Learn to Feel Free to Be Yourself- Not a Label
I met Faith in the beginning of my project. I came across her blog when I was starting mine and appreciated that she was sharing a lot of the positive sides of shyness on her site. She recently studied abroad in England and had a great experience. Here is her post on shyness:
I’m Faith and I’m an introvert. My journey with shyness has been a lifelong one. I’ve always been on the quieter side, especially in comparison to my younger siblings. Being an introvert and an older sibling has been interesting. I tend to be very cautious, so being the first of the family to grow up, go to school and such things was sometimes hard. It takes me a while to get used to situations and people, because as an introvert I more observant and in my head, and not so much ready to go out and tackle things head on. So there were times it took a while to adjust. Added difficulty is that my shyness was coupled with low self-esteem and trust issues. I was never hurt terribly, but I saw people teased, I had some people criticize me and I was already pretty critical on myself. I’ve always been very sensitive. To protect myself I cut myself off from others. I let my shyness get to an extreme. In elementary school I refused to speak, even when a teacher called on me. People responded in different ways. Sometimes I was a target for teasing because I was different, but because I tried to maintain a goody-two-shoes image and because I distanced myself, people were more at odds with me and gave me space. It took me a while to realize that isolating myself was not a good answer. I wanted friends but I couldn’t maintain a friendship being closed off. It took me a long time to realize my barriers were keeping people away.
What changed? I was not happy because I was stuck in a box. As quiet as I naturally may be, I also have quirks and opinions. I saw that in comfortable situations like with family I was more upbeat, but other in places I felt very anxious and critiqued myself. I felt miserable and I wanted to change. So with each new step in life I tried to let go of baggage and really evaluate myself. I went to a high school with different peers than elementary school, so I started being more open with people. Eleventh grade I attended a different high school that I graduated from. I began learning who I was. College was were I really stepped out of my comfort zone and my bubble. It took a while, but each year I opened up more. Away from my family I could better see the real me and decide the “me” I wanted to create. I didn’t have any crutches to bolster me and I couldn’t hide. It was also up to me to take control of my life. I learned to love myself, which entailed being less critical of myself and learning to laugh at myself and love myself, so that when I stepped out of my comfort zone and things didn’t go as planned, it was ok. In college I made some really good friends. I met so many people with quirks and idiosyncrasies, and I realized that made them distinctive. I liked who they were with all their quirks, so why couldn’t other people like me with my quirks? I let myself get close to people and I found I enjoyed it.
Things aren’t perfect. There are times I feel discouraged. Struggles with self-esteem don’t disappear overnight, and being an introvert constantly in her head doesn’t help either. But I have something that affirms my self-worth no matter what: my relationship with God. I’m a Christian and this keeps me grounded. When people let me down and when I let myself down, which is inevitable, I can look to God who still loves me. I try to change the narrative in my head. This became especially important my junior year of college (last year) when I studied abroad in England. I was gone for a whole year. I started a blog before I left in which I really began evaluating my values, my identity and my shyness. Being abroad really challenged me to step way out of my comfort zone. I had some of my lowest lows. God helped me in those moments. I was never alone so I could never be totally defeated. I gained so much comfort living through that year. Now I’m not even sure if I classify myself as shy anymore. Yes, I can still be very shy in many social situations. I’m naïve and introverted. I still have self-esteem struggles. But I’m confident that I will be ok. Self-evaluation and growth isn’t pleasant, but it’s necessary and I got a lot out of it.
So my words of advice:
- Know you’re not alone. Find someone you trust to talk to and be honest with. There are great resources that show how positive it is to embrace who you are, as a shy person, an introvert. There are books and blogs that show there are people like you.
- Don’t be afraid to grow. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone, baby steps at a time if it takes. Stretch yourself a bit and learn from your experience. What did you like and not like? What do you want to change and what to you want to keep and/or enhance?
- Know your strengths and weaknesses and act with them in mind. For instance, if I hang out with friends for an extended period of time, I may have a long quiet time to myself or with just one or two close friends to be able to wind down and recuperate. That gives me strength as an introvert. If I don’t take the time to wind down, I get burnt out and discouraged.
- Love yourself.
Shyness is an attribute. It does not have to define you. Be you in all your complexity.
To read more of Faith’s posts, click here. She is very down to earth and you will enjoy reading about her studying abroad experience as well as a variety of other topics. She has several good posts on shyness as well if you search her page using the tags at the bottom of her page if you’d like to hear more of her perspectives on this.