I’ll admit it; I’m shy. I use the word “admit” because it implies guilt. I feel guilty that I am shy. Why? Because society makes me feel that being shy is bad, that I should be ashamed of it. Because I believe our society views shy people in a negative light, I view myself that way.
Although I don’t understand why, it’s clear that many “unshy” people think us shy people are less than they are. I cannot count the times I have heard, “You’re too shy” or “Why are you so shy?” The very choice of words like “too” and “so” implies that shyness is not good. You never hear people say, “You’re too happy” or “too fun” or “too outgoing.” You never hear people say, “Why are you so friendly?” or “so amusing” or “so exciting.”
Complete strangers have said, “Why so glum?” and “You should smile more” simply because I am sitting quietly, with a neutral expression, on my own. I wonder why people say things like this to a stranger.
How do they expect me to respond?
What do they expect to achieve?
Are they trying to be helpful or just mean?
Even now, in my forties, I still don’t understand their motives.
What I do understand is the impact these comments have on me and, I would guess, other shy people. Nothing makes a shy person want to retreat more from people than being judged critically. Shy people already suffer discomfort around others. We already lack confidence. We already feel awkward with conversation, never knowing what to say or how to respond. We already fear being judged. These insensitive comments make you wonder what people say behind your back or to others about you. It hurts—and it makes you withdraw even further.
If unshy people knew how sad such comments make shy people feel, would they stop? I’d like to think they would, but I really don’t know. What I do know is that I wish the world would be more accepting of shyness.
Most shy people were born that way. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t shy. I was always reserved, quiet and introverted. My mother is fond of telling the story of how different my sister and I were as babies. She recalls how I would wake up in the mornings and quietly, happily entertain myself in my crib, without needing company, until she woke up. My sister, on the other hand, woke up and immediately started to cry for someone’s attention. My sister and I are still the same—shy and unshy—today.
Mom tells this story with appreciation for us both in our own way. I am thankful to her for that. But I don’t feel the rest of the world appreciates shy people. I feel looked down upon for my timidity, as if I should somehow just wake up one day and be different—and better.
Unshy people don’t seem to understand that shyness is a personality trait, but it isn’t our only trait. Shy people can be smart, funny, caring. We can be ambitious, talented, determined. We are not one thing; we are many things. But unshy people often don’t look past our shyness. Because we are quiet and timid, they label us as aloof, snobbish, unfriendly.
In my own life, unshy people seem to believe that I don’t speak or interact much because I think I’m better than they are. The truth is that I feel inferior. I believe people will hear what I have to say and perceive me as weird or foolish or unhip. What I wish unshy people could understand is that I am neither better nor worse because I am shy; I am just different.
If other people would accept that idea, perhaps I would be better able to accept it myself. If other people could see that my shyness is not a bad thing, that it’s just one part of who I am, perhaps I could better accept the shy part of myself. Being something that society doesn’t value is not easy. It makes you feel bad about yourself. It makes you more shy, not less.
If I could send one message to unshy people, it would be this:
Have compassion for those of us who are more quiet, reserved and shy. We are people too. We deserve to be treated with respect and lack of judgment—even if we aren’t as outgoing as you are.
If I could send one message to shy people, including myself on a hard day, it would be this:
Never feel ashamed of your shyness. It’s just who you are. You should never feel you need to change. Be proud of who you are.
Because shyness is not a bad thing.