Two separate discussions this week got me to thinking about the nature of shyness. Shyness is a fuzzy concept. Is it a psychological disorder like a phobia? Is it physiological? Is it just an excuse not to do stuff?
Apparently, about 50% of our population is shy in one way or another.
The word “shyness” is often associated with words like, “painful, “debilitating,” “crippling,” or “paralyzing”. Yet, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, shyness is not a mental disorder, but rather, a behavior pattern characterized by inhibition in some situations.
That seems like a bit of a tame definition when I think of some of the people I’ve known who really are crippled, paralyzed and in pain over their shyness. People in their 20s and 30s for instance, who’ve never had a real relationship. Who long for intimacy, but are held back by their own excruciating shyness.
I try hard to understand when people say they’re too shy to do something, but it’s such a foreign idea to me. How can you hold yourself back from doing something you really want to do or really need to do because of some undefined timidity?
- Speaking to strangers
- Public speaking
- Giving presentations
- Chairing meetings
- Performing on stage
- Doing live radio interviews
- Being on TV
- Being interviewed for jobs
- Conducting interviews
- Being in large groups of people
- Being naked or partially naked in front of people you don’t know well (doctor, beach, 1st time with a new partner)
- Asserting yourself in restaurants or shops or other public places (e.g.: sending a meal back, returning an item, asking for help)
- Talking to authority figures
It’s difficult to imagine going through life trying to avoid most of these things. I’ve done them all and will probably do them again – some because I need to and some just because they’re fun. Sure, there is often nervousness associated with these things, but that’s sometimes part of the challenge or excitement of going through with it.
I don’t consider myself an extrovert. I don’t go out looking for confrontation or voraciously seek the limelight and I don’t dance naked with lampshades on my head at parties, but I can’t think of anything that any notion of shyness would prevent me doing.
If you’ve ever not done something because of shyness, it would be interesting to hear how the whole shyness process prevents a person from fulfilling a desire or task. On the other side of the coin, it would also be interesting to hear about really bold things you’ve done despite anxiety.