Could it be because my parents were aloof and distant?
Maybe their attitude toward me made me more reluctant to speak to others in case I received similar responses.
Could be. We all like to blame our parents, after all.
Was it because I felt inadequate?
Could be. I didn’t think I was good enough, so I didn’t feel confident talking to other people.
The Well-Meaning People
In primary school, around the age of seven or eight, one or two times a week I was taken out of class to spend some time with a teaching assistant. Her objective: make me less shy.
I must admit my memory is a little hazy about those sessions. I can’t remember exactly what exercises I was given to liven me up and make me more social, but suffice it to say, none of it worked. It may have even made me shyer.
There’s nothing worse than being “the only one,” “the different one,”’ especially when you are already overly self-conscious. I think all it did was confirm my suspicions that I was different and that it was an unwelcome difference.
Growing up, there was an aunt who I really like, but when we went to visit her, she would never fail to give me lectures on why I shouldn’t be shy. Her reasons, I must admit, were convincing, but it never seemed to convince me enough to overcome my shyness. Again, it felt as if I was being singled out. After all, nobody else seemed to be receiving these lectures.
It’s hard being told, especially as a child, that there is something wrong with you that you need to change, that there’s something wrong with the way you behave, and that you need to be more like the other children—the ones that, you know, talk.
Sure, I tried to be “loud.” Loud to me meant talking nonstop even if I had nothing useful or relevant to say; it meant interrupting others and being obnoxious. These attempts to be “loud” never lasted longer than a few hours at a time, mainly because I ended up annoying myself. Still, year after year, and in many different ways, I would try to be “loud.”
This was my way of trying to conform to what is universally liked.
All the loud people were popular. They had all the friends, all the boys, and were adored by everyone. Simply put, you weren’t interesting unless you were loud.
Being shy makes you an easy target. Bullies know that you aren’t going to respond to their taunts, to their vicious comments, to their smirking sidelong glances, so they pick on you.
My bullies tried and succeeded to increase the discomfort I already felt at school. They would whisper and laugh whenever I was in earshot. They stared at me, knowing it would make me feel uncomfortable, and would then turn away when I looked up, pretending that they hadn’t been looking at me.
Because I was very self-conscious, I would sometimes walk with my head down to avoid looking at others. Of course, they made fun of that, too.
The Social Events
I never went to parties. I didn’t even go to my prom after-party. I always had an excuse for why I couldn’t go.
What would I say or do? What would I do if a guy I liked approached me? What would I do if a guy I didn’t like approached me?
With questions like these left unanswered, I avoided going to parties at all costs. The problem was that hours later I would become angry with that decision. I was being silly. There was nothing to be afraid off (not much, anyway.) Yet, the next time I was invited to a party, out came all the familiar excuses.
Is being shy really such a bad thing?
I think it depends on the individual. Some people will absolutely hate being shy and will want to change it. Others will have given up trying to change and will accept who they are, shyness and all. I think I’m in the middle—as I often tend to be. Like I said before, I used to hate being shy. I hated that I was made a target by bullies because I was shy and that I couldn’t stand up for myself because I was too afraid. I wanted to be the complete opposite.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on my character and explore my personality, I’ve found that I like certain aspects of my shyness and have no real desire to change them.
For example, I can be quite a cautious person, a trait often associated with shy people. I tend to observe someone, studying their interactions with others, before I let them in or open up. I don’t wear my heart or any other organ on my sleeve, and I’m happy that I don’t. I’m okay with that.
I also found out that I am an introvert. I didn’t enjoy going out for the sake of going out, and I learned that it was okay for me to want to be by myself, that there was nothing wrong with that.
I spoke more. Go figure. Hadn’t people been telling me to do that for years? Yes, but before, I hadn’t learned to appreciate that very common but not so commonly practised phrase, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I learned that I didn’t have to speak all of the time. In fact, some of the best car journeys occur when the people involved know each other so well that no talking is necessary. They get it. You get it. No small talk allowed.
I realised that every social occasion needn’t be perfect, and that has enabled me to relax and be myself rather than focusing on not messing up, saying the wrong thing.
I stopped caring (so much) about what people thought. This issue will never completely disappear, but I’ve learned to deal with it a lot better. For example, when I get those “You’re so quiet” comments, sometimes it can rankle and rile, but I’ve given up on trying to adapt into who they might want me to be. Not everyone will feel comfortable with my quietness. They’ll find someone who is more compatible to their needs, and I’m sure I’ll do the same.
I think I’ll always be a bit shy. And although I’ve finally accepted this, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when I wish I was more extroverted, more charismatic—whatever that means—but such is life, and so it must be.
What are your thoughts?
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