Ever since I was a child, one three letter word haunted me: "shy." It followed me around and would not leave me. I was always called “shy” and “quiet.” And I knew I wasn’t like other people. While other people made friends with ease, and just seemed more outgoing, I was reserved, and if the situation occurred, I would rather let someone else do the talking and socializing for me, as I stood or sat beside them.
Some of my earlier memories are of me watching all the other kids play as I felt like a pair of eyes just watching, silently observing the world around me, or lost inside a world of thought and detailed daydreams.
I remember one day when I was eight years old this girl came up to me and called me "quiet" and I started crying. I was with one of my friends at the time who saw how upset it made me, so she defended me, almost to say, “‘No, she isn’t,” to what appeared to be the worst insult coming my way. This happened a few times, where someone would call me quiet or shy, and it felt like it would destroy me.
I am 17 years old now, and all these years later, the word can come and still haunt me. But why? I was always told I would “break out of my shell” eventually. And I’m not as shy as maybe I was in second grade. But that doesn’t mean I’ve turned into an exuberant extrovert like I always wanted to become.
So why is it that being shy has such a negative undertone? I’m used to hearing shy as a negative adjective. But it’s only now for the first time ever that I’m asking myself: “Why is being shy such a bad thing?”
Besides being soft spoken and not as socially involved, there are a lot of other characteristics about people who you may call “shy” that are not negative attributes.
Here are some things I’ve found that a lot of shy people have in common.
While people who are more on the extroverted spectrum are more action minded, introverts take the time to think things through.
Introverts are the ones that tend to come up with the ideas. They map out the model while an extrovert builds it. Introverts will write the play as the extrovert performs it. And because extroverts tend to be seen in the spotlight doing the work more, they can get a whole lot more of the credit. Still, so much of what our world is made out of are the projects, ideas, and visions, created out of an introvert’s mind.
A negative stereotype that makes shy people feel bad about themselves is this whole subliminal, “sweetness is weakness” idea in our society. As well as being called shy, people also often have told me that I’m sweet. And believe it or not, this is something I’ve been insecure about too.
I remember someone once told me I had the “voice of an angel” and it made me self conscious. Still, to this day I sometimes worry about being too sweet or too innocent. But how much more hate and dysfunction do we need to see in the world to understand that being “sweet” is not a fault.
I know you’ve probably heard of the introverted bookworm that writes. But it is something that tends to be true. And it’s definitely something I relate to as well, as shown by, well, what I’m doing right now. While also being deep thinkers, but not quite conversationalists, people who are shy will tend to be great at putting their thoughts onto paper which leads them to having a special connection with writing. It gives introverts the opportunity to verbalize their many thoughts, but be able to do so alone, in their house, under a warm blanket, comfortable and with no big crowds or small talk!
This gets to the point of why people tend to be shy in the first place. There can be a lot of reasons. Shyness might not start as shyness itself, but as someone who is a deep thinker. Where their mind wants to go might not be what the general public is talking about at any given moment, making relating to people in conversation tough. If you know a shy person, you may find that if you bring up something they’re really interested in, or just get to know them well enough for them to be comfortable enough to explain it to you, they aren’t really shy at all! They have a lot to say about the things they care about and want to talk about. Very likely their mind is so focused in those directions that they don’t like being distracted with mundane topics and mundane living. So if you know someone who’s shy, you may be talking to someone with a lot going on inside their head, which also makes people who are shy very artistic.
Another reason that people can tend to be shy is being especially receptive to the world around them. You’ve probably heard of “highly sensitive people” being sensitive to noises, smells, and overall more overwhelmed by the world around them. Or you may have heard of this as being an “empath,” being in tune to the emotions around you, and having that empathy and compassion makes being in crowded places difficult. You don’t just pass a person on the street like they are a piece of furniture. You see and feel everyone’s energies in an intuitive way. This is something else you may see in people who are more shy, and something else that can make them shy. This society can be really busy and noisy. And so some people who are more sensitive may enjoy spending time alone, or at their home, more often than going out. Because being bothered by other people’s thoughts and emotions can be exhausting. I know because I feel this as well. But similar to how being sweet is not a bad thing, being empathetic and sensitive is not a bad thing either. It can be overwhelming. But the human race could really use more people in touch with how they feel and awake to the reality of the world and people around them versus being desensitized. Which we have seen the negative effects of.
So the point I’m getting at is, though we may see being shy as a bad thing, there are a lot of good and much needed character traits that come with it. We have been conditioned in our society to glamorize and encourage a certain type of energetic, outgoing personality type. And this makes it hard for more shy and sensitive people to get by in the world, making them feel like there’s something wrong with them. Really that could not be further from the truth.
After years of hating the word “shy,” I’m starting to accept that I’m shy. And see that really, it’s kind of awesome.