Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Notes from a wall flower

I wanted to write about being shy, because I mentioned it in my seven facts about myself and several others said “me too”.
Being shy, for me, feels a total, complete and utter waste of time. And I can say that with confidence as a lifelong shy person.

But what is the point of it? Why has Mother Nature, in her wisdom, decreed that some of us are painfully shy why others (and how I dearly wish to be one of those others) are brave and bold and lovely and loud? I read somewhere that the bold ones are those who rush off after the wildebeest with a spear, while the shy ones hang back and think of tactics.

And painfully shy is so true. It is a pain being shy. Physical “ow! It hurts!” pain and a squirming, wriggling, cowardly kind of pain that holds you back when you should be at the front. It sticks you to the wall, flower-like or means that, perhaps you do not go out at all, finding ways to avoid, excuses not too. It makes the school run twice daily hell; just to manage to squeeze out the word “hello” to someone you have known for decades. It makes some people just plain out of bounds to speak to because they give you a vibe that freezes your vocal chords and renders you a speechless gibbering loon.

Then, other days, you’ll be fine. Quite normal in fact, and quietly confident, able to speak to anyone, even very good looking people.

So why is this? Why am I shy Jekyll on some days and quietly confident Hyde on other (very few) days?

It feels like a mental defect.

Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., in his book, “Shyness, A Bold New Approach” (Harper Perennial) says: “Shyness is not a mental defect, a personality flaw, a neurosis, or an emotional disorder.”

Maybe not, I say, but it certainly feels that way and probably looks it too.

Apparently almost 50% of the population say they are shy, 89% of which say they have been shy all their lives. Only 11% claim they are not and never have been shy.

Odd, then, that television programmes don’t show shy people (they don’t show fat or ugly ones, either, but that’s another story). Perhaps you might come across the occasional bit of costume drama demureness; downcast eyes, bosom plimming over low cut, empire line dress, but not on Eastenders or Corrie.

I am one of the 89% who say they have always been shy. But I am not shy all the time, and apparently that is quite common too.

Carducci also talks about ‘inappropriate boldness’ as a coping mechanism for shy people. So if you see someone being hostile, doing silly outrageous things or forcing themselves to be extrovert, they are pretending not to be shy. Shy people are told to get out more, join clubs, and go to evening classes. But, Carducci says, this is useless without first having set in place appropriate strategies for coping with such situations.

His research identified several types of shyness: the publicly shy (finding it easiest to be inconspicuous); the chronically shy (shy at most social encounters); the privately shy (occasionally shy, when you have had a bad day or just in a shy mood); the transitionally shy (shy during certain periods of life, such as starting a new job) and the successfully shy (aware of being shy, but it doesn’t hold them back in life).

My aim is to move from the publicly and chronically shy end of the scale to the successfully shy other end of the scale. Or, as Carducci describes it, from unhappily shy to happily shy.

He suggests keeping a shy life journal to describe how you follow his techniques on the journey from unhappily to happily shy. His strategies include stopping avoiding whatever it is that makes you shy, learning new behaviours and acting on them, expanding your comfort zone and befriending your anxiety.

Interestingly Carducci warns about using technology to assist the avoidance part of shyness. You can order things over the internet, chat to people all over the world in chat rooms (ahem!) all without actually having to make contact with another human being.

He says: “It is easy to hide behind the internet and use it as an excuse to avoid meeting people,” and warns that technology limits contact with others. “The obvious solution,” he says, “is to log off the computer.” Hmmm. He continues: “Staying in surfing the internet or watching TV are passive endeavours that can interfere with social contact.” Uh oh.

But, Carducci asserts, being shy is not the same as being a failure. Apparently some of the world’s most famous, richest, smartest and bravest people are shy.

Okay, so it’s not so bad after all. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much or cause rows when I have an acute attack of shyness before going out anywhere.


  1. Nannies used to say to shy chidlren forced out into the world" what are you worried about no one is the remotely interested in you anyway" coming from very a soically adept family I seriously think my desert Island solution is the safest... perhaps nature is just telling us we don't fit in!!

  2. Really interesting blog, I can relate to quite a lot of this, I have periods of intense shyness and periods where I'm not so bothered. I find as I'm getting older though I'm getting worse and worse at small talk. It's funny you should have written this; I've been composing a blog in my head about shy children and how unfair the world is on them - I'll type it up in the next few days! Have you ever read books by Elaine Aaron, an American Psychologist - she's written ones about highly sensitive people (inc. children) and they make fascinating reading.

  3. Errrr did you write this for me or you? this one still blushes ..horrifically at 52...it has been the bane of my life. Funny I am getting shyer as I get older...hardly socialise at all now..recluse, hermit... whatever

  4. Amazing! I was very surprised to read that you were shy because your writing is so confident. I do know how you feel but was forced to confront my shyness in my last job or face being ignored. It wasn't pleasant and clearly not the answer for everyone. Good luck.

  5. I'm whizzing in rather quickly today but just wanted to say that actually I can be quite shy somedays !!

  6. Fabulous blog. I do the inappropriate boldness for sure sometimes.....but also hide behind email/Internet heck of a lot. Not sure how I used to manage in the days when you had to phone people up and talk to them! Actually I don't so much mind meeting people in the flesh but HATE usign the phone.....think because I have a strong visual sense and don't like not having access to visual clues and cues.
    And yes, how funny is this? - I also get horribly irritated by people who are even shyer than I am!!! What Jung would say is the shadow I guess....


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