Chelsey Falco
February 05, 2014 8:00 am

I’ve always been shy. When I was little, I hid in the other room whenever my parents had company, and now that I’m an adult, I still hide in the other room whenever my parents have company. Shyness has become a part of who I am.

My shyness has been a huge problem for me for many years, although it has definitely lessened in severity. When I was about four years old, my parents took me to therapy for selective mutism, which is essentially a form of social anxiety disorder where a person chooses not to speak. I’d occasionally talk to my mom or my grandmothers, but that was it. Talking terrified me, and I must have thought it was better to only talk when necessary than to be vocal and scared. I’ve definitely gotten better at talking to others, but I still try to avoid eye contact and run away whenever I encounter another person.

Some people are surprised to learn that I’m so shy. My friends and family are constantly telling me to shut up. That’s because I’m comfortable around them. At this point, they all have to love me even if I say something incredibly stupid. There’s no pressure with loved ones! But as soon as I’m thrown into an environment where I don’t know my conversation partners, I’m done. I can’t talk around them! There are a lot of layers to shyness, and I’m going to let you in on the truth about being shy:

  1. It’s more than being an introvert. There is a huge overlap between people who are introverts and people who are shy, but introversion and shyness aren’t the exact same thing. They’re related, but an introvert prefers to avoid social situations while a shy person fears those situations. I like to look at introversion as a personality trait and shyness as a phobia. It’s possible to be an introvert who isn’t shy, and it’s probably possible to be an extrovert who is shy. I don’t know for sure, but anything is possible, right?
  2. Other people can be judgmental. Over the years people have assumed that I am a bitch, stuck-up, rude or stupid because I am shy. They thought that I didn’t talk much because of some sort of problem with my personality, but in reality I’m just afraid to talk to them. If you know me well, I can be very articulate and bubbly, but that’s only if I know you well. Around everyone else, I am very reserved. If you’re talking to me and I’m very quiet, it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I’m listening and waiting for a moment where I feel comfortable enough to jump in. Just because someone isn’t bubbly or outgoing doesn’t mean they’re rude. Being shy is hard enough without being called a bitch or dumb. Rather than judging shy people, try appreciating them for their listening skills and the peace and quiet they can provide.
  3. Not everyone grows out of it. I was shy when I was two, and I’m shy now that I’m 22. First of all, I hate the idea that shyness is something a person needs to grow out of. Someone who is truly shy might take that to mean they need to grow out of who they are, and that’s not the case. They need to grow into their shyness! Much like I grew into my large head, I’ve grown into my shyness. If you’re shy, that’s a part of who you are, and rather than forcing yourself to be outspoken, work with your shyness. I’ve made it this far by finding friends who share my extreme shyness but also having a few friends who are very social. (If you only have shy friends, life might get monotonous. You need a few wildcards in the mix.) And I’ve learned how to work through my shyness. I’ll rehearse conversations so that I’m more comfortable when it’s time to talk, and I’ve figured out that, even though I fear talking to someone one-on-one, I’m great at public speaking. It’s all about figuring how to make your shyness work for you!
  4. The world won’t always embrace shyness. The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that “But I’m shy!” isn’t always a valid excuse. I wish it could be! It would be wonderful if all teachers and employers were understanding of the fact that talking can be difficult for some. So many teachers have threatened to lower my grade because of a lack of participation in class. I did all the work and handed in A-papers, but teachers wanted me to contribute to the class discussion. Sometimes that was easy for me. If I was comfortable with the subject matter and firmly believed in my opinions, I could take up the whole class period with my comments. But if I didn’t understand 100% of the material, I couldn’t talk, and I’d let my grade suffer for that. It’s the same problem in the world of employment. I’ve worked countless customer service jobs and I’m capable of talking to others, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work extra hard at it! I envy my coworkers who can hold a conversation with anyone who walks in. I wish I could do that, so I try to imitate those coworkers because I don’t want to be bad at my job. A professor told me that the women who get the highest-paying jobs are the women who are outspoken. While I will never be an outspoken person, I can work to be less shy on the job. And that’s what I’m doing. In competitive environments, shyness can be a hindrance. At work, I’m still trying to find that balance between extreme shyness and a need to be outspoken, but I like to remind myself that trying to find that balance at all is a huge step.

I’m a shy person, and I will always be a shy person. But I’m not about to let my shyness control my life. I work hard to seem more social and comfortable around others. I may be shy, but I’m still competent, nice and caring. Some advice for fellow shy people: You’re not socially awkward; they’re awkwardly social.

Featured Image Via Shutterstock

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