The Shyness Project

Archive for the tag “power of introverts”

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:

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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.

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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.

Successfully Shy: Sharing Her Story and Helping Others

I met Barb in late July after she found my site through some of the comments I’d made on Susan Cain’s Power of Introverts blog.  After she requested I send her an email, I sent her one without knowing what to expect.  Turns out that email started our lengthy constant email discussions from there on out.  We became very close through all we were disclosing and sharing in our emails and reading each others blogs.  We’ve talked on the phone as well and have sent some hand-written notes to each other. She has also posted about me from time to time on her WordPress blog and even interviewed me for her Psychology Today blog.  I am very grateful for her enthusiasm and support for my project as well as her endearing friendship.  Here’s her story:

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I still remember one horrible day in high school when a math teacher called attention to my quietness. He told the whole class that I was the quietest student he’d ever had in his 22 years of teaching. Of course, everyone turned around to look at me, as if I was some kind of freak. I felt humiliated and ashamed. I truly believed there was something wrong with me. It didn’t even cross my mind that there was something wrong with a teacher who would make such a statement.

Unfortunately, I received more feedback like that from teachers, and it almost cost me my career.

I made it though my undergraduate years, not having to talk in classes. I was smart, and easily made good grades. But when I got to graduate school, everything changed. I was in a doctoral level clinical psychology program. Most of the classes were small discussion groups. During the second semester of my first year, the clinical director called me into her office and told me that if I didn’t participate more (i.e. stop being so quiet), my standing in the program was in jeopardy.

Of course, I freaked out. What was I going to do? I daily experienced intense anxiety in these classes—my stomach hurt, my face felt hot, my heart raced. I would try to think of something to say, but usually by the time I got up my nerve to make my point, someone else would have jumped in ahead of me. I wasn’t good at interrupting, that’s for sure. And no one really paused long enough for me to get a word in.

So what did I do? I did what any good psychology graduate student would do: I went into therapy. Fortunately, I found a wonderful female therapist who was supportive and encouraging. We worked together individually, but she also mentioned that she had an ongoing women’s therapy group that I could join. I was apprehensive, but also intrigued. I joined the group and attended weekly. Each Wednesday evening I listened intently to the other women in the group share what they were working on, and each week I didn’t say a word. I truly don’t remember for how long this went on. My memory says it was months, but maybe it was only weeks.  One night, though, it was like some sort of intervention you’d see on a reality TV show (but in a really nice way). None of the women would let me leave until I said something—anything. I don’t remember the details, except that I spoke. After that, the ice was broken, and I didn’t shut up.

The trick, though, was how to generalize my talking in the women’s group to talking in my classes in school. It actually didn’t happen until the next year when I started over with new classes, new teachers, and a different combination of students. It was easier then to be the “new me.” I remember having one professor who thought my insights about clients/cases we discussed were brilliant. It was thrilling to begin sharing my thoughts and ideas and have them validated as being important contributions.

Fast forward. I have successfully finished graduate school, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Louis University Medical Center’s Anxiety Disorders Center, and have co-authored Dying of Embarrassment, the first self-help book ever written on social phobia (now called social anxiety disorder).  When I proposed the book idea to my colleagues and the publisher, I never even contemplated telling anyone about my own lifelong struggles with shyness and social anxiety. After all, I was now an “expert.” How could I have difficulty with public speaking, participating in meetings, or going to social events? I thought it was okay to help other people face their fears, but it wasn’t okay to admit I’d struggled with these same situations myself.

After the book’s publication, I promoted Dying of Embarrassment and received much satisfaction from knowing I was helping people learn more about this neglected and misunderstood problem. I continued to feel, however, as if I was doing others with social anxiety a disservice by not sharing my own experiences.

It wasn’t until years later, when I wrote Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life, did I muster the courage to share my own story. I wanted to be honest, and I wanted to let people know they are not alone. Most of all, I wanted people to know there is hope. In addition to writing Painfully Shy, I participated in a documentary called Afraid of People, in which I talked openly (not to mention I cried on camera—ugh) about my experiences with not only anxiety, but also depression.

Aside from one negative book review in which the writer said my personal stories were “distracting,” the majority of feedback I’ve received is positive. I’m not sorry I crossed the line from being simply the “expert” to being a human being with real-life problems. I now realize, I can be an expert AND someone who still struggles from time to time.

I feel like I’ve rambled a bit—thank you for indulging me!  In closing, I want to leave you with a few take-away points:

  • While there may be some careers that will suit your personality better than others, you do not have to let shyness hold you back from doing whatever you want to do.
  • Remember, the world needs your ideas! As much as I dreaded and hated participating in classes, once I did, I realized I had valuable contributions to make. If only the naturally outgoing people speak up, we’re going to miss out on some important perspectives.
  • Find support wherever you can. For me, it was that women’s therapy group. (With managed health care, such long-term therapy groups are a rarity these days.) But you might be able to find a support group. And now there are plenty of online options for reaching out, such as blogs like Brittany’s!
  • The path is not a straight one. I still have days where I want to crawl in a hole and not talk to anyone! That doesn’t diminish how far I’ve come.
  • And finally, it is only by sharing our vulnerabilities that we can truly connect with others in a profound and meaningful way.

“Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
- Brené Brown

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To read more of Barb’s posts, you can visit her wordpress blog or her Psychology Today blog. She is the author of four books on shyness and social anxiety and is a nationally recognized expert.  Not to mention, she’s extremely kind and thoughtful and she’s someone who you will be very lucky to get a chance to know.  She has a lot of great posts on shyness and social anxiety that you will enjoy reading if you can relate in any way or have an interest in that subject.

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