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The Blessings of Shyness

Sure, there's a shadow side, but you don't have to succumb to it.

Source: racorn/Shutterstock

Have you ever been told that you’re shy? Growing up, did you hear admonitions like, “Don’t be bashful"?

You’re not alone.

In our extroverted society, being assertive, if not aggressive, is valued. Being introverted, reflective, or shy tends to be denigrated.

Is shyness a bad thing or something to value about ourselves?

Shyness or Social Anxiety?

Terms such as “social phobia” and “social anxiety disorder” refer to situations in which a person experiences significant fear and distress in social situations. Physical symptoms might include excessive blushing, sweating, or trembling. There may be an avoidance of situations that trigger emotional distress or humiliation.

Although there may sometimes be an overlap, being shy doesn’t equate with social anxiety. Shyness is a quality that is simply part of being human. Judging ourselves for being shy adds a layer of shame onto a very tender and even desirable aspect of ourselves.

Shyness and Vulnerability

Most of us feel shy at times; some of us are just more adept at covering it up with defenses. Perhaps the smooth-talking, charming storytellers at parties are hiding a deeper vulnerability. They want to look good so that they’ll be liked. And it may be difficult for us to feel a connection with people who conceal the shy, tender part of themselves.

Being shy implies that we’re sensitively attuned to our environment. As our antenna scans for safety, we shy away from those who seem critical or judgmental. There may be an intelligence that informs such shyness, steering us clear of unsafe people and situations.

When someone offers a compliment or affection—or when you meet someone you’re attracted to—do you feel a little shy? Rather than seeing that shyness as a weakness, can you embrace it?

From the perspective of attachment theory, shyness might be seen as part of our longing for connection and acceptance. Being gentle with our vulnerability, we might honor shyness as a doorway to a sweet moment of connection, as expressed in my book, The Authentic Heart:

"If you experience shyness, consider it a blessing. Shyness is an entrance into a tender fold within your authentic heart … If you can allow yourself to experience shyness when it arises—if you can gently turn your attention toward the place in your body that feels this shyness—then it becomes a friend, not a threat. Embraced shyness transforms into sweetness … As your tolerance for shyness grows, there are greater possibilities for breakthroughs into the exhilarating pleasure of connecting."

The Shadow Side of Shyness

The shadow side of shyness is that we might distance ourselves from people before giving them a chance. If we were often shamed or rejected, we might see the world through the distorted lens of old hurts and assume people are unsafe without checking them out. At the first hint of being criticized, we might succumb to the knee-jerk reaction of diverting our eyes or shutting down. We might judge others as being unsafe before interacting with them.

To move forward, perhaps we should give people a chance. This would require that we stay present with our shyness without reacting automatically. Developing a stronger sense of self, we recognize that it’s OK to be shy and sensitive; if others are harsh or shaming, this says more about them than about us. Not allowing others to define us, we hold onto our self-worth and dignity. We protect ourselves by meeting what comes our way with a more sturdy self.

flickr image by photosavvy
Source: flickr image by photosavvy

Social anxiety might keep us clinging to the comfort of staying home, which can keep us isolated. This condition might improve with psychotherapy. Shyness, on the other hand, is something we can value about ourselves—and stroll into the world with a quiet dignity. Honoring our shyness as a sweet and tender part of ourselves, we can connect more easily, and less self-consciously, with people who appreciate us.

© John Amodeo

flickr image by photosavvy

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