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A Quiet Rant on Shyness and Introversion: Readers React

Shyness & Introversion: The underlying issue is the bias against quiet types.

When I wrote A Quiet Rant on Shyness and Introversion, I was a little nervous to publish it. I knew there would be reactions, and I’m not one who likes to generate controversy. My intent was to call attention to the fact that there are a lot of people who are both shy and introverted, and we shouldn’t be so militant in our attempts to differentiate the terms that we alienate people at best, or shame them, at worst.

I’m glad I wrote the piece. It was a little bit of bravery on my part, and a good experience in learning to tolerate differences of opinions, and not take everything so personally. I received many responses—none of them mean-spirited—that offered a variety of viewpoints. I want to share some of them with you in hopes of furthering understanding and compassion among us all.

Sophia Dembling who blogs at The Introvert's Corner wrote a response to my post, and you can also read a lot of reader reactions there.

Jules wrote: Thank you so much for writing this post! I have also noticed most writing about introversion seems to include the caveat that introversion does not mean shyness, and I wonder what is so horrible about shyness that this needs to be said. I am sometimes shy, especially in groups or before I get to know people. There are certain people I will always feel shy with. I have been this way since I was a little girl, and now that I am in my late thirties I accept it more as part of my nature instead of seeing it as something to be overcome.

Anonymous wrote: I too wish there was more acceptance of shyness because almost all of America operates as if it’s something to be changed, or it means you are broken and need to forced out of your shell. Schools try to socialize people to be extroverted and jobs force people to do the same. If one is born introverted or shy we have already picked up from an early age that we are abnormal.

Ms. Quiet wrote: I have this exact same problem with people insisting introvert does not mean shy. There's nothing wrong with being shy unless it's holding you back from something you want. In the case of highly sensitive people, shyness is often a defense mechanism because people can be emotionally cruel without realizing it, so naturally we're a little wary and anxious around people we don't know. Shyness isn't the same as introversion, but it's not something horrible to distance yourself from, either.

Hockeygrrl wrote:

Like Dr. Markway, I am also shy, introverted, and an HSP, and I am sooooooooooo sick of people bagging on shyness. Boldness isn't always an advantage. Susan Cain said the following about introversion, but I think IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE, it also applies to shyness: "Based on an experiment: If you drop a trap in a pond, the introverted fish will swim to the sides of the pond because they are more cautious, and the extroverted fish will swim right into the trap because they are curious about what is going on. If the trap were a predator, it's the extroverted fish that would be eaten and the introverted fish would have survived." I will always be shy; the hesitation I feel about joining groups, giving speeches, etc., will never change, just like the bit of nervousness I feel every time I get behind the wheel. There really are dangers out there (crazy drivers, crappy weather, etc.), and my nervousness causes me to slow down and handle each danger as it comes. Same with shyness - if I'm anxious about a speech, I prepare more - and I end up giving a kick-ass speech.

Hockeygrrl wrote:

Shytrovert wrote: I am a shy introvert, hence my handle. I agree completely with Dr. Markway. Consistently hearing introverts so vehemently distancing themselves from any hint of shyness feels like a knife in my gut. I don't think anything is the matter with being shy unless it is debilitating and then, it's really social anxiety disorder or phobia isn't it? I think of shy as the opposite of bold, two traits I also feel can be separated from introversion or extroversion but which are also components of those temperaments. i.e., introverts tend to be shy, extroverts bold. But hey, I'm not a doctor, that's just my opinion. The underlying issue, as the Dr. mentioned is the bias against quiet types in our culture.

Kenii wrote:

I hope it's true that society will start to see value in introversion and shyness soon. I recently applied for a job, but was rejected after the interview. When I inquired about the reasons for the rejection, the hiring manager told me that I had all the (technical) skills, but felt that I was "too quiet" during the interview. She felt that they needed someone who could better "connect" with others. I obviously had a different view; I felt that I did a fair amount of talking, but I also didn't want to talk too much so as to overwhelm the interviewers. I should have probably also mentioned that I've worked with clients in the past who were very happy to have had the opportunity to work with me - needless to say, as a relatively shy and introverted guy, the interview process misrepresented me.

Kenii wrote:

I was one of those children who was very shy and introverted as well. I think every teacher I had tried to "encourage" me to participate more in class discussions. My hardest attempt was in the seventh grade, but it never stuck with me. People usually say that I'm too quiet even to this day (this despite the fact that I feel I've come a long way!).

I feel like I "overcame" some shyness; but without a doubt, I can still be shy in some social situations. It's even harder for me because I'm a guy and guys are supposed to exude confidence, but shyness can make people appear less confident.

For the record, I find shy people rather attractive.

Shytrovert wrote again: I know your frustration. People consistently talk about how quiet I am, where from my perspective I talk quite a bit. It left me feeling overwhelmed and helpless, because like you, I've improved so much from how I once was. I was extremely shy with borderline social phobia. To come out on the other side of that and still be faced with the perception of being quiet and worse, ineffectual, was almost too much to bear. It must be much harder on a male, because as you say, men are supposed to exude the alpha quality and seem uber confident.

Fly on the Wall wrote:

It's not that shyness is so "horrible" that introverts need to distance from it, but rather that shyness and introversion are two very different things that the general population incorrectly lumps together, so they have to be separated over and over.

Fly on the Wall wrote:

Shyness is a manner of social engagement; introversion is a much larger thing that has to do with how a person's energy gets drained and recharged. Average Joe thinks they're the same thing, and usually dismisses them both as trivial.

Fly on the Wall added later: Funny thing is, extroverts never shut up, and usually want other people to shut up so they can talk, so you'd think extroverts would place more value on quiet people who let them talk.

Norm wrote: It's not about value judgments -- it's about getting your terms and ideas right.

If you confuse introversion and shyness, then you can end up drawing the wrong conclusions about a person, and that can be harmful.

Brittany wrote: Yeah the reason the "shy" label bugs me is because of the tendency to see shyness as timidity, fearfulness, or nervousness. When I'm just peacefully enjoying being quiet or listening, to be called shy makes me feel badly like I'm being viewed as if I'm afraid to speak up. And often things like this are said in a condescending tone or like they feel sorry for me. Thus, the dislike of the shy label for me. I don't have a problem saying in certain situations I am shy, I just don't like the word as a total sum of my personality. I think that's why a lot of other fellow quiet or introverted people don't like it either, but everybody has their own feelings on the subject based on their experiences. I see what you're saying though about how if you identify as shy and see all these other people protesting the identity and claiming introversion as their identity, then it can make you feel left out and like something is wrong with being shy. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, I just don't like the term because of the way most people use it or think of it.

Bridget wrote:

It is a sad society we live in when, if a child is shy or introverted, there is something wrong with him; if he is boisterous and extroverted, there is something wrong with him (ADHD probably will be suggested). Sometimes, kids are just kids and personalities are just personalities. That goes for adults too.

Bridget wrote:

If there is one criticism I would love to see stopped forever, it would be the one where we tell kids, "You need to stop overreacting. You need to stop being so sensitive." I got those comments and now my son gets them too (not from me, but he gets them nonetheless).

My question is, "Why?" I hope people realize they should be grateful for those who are "over"-sensitive and for whom the world is a little too much with them. They are the artists, the empathizers, the peacemakers and those who will change the world with the size of the hearts they have.

Too bad society focuses on what needs to be changed in an individual instead of celebrate people for who they are when there is really nothing wrong with them.

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: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia 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. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People.

Photo credits: Chingchong, via flickr; Pink Sherbet Photography