Saturday, 16 June 2012

Shy? There Is No Shy.

I'm channeling Yoda here. If you will think back to The Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker glumly tells Yoda that he will try to do something or other. And Yoda says, "Try? There is no try. There is do or do not."

Well, obviously Yoda is not up there with the Church Fathers, but it occurs to me that this might be the attitude that made George Lucas such an amazing success.

Unless there is some underlying psychological problem, shyness is merely a manifestation of something else. It could be something good, like modesty, or it could be something bad, like cowardice.

Oh, la, la. Them's fighting words. I'll start with the good stuff, modesty.

If you find yourself about to join a group of strangers, it is perfectly natural to fear that you might be intruding in some way. However, feelings are not facts, so look at the facts. Were you invited? If so, you're not intruding. Have you been to church and this is the after-church coffee hour? If so, you're not intruding. Does the group have open body language, or are they in a tight, closed circle? If open, you're not intruding.

In a gentler age, everyone invited to a party, and every stranger who drifted into after-church coffee hour, would be greeted by the hostess or priest or lady behind the coffee pot and introduced around. But this is no longer universal, so it falls upon the new person to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Pick someone doing something serviceable--like pouring the tea or handing around the canapes. Say something like, "Hello, I'm Marta. How do you know our hostess?/How long have you been coming to St. X?" Don't ask something that can be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No."

Besides "not wanting to intrude" modesty, which is laudable, there is sexual modesty, which is also laudable. If you find yourself around strangers who are behaving or talking in a way that you find shameful, leave them. Unless local culture directs otherwise, don't make a big song and dance about it. Don't frown or cry or preach a sermon. Just go. Invite any equally embarrassed people to go with you.

If you belong to a smile-no-matter-what culture (like Canada and the UK), smile and say "This has grown too hot for me" and escape, even as the strangers hoot, holler and say "Stay, stay!" Strangers, heck. I do this at my own dinner parties when my own husband remembers a limerick he thinks the chaps should hear.

There is sexual modesty in dress and behaviour, which is weighing on my mind because I've bought this amazing dress for a party tonight. It is kind of low cut and not my usual thing and B.A. says it is fine but you know how it is. I will check with a girlfriend. Anyway, if you feel "shy" appearing in public in a bikini, that's a good thing. If you feel "shy" playing spin-the-bottle, that's also a good thing. If you feel that you need to get really really drunk and thereby lose your inhibitions, that's a bad thing. Inhibitions are usually our friends, and we should keep them.

One of the saddest things I ever read was some blossom of a first year student at Harvard or Yale or wherever "Sex Week" was being committed confessing that she was having a hard time overcoming her inhibitions so that she could perform whatever sex acts she thought she was supposed to be performing. I wanted to fly there, smack the stuffing out of whoever organized "Sex Week" and tell that girl that what she was calling "inhibitions" was her God-given conscience and her dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God.

And that's what I have to say about modesty. Onto cowardice. If your "shyness" is not modesty, and it does not stem from a reasonable decision that the people around you are better best avoided, then maybe it stems from timidity, which is not laudable, but cowardice. Get over it.

I realize as I type that this is easier typed than done for many people including the myself as a child, but with the cold hindsight of adulthood, I think I really was a bit of a coward. I was also unobservant, self-absorbed, unreflective and unhappy. It never occurred to me to watch how "the popular people" I wished would accept me made friends and influenced people.

My saving grace, as a child, was summer girls' camp. For some reason, whenever I went to summer girls' camp, I deliberately took on the persona of fun, outgoing, kinda crazy girl. I'd have two weeks of popularity and then I'd go back to my ten year sentence at elementary school. (It never occurred to me that I could somehow transform the social patterns burned into my class, and maybe I couldn't. The day I started high school was the happiest of my young life.)

So you can make an effort, talk to people, and joke around if you really want to. Yes, it is hard to break out of patterns. But every new group, every new party, is a new opportunity not to be Mr or Ms Shy-and-Awkward but Mr or Ms In-Love-With-Life.

If there are men still reading this blog, I would like to repeat my mother's dictum that "Faint heart never won fair lady." Men still think it a terrible insult to be called a coward, but many no longer seem to make the effort not to be thought a coward.

The good news is that sometimes men can be goaded into action by a loving female friend coughing "Coward" into her hand.* This, however, is a bit dangerous because there is a kind of cowardly man who, even if he would never dare hit a fellow man under any provocation, will hit a woman. Choose your male friends wisely.

Amusingly enough, I did once manage to propel a nice young man into extra flights of social effort by turning on him, giving him a piece of my auntie mind, and pointing out how the other guy in the room--unlike him--was utterly charming to a certain young lady.

After gasping and spluttering with horror at the insult, the nice young man rushed out to be just as charming to the young lady as the other guy and I, although already under its influence, had another glass of potato juice. I am, after all, over forty and married and therefore can get away with such shenanigans--to a certain extent.

But maybe I should get some double-sided tape. Where can I get some double-sided tape?

Update: OH, POPPETS! Such wardrobe malfunctions, thanks to reliance on double-sided tape! :-( Minor, and nothing gruesome, but annoying all the same.

However, I don't want to say "If you have to use double-sided tape, maybe you shouldn't wear it" after just one attempt. It's a fabulous dress. (Anecdote removed on second thought.)

That dress is going nowhere. I think I'll just sew it onto me next time.

*It occurs to me that this might also be a way to clear up Free Therapy syndrome. You know how when you like some guy and all he does is talk to you about the girl he really likes? If he says he'd love to ask her out, ask him why he doesn't. If he comes up with some excuse, tell him that you guess he doesn't really want to ask her out then. If he says he does but he just can't, ask him if he thinks he might be being a bit of a coward. If he gets mad, say this therapy session is over, and that will be $100, please.


Mustard Seed said...

I do think some people are honestly shy, not from a basis of cowardice but from causes like their natural personality, family dynamic, low self-esteem, etc. For people with shyness or social anxiety, it might be worth talking to a counselor to find strategies to overcome shyness. Of course, there's a difference between being a little self-conscious and painfully shy, but I think sometimes it takes more than simply getting over it.

If you search "fashion tape" on Amazon, you'll find some double-sided tape for your purpose. I used it to help with a strapless bridesmaid dress, and it worked well. (But be aware that some of the marketing is intended for women who want to show as muuuuch as possible.)

Seraphic said...

Well, if the person needs to see a therapist, the person needs to see a therapist. But anyone who thinks he can always just sit in a corner and expect other people to do the social heavy-lifting is fooling himself.

If you look at a list of what people find attractive in other people, "SHY" is not in the top ten. Shy people might be absolutely sweet and funny when you get to know them, but the vibes they give off are "boring", "unfriendly" and in extreme cases "neurotic." That's not good. Adults have to dress ourselves in the morning; we also have to take responsibility for how we come across to other people.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and I found my double-sided tape at the craft shop. Hooray! :-D

Charming Disarray said...

I'm always amazed when people recommend therapy. How many young, single people can afford to shell out a hundred dollars in cash twice a week?

Seraphic said...

When I was single, I did for five years. But it was only once a week, and it was less than 100 dollars a pop. I thought it worth it.

Domestic Diva said...

If a person has cancer, they certainly shell out $100 1 or 2 or 3 times a week for treatment. I also found it worth it to pay $100 once a week - best investment I ever made.

Domestic Diva said...

Investing in therapy, I mean.

Ryan said...

LOL! The "Faint Heart never won fair lady" line leaves me wondering how any women in America ever end up being won at all. Perhaps they really don't.

An un-faint heart is no guarantee, though. You still run the risk of being turned down, but that is better than the certainty of being perpetually out in the cold.

Angie said...

I have never liked the Therapy-As-A-Catch-All-Solution thing. Of course, some people really do need and benefit from it, but it seems everyone has a therapist nowadays, and I'm not totally convinced it's helpful for as many people as it's recommended to.

I think it leads some-- some, not all-- to let themselves become defined by their neuroses and anxieties that really might just need time and personal effort.

Depression runs in my mother's side of the family, and I had it as a teenager. Self harm, pulling out my hair, would stop eating and sleeping for days at a time, would stay in bed for days, and all that other Sylvia Plath stuff. For better or for worse, though, I just broke out of it, and never went to therapy. My parents never offered it, and I was too scared/ashamed to ask. Should I have? Maybe. Probably. But that's depression, not some quirk or flaw that just has to be dealt with.

I'm not depressed anymore, but I certainly have my own brand of neurosis, like everyone else. And I think therapy often turns those issues into something bigger than they are. Suddenly we don't have shyness, but a chronic anxiety that has to be dispelled by searching for the psychological damage your mom might have done by not letting you have seconds of dessert, and Prozac.

I think for some people, it lets them internalize the idea that they are special, screwed up snowflakes.

Charming Disarray said...

Even less than a hundred a week would be a pretty big luxury for some people.

As for cancer, that's a totally different scenario. It's both a lot more serious and a lot more likely to be covered by insurance or government healthcare, depending on where you live.

I'm not arguing against therapy, exactly. It's just that in some cases people, particularly young people, are depressed or lacking in self esteem because they are underemployed or unemployed because of the economy. Throwing out suggestions for expensive private counselling strikes me as a bit disconnected from reality. Of course, a person could be in need of therapy for some reason totally unrelated to their economic standing, but being depressed often goes hand in hand with an inability to succeed financially and career-wise.

n.panchancha said...

You take a firm approach, Auntie S., but I don't have much to argue with. :o)

The whole discussion of shyness always reminds me of the little exchange in P&P wherein Elizabeth reminds Mr. Darcy that he probably wouldn't have so much trouble conversing with strangers if he'd just practice more often. That quip usually feels like it's aimed at me! I was probably naturally shy, but we moved around so frequently when I was a kid that I had to become un-shy if I didn't want to slog friendlessly through childhood. And, though it sounds harsh to me now, my mum always admonished us by saying that shyness was a form of pride, in that it meant we were always thinking of ourselves ("What will they think of *ME*? Am *I* making a fool of myself?") - and that as such it wasn't excusable. I don't think that's ALWAYS the case, but it's often the basis of what seems like it ought to be a form of humility (i.e. believing oneself to be "not good enough") - but, of course (and merci Mr. C.S. Lewis): "Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less."

Lilly said...

Huh - What about just not liking attention focused on yourself? As a shy person, it's really tiring going to a party where I will be expected to be gregarious and engaging. In my mind, if everyone else is having fun, then I don't have to do too much - so I enjoy being a part of it, but not at the center. When it comes to talkativeness, I see it all in terms of what I can contribute. If there is someone else who has no one to talk to, or if the conversation gets slow, or somebody isn't being included, then I make an big hard effort to be outgoing.

My problem comes when I happen to be utterly unable to be a part of the group. But then it's not fear that prevents me, it's a matter of just not knowing HOW. My mind goes blank, and I honestly have NOTHING to say.

That's why it helps so much to go to a party with the goal of making someone else feel better about him/herself. (The drawback is that sometimes someone will mistake this as flirtation.)

Perhaps it's all utterly awkward, but it's my way of managing. For me, going to a party is a stressful prospect because of past bad experiences and the high chance of such awkwardness happening again.

This is the place where I do see cowardice - in the tendency to not want to go to parties for this reason.


Jam said...

Obviously this doesn't cover everyone but those who are university-enrolled and/or employed nearly always have some sort of free counseling available. And my friend who is a receptionist discovered that her insurance covered some kind of therapy with a $10 (US) co-pay per visit. Now I don't know anything about therapy, and maybe if she had embarked on a deep and long term course of treatment it would have been different; but she found it very helpful to discover that during a difficult period she could pay $10 a week to spend an hour talking through her problems. I have at darker moments considered going to a professional, and I would strongly support and encourage a friend who was considering seeking that kind of help, but personally I've never actually done it. Actually that's a pretty accurate summary of my experience of both physical and mental healthcare :/

I think my own shy streak is egotism, being too wrapped up in myself to be interested in others...

Urszula said...

I think it's worth making a distinction between being shy and being introverted, and there is no use beating yourself up about being the first if you are actually the second. Modern society seems to privilege the extroverts at the expense of the introverts (and I'm talking about this like open office space - I personally can not concentrate when there is a 'healthy buzz' around me), while about half of society consists of introverts trying to conform to extroverts' standards (there are some interesting articles online about this).

There is nothing wrong with not wanting to go to too many parties, or with being tired after a few hours too many in other people's company which happens to introverts - you just need to know your breaking point and plan accordingly.

For the record, really the easiest and time tested way to conquer shyness is not to strive to be the center of attention at the party, but just listen to people and engage them in conversation. People think you are fascinating, kind and oh so intelligent if all you do is listen, look, and nod to what they say. And they'll usually repay you by listening and nodding back.

I always try to locate the people on the fringes of groups like myself - the hardest thing socially is to 'break into' a group of people who already know each other, have inside jokes etc.

Seraphic said...

A very good reply!

Remember, you don't have to go to parties unless you want to. And you shouldn't break into groups unless they are showing open body language (e.g. that they are in an open circle, with space for others to join, and members are looking outside the group from time to time).

Sometimes I get emails from girls asking if they just can't stay at home. Of course you can just stay at home! Even Searching Singles can stay at home if they want to and be rpresent in the "world out there" in other ways. I met my husband through manic BLOGGING. Really, the whole centre of my British social life, back in 2007-2008, was a romm in my parents's house in Canada, complete with Skype, Lulu (internet publishing company) and Blogger.

Adam's Rib said...

Excellent point Urszula.
And CD, your comment about young people and being unemployed rings true. I am mainly an introvert, but usually it's 50/50. I find myself getting tired of company after a few hours and I lose interest.
I have been unemployed for 6 months now (but just got a job, YAY!) and as a result I have become even more of an introvert and have for the first time in my life become socially awkward and shy. I have really struggled through some social engagements and have had to remind myself that I can have normal and intelligent conversations with people, even though I feel utterly lacking in confidence.
I suppose shyness gets to all of us at different points in our lives.