Overcoming Shyness

Hi Guys, CJ here. The Captain of the ship (the SS Harper) is having the day off today so you’ve been lumbered with the First Mate. Er, Mistress. Er, you know what I mean. Anyway, it is she with the estrogen and soft bits, not he with the testosterone and hard bits.

A Welcome Side Effect

At the risk of stating the obvious (always a talent of mine), many of us hang out at him-dot-com because there is at least one thing we would like to change about ourselves. Maybe we want to become a leaner, stronger, fitter and sexier version of us. Perhaps our goal is to become more inspired, motivated and focused. Maybe we’re just in search of some happiness. Who isn’t? Maybe we have already achieved the trappings of ‘success’ but we had expected it to feel a little more, well, successful so we are seeking some Harperesque philosophy and direction. Or maybe we just want to perve on some biceps. Not that I would ever do that, of course 😉

Although I first began reading him-dot-com because my arse was growing at such an alarming rate that it threatened to tip the earth off its axis, it (this site) has also helped me to overcome a part of myself that I have always hated. It feels so stupid saying it. Babyish even. Silly. Pathetic. But it’s totally true.

You see. I’ve always been a little bit, um, shy. Ok, very shy.

It seems so ridiculous. Like being afraid of butterflies or puppies. I could spend years in expensive therapy trying to discover which past event, experience or person, if any, created and/or contributed to my shyness. Maybe the other babies made fun of my big ears in the maternity ward. Maybe I wet my pants in preschool. Maybe in a previous life I was the first Trojan to say ‘Now that’s a cool wooden horse. Let’s open the gate and bring it inside’.

Thankfully, we don’t always need to know the origin or cause of our not-always-particularly-rational thoughts, reactions and behaviours to be able to consciously and methodically reprogram them. The uncoordinated non-runner can be trained to run a marathon. The overweight, compulsive eater can learn how to become a lean, fit natural eater. The shy adult can become a game-show host not-so-shy adult. And as you-know-who says: our past doesn’t need to become our future.

So What’s Your Problem?

Of course, there is a very wide range of ‘normal’ in terms of individuals’ levels of social confidence. Not every child can be an all-singing, all-dancing star of tomorrow. And, let’s be honest, the only people who actually like those precocious little darlings are their parents and their drama coaches. The rest of us, especially their peers, would like to tell them exactly what they can do with their fourteenth rendition of Little Orphan Annie. Or maybe that’s just me.

What issues?

You are.

Shyness becomes a problem when it prevents us from participating when we want to. We may desperately want to join in the fun but we invariably fall into the role of spectator rather than player. Shyness can also make some events and situations incredibly stressful. Speaking up at a meeting, giving a presentation, greeting a new client, being introduced to our new boyfriend’s family, attending activities at our child’s school may be interesting and exciting for most people but for the shy person such events can be hell on a stick.

Shyness can also make our world very small. If we don’t have the confidence to embrace opportunities to meet new people then we may miss out on some great new relationships. If we find ourselves making excuses to avoid introductions then our shyness is letting us down – whether we are eight or fifty-eight.

Sadly, shyness can also be easily misinterpreted as snobbishness. Or arrogance. Or even stupidity (in the case of some shy students). We may be standing by ourselves, desperately wishing that someone would approach us, make the first move and bring us into their circle but they won’t because our whole manner (physiology, energy, appearance) screams ‘leave me alone!’. We are insecure and terrified but people think we’re unfriendly and aloof. It’s not a nice way to be. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Life on the Sidelines

We can all remember defining moments during our childhood. One of mine was in Year Two. I had recently transferred from another school and I was sitting in class trying to be as invisible as possible. The teacher was becoming more and more frustrated because ‘no-one? Come on! NO-ONE?’ knew the answer to the mathematics question written on the blackboard. It was a ‘fractions’ question. I had just learned fractions at my previous school and I knew the answer. I knew it as surely as I knew my own name. She was becoming really angry and was threatening to keep us all in at recess if no-one could give her the correct answer. This was my big chance. I could save us all! I could be a hero! But I didn’t. I kept silent and she eventually gave up in disgust (clearly we were the dumbest seven-year-olds in the country). My shyness had betrayed me again. I hated myself for being so gutless.

My Year Two triumph set the tone for most of my school career. Reading-around-the-class made me feel as miserable as a fat kid at a swimming carnival (sorry, Craig). Although I was relaxed within my group of friends, I hated being the centre of attention and I hated meeting new people. When I was forced into an uncomfortable situation (such as work experience) I was a red-faced, trembling, monosyllabic, perspiring mess. Which is just so dang attractive, of course.

Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

Unlike asthma, acne or bedwetting (not that I experienced all of those, thankfully, I’m not a complete freakshow), shyness is not always something that children simply ‘grow out of’. From my experience (which will not be the same as everyone’s – of course), it is only when the shy person reaches the point of ‘enough is enough’ that they will change. Because, as he at him-dot-com says, in order to change we must (1) be prepared to get uncomfortable and (2) arrive at that point where there’s enough emotional leverage (pain, discomfort). I had to deliberately and consciously place myself in situations where I would be forced to overcome my fears. It wasn’t always pretty; there was a lot of nervous sweat involved and at one stage I almost vomited giving a speech at my sister’s wedding (sorry if you’re eating), but I can honestly say that it was worth it.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger (Once You Stop Shaking)

Of course, I’m not a psychologist, a motivational speaker or an expert in human behaviour (especially given that I dropped Psychology 101 when I discovered how much mathematics was involved) and my approach certainly won’t suit everyone. However, as a chick who has been periodically tortured by shyness, I thought I might share some tips and strategies that have proven to be effective for me: 

  • Fake it until you make it. You don’t have to be Whoopi Goldberg but at least be friendly. Make the first move, introduce yourself, take a chance (you’ll survive) and begin a conversation. Choose to be the person who makes other people feel comfortable and included. And whatever you do, don’t over-think this, or you’ll do nothing and possibly die from over-thinker-itis and analysis paralysis.
     
  • Embrace (or at least tolerate) situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe not we’ll-be-needing-a-mop-and-bucket kind of terrified, but at least a little bit outside your comfort zone. Perhaps see how you cope with asking a question at a meeting and then build up to offering to be MC at your cousin Cheryl’s wedding.
     
  • If shyness is causing you to be unhappy then refuse to accept it as being ‘just a part of who you are’. After all, things only have the power, impact and meaning (in our world) that we allow them to have (as someone is always telling us). Yes, you may be genetically predisposed to shyness (is that possible?) but, like a slow metabolism, you can strategically manage it to reduce its impact on your life. 
     
  • Have some patience. Especially if you have been shy for most of your life, it may take a while for the ‘symptoms’ to abate. Be assured, though, that if you keep challenging yourself, one day you will discover that you actually enjoyed an event that may have previously been your idea of social torture. That is a pretty cool moment. Trust me.

So…

Clearly this is not the final word on this topic. It’s just a (very cute) toe in the water. All I’m doing today is opening the door on what is a very relevant and personal matter – for many of us. Have you, or someone you know, been able to overcome (or effectively manage) shyness? If so, how did you do it and what can you teach the rest of us? 

Here’s an idea: for some of you, leaving a comment today might be therapeutic (in terms of dealing with your shyness). Just a thought.

As always, I look forward to hearing (okay, reading) your thoughts.

CJ xox

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