First, I’d like to thank Jason for inviting me to take up space on his blog.
I am certainly not an expert on anxiety and shyness. My words today are from a personal perspective. I’m an introvert in a family of extroverts. This is not easy. Indeed, all introverts live in a world that caters to and rewards extroverts. Because of this imbalance, we’re often led to believe there is something wrong, something lacking, within us. I spent decades battling this perceived personality deficit, before finally realizing there is absolutely nothing wrong with me as is. In fact, I’m quite happy being me.
Introversion is not the same as shyness. The difference is that shyness interferes with a person’s desires, prevents a person from doing the things he or she wants. Perhaps paradoxically, a person can be a shy extrovert. Introversion is a personality trait that simply means we’re happier in quiet surroundings and smaller groups.
As a child, I was painfully shy. The very idea of speaking to a stranger terrified me. Even now, all these years later, I couldn’t tell you why, or what I was afraid of. I think, for me at least, shyness stemmed from insecurity. Being shy interfered with my life in many ways. For instance, I would never walk over to the ice cream truck with my friends and ask for an ice cream. I wouldn’t raise my hand in class for any reason, especially not to ask something as embarrassing as to go to the bathroom. Being called on to answer a question had me stammering like a fool.
I’m no longer shy. Speaking to strangers doesn’t scare me, though, because I am an introvert, it can still make me anxious.
Overcoming shyness was a gradual process. I always loved to read and learn. When I was about fourteen, I picked up a book that had, a few years before, been a bestseller. The book was “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass. He talked about his spiritual journey, about living in the moment and about yoga meditation. From there, I bought another book specifically on learning various yoga meditation methods. I began meditating daily, using a method called “progressive relaxation” to calm tense muscles. When you’re anxious, your muscles become rigid, and that stress in your muscles adds to your mental stress. Consciously relaxing those muscles helps relax your mind. The breathing techniques in both meditation and yoga exercise also work wonders in easing anxiety.
When I got my first job and was forced to interact with people almost daily, the shyness gradually faded away. My role at work made it easier, and necessary, to feign confidence. Eventually, I realized people weren’t so scary after all. Often, they did and said stupid things. No one had all the answers, and that was okay. Overcoming the shyness was, in part, about realizing that other people muddled through life in much the same way I did.
“Overcoming” the introversion was something else entirely. Because I come from a family of full-blown extroverts, I was always the odd one. The people I loved most thought I needed to be fixed. They couldn’t understand my preference for quiet and solitude. They were loud and thrived on being surrounded by people. Too much of that, and I’m ready for a rubber room.
I spent a good part of my young adult years believing the extroverts of the world were right. At that time, I worked as a hairstylist. I spent five days a week surrounded by people and noise. On my days off, I wanted to be left alone. I craved silence. But society, and the nature of my family, had me believing I needed to force myself to socialize. I needed to attend parties, rejoice in constant company and weekends out with groups of friends. For an introvert, this kind of constant stimulation is mentally exhausting.
The beauty of age is that, with it, comes wisdom. Finally it occurred to me that I’m happy on my own with a book. Or spending the day with one good friend. I don’t need to socialize to make others happy. What I need is to make me happy. Now, when I find myself in a situation that requires me to spend time with strangers, I’m better equipped because I understand who I am. I take a deep breath, release the muscle tension and smile. Sometimes those are the only cues our mind needs to help us take the plunge.
The most important lesson I learned in my journey is that we are all in this together. No one is inherently better than I am. Everyone won’t like me, but that’s okay. I don’t like everyone I meet, either. I give myself permission to be comfortable with the person I am. If I accept myself as is, then it simply isn’t all that terrifying to risk putting myself out in the world.
** Earlier this year, one of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject was published. It’s called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Both introverts and extraverts can learn a lot from Ms. Cain. **
Darcia Helle lives in a fictional world with a husband who is sometimes real. Their house is ruled by spoiled dogs and cats and the occasional dust bunny.
Suspense, random blood splatter and mismatched socks consume Darcia’s days. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative. Only then are the voices free to haunt someone else’s mind.
Join Darcia in her fictional world. The characters await you.