Is your shyness holding you back?

By John Linderman

Elm Staff Writer

Shyness and introversion share many similar qualities: reservation, privacy, and so on. In turn, introverts are often presumed to be shy, but is this the whole truth? Introverts can enjoy their time at a party, meet new people, and try new things all whilst retaining their character. Perhaps it’s a common misconception that introversion is shyness, and a new definition needs to be explored. Is shyness even that bad of a habit or more of a personality trait?

For those who know they are shy, here’s where to begin. Shyness shouldn’t be synonymous with introversion. It’s all about how we charge our batteries. For introverts, it can be calm, intimate environments with trusted ones. Shyness can still hold you back from scenarios like that. It’s even possible to be shy and extroverted, like someone who wants to connect at a big concert, but feels too shy to even buy the tickets. It’s something that both teams have to play with.

Contemporary psychology heavily correlates shyness with the approach/avoidance conflict. It’s classified as an element of stress, and is defined as the rising internal conflict when dealing with a complicated, dual-positive-and-negative choice situation. Both choices have their pros and cons. Despite its ubiquity, it can be analysis paralysis for some. It’s stressful whether you act or not, and most of us have chosen the “shy away” option once or twice. How does it connect to shyness? For shy people, the negatives of situations are pronounced, and it can lead to crippling indecision. 

According to Dr. Bernardo Carducci of the Shyness Research Institute, “Shy individuals often desire social contact, but are inhibited by their excessive self-consciousness, negative self-evaluation and perceived lack of social skills.”

Dr. Carducci argues that shyness isn’t an inherited trait, but if left untreated, can lead to an unfulfilling personal and professional life. That sounds like a pretty harsh sentence, especially because most of us have felt shy at one point or another.

On the other end, Sian Prior, author of “Shy,” said in the Washington Post that shyness is greatly misunderstood, and it can contribute to greater sensitivity and higher levels of honesty.

“When I interviewed (Psychologist Ron) Rapee, he told me shy people were often reliable, conscientious, and good listeners who demonstrated high levels of empathy. Many shy people can be found in the caring professions, working in roles that are generally non-self-aggrandizing and non-domineering.”

In this case, everyone should explore their own sense of shyness, and see if they can apply a sense of confidence from a field they may feel more surer in, like a hobby or intellectual interest. If there is no match, according to Prior, the shy person has at least been able to feel humility and kindness, which is a struggle for some. 

What could be considered a habit is isolation. According to Jeanne Estes, MFT in HealthiNation, “When you’re choosing to avoid others because you’re trying to put up a wall between yourself and other people, you’re isolating. It might feel cozy and protected on the inside of those walls because you have control of what happens; it feels safe and reliable. You don’t have to worry about impressing others, the possibility of rejection, or being disappointed.” Estes clarifies that while personal time can be recharging for everyone, isolation only provides a comfort that ends in feeling lonelier.

We can challenge our shyness by breaking old routines, trying new activities or hobbies, and exploring with friends all the meanwhile. Of course, to each their own. We don’t have to let shyness define us, as it’s seldom a positive descriptive. In all, our collective shyness is something to be explored, whether out of curiosity or a will to improve ourselves. We can discover gentler sides of ourselves, or break out and connect with humanity.

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