Barbara Markway Ph.D.

Shyness Is Nice

Does the Bad News of the World Overwhelm You?

Many of us struggle with the barrage of increased news stories.

Posted Sep 02, 2011



"Tears mean nothing when we fail to act."--Gail Orenstein

When Osama Bin Laden was killed this summer, I felt completely out of step with those around me. At a nearby university, college kids were partying in the streets and shouting "USA". At work, an announcement came over the intercom that in honor of what had happened, we were allowed to wear jeans, and we should also wear red, white and blue. The people around me were very talkative and the mood was almost jovial. On the other hand, I was on the verge of tears the whole day. I couldn't talk to anyone for fear of breaking down into a full sob fest. I was perplexed by my confusing feelings, and I worried that maybe I wasn't patriotic enough.

The same thing happened after 9/11. My brain was bombarded with the horrific sights and sounds playing over and over on the television screen, and I felt the need to shut down. I know part of this reaction is that I'm a hard-core highly sensitive person. My senses are easily overloaded, I feel things deeply, and I'm keenly aware of subtleties and complexities. I'm also introverted, which means I process things internally and need time to figure things out.

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 upon us, I’m anticipating that many of us highly sensitive people will struggle with the barrage of increased news stories. While it’s important to remember the past and learn from it, it’s also important to take care of ourselves and guard against overload. With this mindset, I’ve gathered inspiration and guidance from some of my favorite blogs and writers.

Focus on the Good: Lynne Henderson, Ph.D., author of Building Social Confidence: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety, offers this:  “One of the ways of being kind to ourselves is not to let the pain in the world overwhelm us. This is not to say that we need to be indifferent to it; we may feel deep sorrow about it, and the sorrow can help us to cultivate compassion for others as well as for ourselves and motivate us to help and contribute in ways that we can. But getting too far into our own personal distress doesn’t help anyone else, and it doesn’t help us either.” She suggests balance is the key, noting we should remind ourselves that “there are good people everywhere who are working to make the world a better place and to build trust among all peoples.” She also suggests focusing on the good news stories we seldom hear about and lists and as some resources.

Don't Forget to Dance: The title of Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Full Catastrophe Living, comes from a line in the movie Zorba the Greek (based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis). Zorba’s young companion asks him, “Zorba, have you ever been married?” Zorba replies, “Am I not a man? Of course I’ve been married. Wife, house, kids, everything…the full catastrophe!” Now I don’t think Zorba was really bemoaning his lot in life. Rather, as Kabat-Zinn writes: “Zorba’s response embodies a supreme appreciation for the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies, and ironies. His way is to ‘dance’ in the gale of the full catastrophe, to celebrate life, to laugh with it and at himself, even in the face of personal failure and defeat. In doing so, he is never weighed down for long, never ultimately defeated either by the world or by his own considerable folly.”

Practice Loving Kindness: Any kind of religious or spiritual belief can ground one in a time of crisis. One spiritual practice I've found simple, yet helpful is that of "loving kindness meditation." Ronald Siegel, Psy.D., describes this age-old approach in his book, The Mindfulness Solution.  Simply put, it involves generating feelings of compassion by saying phrases such as: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free of suffering.” You typically start with extending compassion to yourself, and then to those closest to you. Then, you expand the circle of compassion to your town, city, country, and eventually everyone on the planet. You can adapt the phrases however you wish. I like saying, "May I be reasonably happy, reasonably healthy, and reasonably free of suffering." To me, it sounds more realistic that way, and after all, I can’t expect perfection.

Do Something: The caption under the provocative artwork by Gail Orenstein reads, “Tears without action means nothing.” While action is important, author Lori Deschene writes in a blog post in  Tiny Buddha about the importance of thinking small. She disputes the notion that if you're not doing something big, you're not making a difference. "Revolutionaries like Ted Kennedy and titans like Ted Turner made massive contributions to the world, but our society also advances when parents raise well-adjusted children, and teachers inspire students to utilize their talents and overcome pressures. Whether you have grand plans or not, I think it’s important to play small every day—even while keeping your eye on a larger goal. The little things make a huge difference, both for us and the people whose lives we touch." In the aftermath of 9/11, Greg and I felt the need to somehow contribute to the healing in our community. We quickly put together and gave a presentation, "Raising Peaceful Children in a Violent World." Although we had a modest turnout, we enjoyed a good discussion with others who shared our concerns, and it gave us a sense of control in an otherwise out-of-control time.

I'll leave you with one more morsel--a quote from Mother Teresa, from a beautiful book called Everything Starts from Prayer.

"Very humble work, that is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things."

 Shyness is nice and
shyness can stop you
from doing all the things in life
you’d like to.

–Ask, by The Smiths (Read how we named our blog.) 

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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice.