I’ve always been shy. Probably for as long as I can remember. I was that child at the back of the class afraid to raise their hand or partake in discussion because they were too nervous to speak aloud, or that child who cowered behind their parent whenever in the presence of somebody they didn’t know. Hell, I was even that child who struggled to converse with family members other than those they saw every day. It was a crippling shyness, to be honest, and it really followed me into my adolescence, too. I wouldn’t say I ever had a problem making friends, but it definitely always took me a while to come out of my shell. I struggled with that for a long time.
Flash-forward to 2017. I am almost 23 years old, I’ve seen more and experienced more, I’ve an undergrad degree under my belt (for what it’s worth) and my three/four years at university completely changed me for the better. I made a huge number of friends from all over the world, I went out every day and almost every night, I fell in love for the first time, I managed numerous speaking presentations, notably one on the wonderful subject of literary theory (as fun as it sounds, really) and managed to 1) not throw up and 2) actually obtain a pretty good grade, I even worked in retail for a year and was promoted to supervisor for my final few months before moving. You can’t be very shy working in retail. It kinda kicks the shyness out of you. But, yes, don’t be fooled; I still had to mentally prepare myself for about three hours prior to partaking in a conference call. *shudders*
Despite of all of this and despite of how largely my confidence has grown, that shy, little child has been and probably always will be sitting there inside of me somewhere. I think it’s just how I’m wired.
However, please try to remember that being an introvert isn’t just all to do with being shy. I know I’ve thrown the word around a lot so far. It’s a very common misconception and it isn’t just all black and white. Many introverts won’t identify with shyness at all and see the two as totally different things, but, for me, I do think I will always be a little reserved and I wouldn’t describe myself as outgoing or particularly confident. I am a shy introvert, if you will, but I don’t think I have much trouble talking to people or engaging in conversation at all - I think I’m just selective. If I like you, and if we click, I can talk to you for hours on end. That’s it. Period. In modern society, it’s as if we’re made to believe that we can do nothing if we’re not all as extroverted and confident as each other and I just really don’t believe that to be true.
I’m more than happy being in my own company and I think that’s actually very healthy and a very important part of life, especially when it comes to being comfortable with who you are as a singular human being. You have to be ok with solitude, and I think having a fairly sheltered childhood, along with being an only child, is what did it for me. I’m often asked how I spend so much time by myself without getting bored, whether I’m reading a book or writing or just watching Netflix. Sure, it’s not like i’m incapable of getting lonely; I still love to have a social life and get out and meet people and see my friends at every given opportunity, but if I don’t have my “me time” too then I will, quite frankly, go mad. I need my space, a decent amount of it, and I like it. I mean, come on, I’m a writer for goodness sake; does it seriously surprise you?
I think the reason people like myself come across as quiet and closed off is because we like to listen and observe and think before we talk. It doesn’t mean that we are mute and anti-social (god, how many times have I heard the “you never talk” joke. Here’s a thought, pal, maybe the problem isn’t me; it’s you), we don’t necessarily despise social situations, we just speak up when we feel we want or need to. We often find comfort in retracting inwards, and just absorbing things for a little while. It also completely depends on the people I’m with, for me. As I said, sometimes you click and sometimes you just don’t. When I’m with people I do click with: good luck shutting me up.
People often tell me I don’t seem very introverted because I’m quite cheerful and friendly - this is, again, another misconception. We’re not just all socially inept and cold and rude. That’s not what it means. We don’t particularly like being the centre of attention, but that doesn’t mean we don’t speak or get involved, we just crave something interesting with some sort of depth and meaning. For example, sitting around a group of people chatting about the weather or about what Sharon down the road did at the weekend? You know, that really tedious small talk with people you barely even know? Absolutely mind-numbing to me. I’ll listen and I’ll nod along, because I’m polite, but it really serves me no interest and I actually find it quite draining.
(No offence, Sharon.)
“Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” - Laurie Helgoe
There is nothing wrong with being introverted or quiet or shy, but it’s like we’re conditioned to think that there is from a very young age. There’s absolutely a difference between building someone’s confidence and social skills, and just making them feel awful and anxious. Introvert, extrovert, shy, outgoing, quiet, confident: whatever you see yourself as, it doesn’t make you any less capable of anything in life than anyone else. More than anything, I want people to be mindful of that.
As human beings, we all react to situations in different ways, and that’s ok. Why must we all always be forced into the same little box?