Shyness Is Not a Cute, Insignificant ThingFriday, April 18, 2014
Basically, “shy” is a more socially acceptable and less direct way of saying that one is scared of, or anxious about, people. It’s a euphemism, if you will. In the dictionary the word “shy” is described as “nervous or timid in the company of other people.” However, when you say, “shy,” people usually don’t feel uncomfortable.
“What’s going on with her?”
“Nothing. She’s just shy.”
But when you say it how it really is, it makes some people uncomfortable. (Or it may be an uncomfortable thing to say about yourself.)
“He looks kind of meek and avoidant. What’s up with him?”
“He’s scared of people and social situations.”
Well, this raises questions and makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
“Why is he scared of people…? Why does he have low self-esteem…? I wonder, what happened in his past that made him to become automatically scared of people and social situations…? I guess, some really bad things happened…. As a child, he probably was repeatedly hurt in one form or another by people who were close to him…. I just remembered that something similar happened to me, too.... I don’t want to think about hurt and child abuse – it makes me uncomfortable on many levels.” (Of course, not many people think like that consciously, but in many cases that’s what’s going on an unconscious or semi-conscious level.)
Compared all of this to, “He’s just shy.”
This phrasing is particularly common when talking about children. “He is a shy kid.” “She’s a shy girl.” “She’s shy just like mommy.” “When I was his age, I was very shy, too.”
Some people even say that a shy child is cute. “Awww, look at her, her head is down because she’s too shy to look at us – she looks so cute!”
“This is my son. He’s hiding under the table because he’s a little shy.”
“Awww, that’s so adorable – he looks like a cute little puppy on all fours down there!”
“I know, right!?”
Well, why is she distant, silent, and avoiding eye contact? Why doesn’t he want to be seen? Is this his favorite, i.e., the safest place, to hide? Does he hide there when his parents fight? Does he crawl there to hide when his father gets violent or when his mother threatens to tell his father to beat him again if he continues to be “naughty”? Why are they scared of people? Are they scared of me particularly? Do I remind them of someone in specific who have hurt them before? Are they afraid of me because I am a stranger? Why would they be scared of strangers? Are they afraid of a stranger because strangers had somehow abused them before? Are they afraid of others because they feel ashamed of being “bad” or doing something “wrong” and they don’t want for others to see their “wickedness” (because that’s what they were told, and they believe it)? Are they afraid to do something “bad” in the interaction with me and to be punished or humiliated for it – by their caregivers or by me? Do they live in an over-controlling environment? Do they get bullied in school or kindergarten? Are their parents aware of how their child feels and why? Why don’t they help the child to feel safe, protected, and more confident? In what other ways is this child abused in their relationship with their caregivers? Does the child feel ashamed or guilty that he or she has been abused? Do they also feel lonely, betrayed, confused, or helpless?
These are just some of the questions that may come up in such a situation…. Feeling afraid is not cute. Feeling afraid is not adorable. It’s not a small, insignificant thing. It’s terrifying. It’s draining. It can be very confusing and alienating – especially if you’re a child.... Shyness is a complex psychological and emotional state that didn't come out of nowhere. People are not born feeling
Yes, sometimes we may feel cautious or a little bit anxious meeting new people or doing something while others are watching. But there’s a difference between being cautious when in contact with an unpleasant or genuinely dangerous person and feeling scared or anxious by default when you’re in a social situation. The latter usually indicates that there is some kind of problem. (In our society, usually only a severe form of “shyness” is recognized, and it is called “social phobia.”)
To my observation, people who have a healthy self-esteem usually are not scared of others; and children who have a strong, constant, and healthy bond with their caregivers are not afraid of social situations. By default they are not afraid of being visible, alive, active, and interactive. They know that they are safe and protected and that they can always count on their caregivers. They also have developed a sharp sense of what are the characteristics of a safe, trustworthy person. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that sometimes children randomly smile at me on the street or want to talk and interact with me. Especially compared to a person who, for example, has a stern look on their face, or yell, or reek of cigarettes, or tease them, or neglect them, etc.)
So the next time you label yourself – or hear others refer to someone – as shy, remember that the person in question most likely is feeling chronic fear (probably shame, guilt, and loneliness, too), and that there might be more to it than “oh, it’s just how they are / I am….”
I wish you a fear-free day!
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