Shyness Is Nice

Spreading the word about the value of quiet, sensitive people

Should I Stay or Should I Go--The Clash of Anxiety

What is the most compassionate thing I can do for myself?

I went to my first Toastmasters meeting last Thursday. I probably would have talked myself out of going had I not said I was planning to attend as a part of Susan Cain's Year of Speaking Dangerously. She is challenging herself and her blog followers to become the best, most authentic speakers they can be. It's all part of what she's calling a QUIET Revolution, telling the world about the value of introverted people. There has been something about her work that is appealing to me on so many levels. For one thing, I've never been part of a revolution before!

I was nervous about going to the meeting, although I told myself since I was there as a visitor, I probably wouldn't have to say or do much, if anything. There were about 12 regular members there and 3 visitors. It was a warm and welcoming group. One person gave a humorous speech and then it was time for "table topics" when people are called on to give an impromptu, 1-2 minute "speech" based on a question they are asked. The leader asked if the visitors would be willing to do the table topics. The first two guests readily agreed, so I felt put on the spot to say yes as well. The question I was asked was, "Had I ever made a mistake as a psychologist?" Whoa...that was a big question! I felt an initial freezing sensation, but then managed to formulate a coherent answer. I didn't stand up, and later learned I was supposed to. I also didn't look at a timekeeper, that I also later learned I was supposed to. I think someone said I spoke for 1 minute, 32 seconds. It seemed like a lot longer!

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Even though it was a good experience, I've been obsessing all week about whether or not to go back this Thursday (which is now tomorrow). I asked Greg tonight how he can stand to live with me, because I've been doing much of this pondering aloud to him. He said, "I know you always get through it and it's better on the other side." So what are my concerns?

  • I don't have the time.
  • I won't have time to write the speeches, much less practice them.
  • I don't know if I really need to go.
  • I've already done a fair amount of public speaking, and people say I do it well. Yet I still have horrible, sickening anxiety ahead of time that just doesn't seem to get better.
  • Do I have anything relevant to say?

I decided the key question I needed to ask myself is: What is my motivation? What do I really hope to accomplish by going to Toastmasters? As I was trying to answer this, I was perusing the Internet and found a Powerpoint presentation titled From Quiet Rage, back from 2005 given by Lynne Henderson, noted shyness expert and author of a new book, Building Social Confidence: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety. (I've just started her book and it has some great ideas in it that I'll cover in a future post.)

Dr. Henderson talks about her vision for shyness and makes some profound points:

  • "Some people see shyness as an individual disease. I see it as a societally constructed problem. It is our problem."
  • "When human vulnerability is denied, people go underground, don't participate, and we lose valuable human resources."
  • "Each different temperament has something to offer. We need to listen."
  • "People feel shy when their social identities are threatened for any reason, race, sexual orientation, gender, status, and temperament."
  • "It is our responsibility as much as theirs to see that they participate."

I couldn't believe I found this–someone else was talking about a "quiet revolution." What were the odds? Maybe I need to be ready. Maybe I need to be ready to be part of this revolution. Maybe I need to go back to Toastmasters on Thursday.

Or maybe not...

My next question I decided I should ask myself is: What is the most compassionate thing to do for myself? Maybe I really am too tired to add one more thing to my schedule. There will be other times. I can focus on my blog now, and focus on public speaking later. But I feel sad that I can't do everything I want to all at one time!

And then there's Brittany, who blogs at The Shyness Project. She's 18 and on a wonderful adventure challenging herself in so many ways, one of which is going to Toastmasters. She has given two speeches so far, and it's exciting reading about her progress.

I still have 16 hours to decide...

And you know what? I think the most important thing I need to realize is that there's no right or wrong, good or bad.

Okay, the decision is made. The phone just rang and it was the nice gentleman who sat next to me last week. He wanted to extend a warm invitation to come back tomorrow. I said I'd be there, barring any car accident. Yes, that is what popped out of my mouth.

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Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience. She is the author of four popular psychology books and has been featured in media nationwide.

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