Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Curse Of Shyness

I have a shocking confession: I am a very shy person.

I know that there will be people out there who know me and will say:

“WHAT? You may be many things but you are DEFINITELY NOT shy!”

If you think that then you are definitely wrong. I have lived with this debilitating condition ever since I can remember. Even when I was born, from the very moment I popped out my mother, I cried because I was entering a world of complete strangers. My mum was a stranger and so was the midwife – and when my dad walked in the room to see his first born, I screamed in terror.

I have suffered as a consequence of my introversion.

I was the child who hid behind his mother.

I was the teenager who preferred to sit in his room than go outside.

I was the student who stood alone like a lemon at parties. It was ironic really that I was lonely in a crowded room full of people who were enjoying themselves.

Don’t get me wrong – I did have friends; the only problem was that I really had to work hard at acquiring them. I relied heavily on fearless people who would talk to anybody, particularly those who would talk to me. I envied folks who could simply walk up to others and say things like “Hi, I’m Mike. What do you do?”

I found myself hanging around rampant extroverts, those who had no qualms about talking to me. Even then, it was difficult because I didn’t know what to say to them. I am thankful that they persevered and managed to unlock the real me from my self-inflicted prison. You see, once they got to know the real me, the person inside the shell, they actually liked what they found. When I become a friend to somebody, there is a bond between us that never breaks.

I realised that I had a problem and the desire to overcome that problem was more important than the fear generated by it. The turning point for me came at university. In my first year, I was invited to parties by extrovert friends, possibly because they realised I was horrifically shy and thought that the combination of atmosphere, young like-minded people and alcohol would allow me to break out of my shell naturally. The first few parties were terrifying. It was like being asked to leap from the top of the Eiffel Tower wearing nothing but a fig leaf (I would have preferred to have done that to be honest).

At those parties I would find myself lost in a room full of strangers, all of whom were happily talking to others and completely ignoring me. I may as well have been invisible – at least then I could have had some fun. I was the solitary person stood in the corner desperate to hear from anybody. People thought I was aloof and weird. I would drink a large amount of alcohol in order to pluck up the courage to chat; the problem was that I would then butt into a conversation and say something totally inappropriate or just plain stupid and all this with a totally slurred voice. I would be dismissed as a goon and pushed aside like a piece of crap. Inevitably I would often leave the party in disgrace. My ego took a real pounding at that time of my life.

I couldn’t understand how people could actually simply walk up to complete strangers and start a conversation. I would rather have had all of my teeth extracted with a sledgehammer than talk to somebody I didn’t know. I even found it difficult to walk into a place full of strangers just to meet a friend. If I had arranged to meet a mate in a pub, for example, I would be late on purpose, just so that I didn’t have to sit down on my own waiting for them. And then I gained a reputation for always being late.

I decided to fight back. I still had a couple of years of university left and I was determined to make the most of them. I began to study more than just the academic course I was on; I started studying other people, particularly those fearless warriors who slap the face of introversion into submission. These guys had no shame and most importantly they had no fear. They would simply say the first thing that came into their heads as an ice-breaker – and ninety percent of the time it worked. There were occasions when they were slapped back but, because they had skins thicker than an elephant pie, it had absolutely no effect. The kind of people I am talking about are those who volunteer to be made an exhibition of themselves and don’t fear the consequences.

I decided to try my hand at being extrovert. I became two people.

The first was “Real Me”, the person who was still shy, still terrified and still scared to open my mouth in public. The second was a person who the complete opposite, the person who laughed in the face of shyness and used it as a punch bag. I began to grab every opportunity to meet new people with both hands. When I was in the company of close friends I was still “Real Me”, the “me” who had popped out of the shell of shyness. Close friends knew the real me so I didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else. However, when I was invited to a party or had to be in a scenario where I had to talk to strangers, I became “The Extrovert”.

I saw “The Extrovert” as a different person, somebody I admired, and somebody who had the courage to explode into a room and enthral everybody present with his charm, wit and amazing repartee. “The Extrovert” was great. Almost everybody loved him and he could do anything.

And it actually worked - sometimes. After a summer off, I started my second year at university and was invited to a party. I arrived with friends but I took it upon myself to march into a room where I knew nobody whatsoever. I unleashed “The Extrovert” for the first time and said, “Go and do your stuff.”

I was fuelled by a little alcohol, but I did it. I walked up to a group of three guys chatting and said “Hi I’m Dave. I’ve come with Chris. Is this your party?” And they actually started chatting to me. In the end, it was one of the most enjoyable parties I’d been to. “The Extrovert” broke the ice and as I chatted to these three guys “Real Me” came out and “The Extrovert” rode off into the sunset like the Lone Ranger.

I made three new friends on my own without anybody else having to make an effort. Now to most people that would have been as natural as going to the toilet. I can imagine extroverts reading this and saying “D’UH!!! Doesn’t everybody do that? Are you some kind of freak?” To me, however, it was a major, and I mean MAJOR achievement

It was an epiphany. It was liberating. It changed my life.

Of course, after I left university and joined the rat race, I simply had to change. Given what I do now, the shy version of me would have a seizure. I travel a fair amount but the thought of flying to Switzerland on my own would have filled me with absolute dread. Even the thought of sitting in a restaurant on my own would be a nightmare for that shy person. It’s absolutely true. He would rather skewer his eyeballs than ask for a table for one in a German-speaking restaurant. However, I do this all the time. I call on “The Extrovert” to do the honours and then I can relax and send him on his way.

It doesn’t work all the time. I am still afraid to be perfectly honest. There are times when I find myself in a situation that chills me to the bone. I stutter, break into a cold sweat and have enough adrenalin flooding around my body to make me take off in flight. But I breathe deeply, smile and face the issue in front of me. It works, most of the time.

I still don’t like walking into a pub on my own either, but I bite the bullet and do it. I prefer to face the fear than be regarded as unreliable. It’s the same with public speaking. I’ve posted about this in the past, and, although I still have the urge to run screaming from the room, I let “The Extrovert” tell me “What’s the worst that can happen?” before unleashing him on the people I have to present to. Sometimes he fails, most of the time he succeeds.

You may read this post and think that there is a lot of bravado and that I have succeeded in conquering my affliction.

I haven’t.

I am still fundamentally shy. I still feel uncomfortable walking into a room of strangers, and sometimes, depending on my level of self-esteem, I will sit in a corner for a while speaking to nobody. Sadly there are still times when I am alone in a crowded room. The difference now, though, is that I know that I can talk to people if I want to. If I have a moment of supreme confidence I can walk into a room of strangers and become the life and soul of the party.

Are you shy, dear reader? If so, have you taken steps to try to fight this monster within? I’d be interested to know. Or are you a raging extrovert with no shame? If so, how do you do what you do?

As I said, people who know me don’t think I’m shy at all. They have seen me walk into a room full of strangers and charm the shoes off people. They have also seen me make a fool of myself in front of people I don’t know and then they have watched me laugh about it without a trace of fear.

They see “The Extrovert”. And thankfully, they also see the real me basking in his wake.




14 comments:

earthtoholly said...

Hi PM,

Yes, I'm a shy one also. Extremely anxious and self-conscious when meeting new people. After awhile, when my insides settle down, I'm okay, but I'm also an introvert, and don't want to be around people, so shortly thereafter I'm ready to get out of there! Of course, alcohol helps in the shy department, just not too much alcohol... :o(

Are you possibly a shy extrovert? You enjoy the company of others, but am nervous socially?

I wouldn't have guessed from your writing that you are shy. You sound very outgoing and confident!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Holly,

Fab comment!

Yes - maybe I am a shy extrovert. I've always considered introversion and shyness to be the same thing but perhaps I've been wrong.

Yes I do like to be around people but I have had great difficulty breaking the ice - maybe because in the past I have been too concerned about saying the wrong thing or being regarded as a complete idiot.

That said, as I explained in the post, I kind of decided that the best approach would be to try to expel the fear - and that does (sort of) work. If I go into a situation and think "What's the worst that can happen", if the answer is "somebody may think you are a pratt", I can deal with that - sometimes.

I have become more confident as the years have progressed and I am not that shy 19 year old any more - at least on the surface. Deep down I am still that person.

Maybe you should try my approach. I've found that people are receptive if you appear friendly. Also, I've found that asking lots of dumb questions helps - because people like to talk about themselves. It may work - as long as you actually want to be with the person you are talking to of course.

:-)

Cheers

PM

P.S. I would still like to hear from a rampaging extrovert - I'd love to see the other side of the coin.

cube said...

I guess I'm one of the shy extroverts myself. I've never been comfortable going out into social situations if I don't know the majority of the people. I can be very charming to strangers, but it isn't my nature. It's a skill I
have developed.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi cube,

You sound a bit like me.

:-)

Cheers

PM

earthtoholly said...

Me again, PM!

I also thought introverts and shy ones were the same, but this BC discussion showed different (if to be believed, of course). I've been too lazy to research myself, but found Timethief's info very interesting...and it does explain some stuff.

Funny thing is that I'm nervous about/don't want to be around others, but if I have no choice, I act normally, say my howdy-doo's and smile and laugh alot (actually, I always laugh alot). Others never guess that I am shy and introverted. I can put on a happy face, although I can do nothing about my stupid remarks... I think it's better I just keep my mouth shut and smile... :o)

http://www.blogcatalog.com/discuss/entry/do-you-feel-alone-or-want-to-be-left-alone

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Holly,

That could be an interesting read - I'll have a look tomorrow.

I'm guilty of putting my foot in my mouth all of the time. People who know me think its one of my more endearing qualities (bizarrely) - probably because it shows me up and makes them laugh. I don't care so much now though - in fact sometimes now I do it on purpose to raise a laugh.

:-)

Cheers

PM

Wilmaryad Ben O'Scallas said...

I hear you on that one!

I used to be, and still am somehow, shy. I, now, have become a different sort of shy.

If somebody does something wrong and I call their attention at it, I blush.

If I smile, I blush.

If I bend over to get something I've dropped, I blush.

If I get angry, I blush.

The thing is I don't think I'm shy anymore - Just blush at the slightest move my body makes, breath I take or any constructive observation I offer.

So, you're not Alone. and VERY nice blog, BTW :) THAT, at least, is something you shouldn't be shy about ;)

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Wilmaryad,

I have been known to blush on occasion - the thing about blushing is, the more people notice, the worse it gets.

Actually, blogging used to crush the shyness because nobody knew who I was - and then some mates discovered it and now quite a lot of people who know me read it. Still, as I said, I let "The Extrovert" blog on my behalf these days.

:-)

Cheers

PM

chrome3d said...

That was an excellent post and I read almost all of it. I guess I have been there too and still am. Sometimes it´s easy to get to know some people and sometimes not. I don´t know if there is any kind of clear pattern as it changes so much. You have really studied and thought about this issue.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi again chrome3d,

I agree, I don't think there is a clear pattern. I am speaking largely from experience and I know that there are tips for overcoming shyness. It seems that the idea is to picture yourself as another person - I do that but I also think about the realistic consequences - and its never as bad as it seems. That's how I cope I guess.

:-)

Cheers

PM

bingkee said...

I think I am like you. When I was a little girl, I was shy. But no one talked to me so I had to do something to make them talk to me. I ended up being the most loquacious student at school. A real blabbermouth. I am basically shy when I don't know anybody but when situations are given, I can transform to another person---effervescent, vivacious, witty and extrovert person. My former career required me to be and I think I perfected it.

As the other respondents said; your writing seems to show otherwise---that you're open, extrovert, witty and humorous ...and even wacky.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Bingkee,

Great comment.

Yes, you do sound very similar to me. Possibly the only difference I guess is that I try to be funny rather than being a blabbermouth (though I am that too). If you try to be funny, it can work and sometimes it can make you look like a prize idiot - so sometimes people think I am witty, other times they think I am a pratt. But, as I said in the post, I can live with that I think.

I think the same probably comes across in my writing. I can be funny sometimes and other times my posts look like inane drivel.

C'est la vie.

:-)

Cheers

PM

bingkee said...

Well, people think I am funny too but I am not even trying to be one. I don't know why. Maybe because I am just being honest. Like I don't try to "flower" my words---I say it as it is.
That's why people don't think I am annoying because I entertain them.
Well, maybe because my dad was funny, all my 3 brothers are funny, and most of my cousins are funny---i think it runs in the genes. Hehehe!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi again Bingkee,

Yes, I think you can be funny in your writing too. That's one of the reasons I pop over to your blog. Oh - and of course it's interesting too.

:-)

Cheers

PM