about shyness and it's sometimes disabling consequences for many people. I wonder if, as a shy person, you could say more about the power of shyness and how to encourage others who are literally frozen by this condition? I see shyness treated as a pathological condition with medication sometimes. Shyness is very difficult to understand if you are not.

Claudine G.
Portland, ME

I was a very ordinary sort of shy person—the gangly introverted adolescent from a strict fundamentalist background—an American classic—and what got me out of the downward spiral was a natural craving for attention that spurred me to write, and to go into radio (a perfect medium for a shy person), and then to read my writing in public, and then to do the show. A gentle ramp and there were all sorts of kind people along the way to keep me from slipping off, so when I look back, it doesn't seem particularly hard or heroic to me, though I do remember that feeling of being frozen. For some reason, interviewing people for my college newspaper filled me with terror, more so than standing up in front of an audience. Anyway, my shyness strikes me as circumstantial and nothing that anybody would prescribe medication for. And I'm in no position to give advice in these matters.


There is no "cure" for what
is called "shyness" (in the
field of early childhood development
we like to call it "introversion," or
say a child is "slow to warm up).
In my readings I've found that introverted
children need quiet time away from others
since it takes energy to be with other
kids. On the other hand, extroverts need
other people and obtain energy from
being around them. Seldom do extroverts
understand introverts, but often
introverts understand extroverts and
everyone else (perhaps because they spend
much of their time watching and listening?).
When I have an extroverted parent who
is concerned about their introverted child,
I explain to them that their child
is a "thinker," and we need people like
that in our world to solve problems and
write literature!
There are lots of books these days on
this subject.
...just another reason for Early Childhood
Education -- let's help kids learn
how to "cope" before too much harm
is done!
San Clemente

I am also a shy person and a counselor. I found my ways of adapting to an "non-shy" world. One of them was by doing public speaking through work. It helps to have "control" of the situation. I also used to be a docent at an art museum. I found that when you could adapt a role temporarily that it really helps. But I still find social situations, even among people that I know well to be uncomfortable at times. What I find disturbing is the "pathologicalization" of shyness. True, there is such diagnoses as social phobia and agoraphobia but they are very different from just being introverted and shy. The real trouble is that our society does not accept shyness, feels that it has to be changed and that everyone should be outgoing & extraverted. Shy people are not all sitting there pining away for friends. Perhaps some day all the extraverts will find the time and patience to enjoy the quiet and ability to reflect.

On this, the celebration of "Independence" Day in 2008, it's still a battle to find one's niche as a quiet, contemplative individual in our society. If you're a boy, you risk ridicule for wimpy passivity, unless you're a James Dean, of course. If you're a girl, you may be overlooked as opposed to looked over -- in this culture, sadly, a mixed blessing far too nuanced and complicated for most adults, much less adolescents, to figure out.

At this point in our relatively young country, it seems we have a long way to go to develop the sophistication to fully appreciate the beauty in what is understated and quiet for its own sake.

I understand and respect the above comments about those who prefer their introversion and the idea that we need all kinds. But I, like GK, was so reticent but yet I valued social skills so highly. I came to envy and even despise some of those to whom it came easy to speak in public, or to take the spotlight in whatever way. I think that's the oddity here is that he (and I) clearly desired to do those things but were hampering ourselves. I took a well iknown course in public speaking. I would some nights drive up to the classroom and then drive away...I just couldn't do it. But as time went by I found that I was pretty good at it. I became a graduate assistant in the course and was later asked to train to be an instructor, which I did, and taught nthe course at night for many years. It changed my life and my self esteem soared. I taught an adult Sunday School class and did other things in my community. My opinion is that following Eleanor Roosevelt's advice to face the thing that you fear is solid gold. And I believe that what makes Garrison so darn good is that little bit of fear that won't let him go up there without some dynamite material that he knows completely. His genuine self shines through so that we see the man that he is, and we love him for it.

I am a shy/introvert person. My husband is an extrovert. We don't see eye to eye on the inner/outer aspects of it. Sometimes my shyness leads to fear and inactivity. It can turn pathaological unless you have the right support group or friends.

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