“1…2…3…4…”, and so it went, I’d count up to 20 in my head during conversations via web messengers in order not to appear too desperate with a prompt reply. It was horrible being self-consciously shy in conversations.
Shy people know that the safest thing to say is nothing.
It’s comforting. After the dreadful experience of regretting something you said, the solace of not saying anything and not regretting it is wonderful. Slowly this insidious habit of minimalist conversation – nothing more than what is strictly required to still be considered cognitively responsive – becomes your nature. Anything you say is a liability. A loose end welcoming judgment, scrutinous analysis, revealing your stupidity, ridiculous inferior tastes and general weirdness. One syllable answers are safer.
You may be oblivious to all this anxiety of disapproval, most of it happens unconsciously. You have to be really introspective (embracing Involution) to observe these subtle fluctuations within your mind, and the reasoning why shy people react in certain situations to eventually overcome it. In many cases you can even start justifying your behaviour, rationalize that feeling of social inadequacy away, finding prejudices or beliefs you need to feel okay about it. I know I did.
I’d convince myself everyone talked trivial twaddle to fill the silences. That they were full of superfluous interests; sports, quoting movies, gossip and pointless trivia about themselves when they weren’t speaking of their plans for the weekend or complaining about their boss/president/football coach’s ignorance and how much better they would do things. Generalizing and criticizing are easy ways of removing yourself from the social ‘herd’ for self-defense while still giving you a false sense of participation. They weren’t all like that of course, some talked about things I was interested in as well, but they did it with an ease that I didn’t have, and I detested that. Being bad at something I knew was important.
Many of your life advents are important because they reveal your own ineptitude. You avoid social interaction because you have experienced that it’s dangerous from past experiences. Once silence becomes your default mode, the thought of speaking up becomes scarier, making you avoid it further, an anemic social skillset that creates a vicious cycle. The prospect of ridicule becomes a looming anticipation which can only be appeased by tightening your lips. The more you avoid the disapproval anxiety, the scarier it becomes, getting anxious at the prospect of knowing you’re socially anxious. The lack of practice prevents you from improving in conversations. Take a job interview I had, on the rare occasion you do want to stand out and appear affable out of necessity, your scrawny conversation muscles make you prone to failure and mistakes, creating further negative outcomes and reinforcing the fear.
Shy people may not be aware of it, but shyness is immensely detrimental to self-esteem. When you consistently contribute nothing to a conversation, others can’t help but assume you have nothing to contribute. And if everyone treats you like that, you begin to believe it, so the cycle goes.
In future articles, I will share some ideas to overcome your anxiety. This article is to understand how shyness works, that it isn’t introversion.
Shyness can be transcended and must be, to attain the beauty that comes with solitude.
When you are shy, solitude is a refuge, one is not solitary by choice, but rather by necessity as an escape from social tension. In Involution, solitude is a paradise, not a refuge, these people don’t suffer from shyness in social situations, they prefer solitude, finding it deeply fulfilling, feeling centered, rooted and independent.
Remember that any refuge has the potential of also becoming a prison. Secretly you want to be accepted by others or else you wouldn’t give them the importance you do in caring for what they think of you causing the self-conscious shyness to begin with.
“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” – Virginia Woolf