Don’t Be So Shy

c13c9-6a011571fbffc1970b0120a7c54ade970b-piDefinition of EXTROVERSION

: the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self (Merriam-Webster Dictionary); or the personality predominantly able to become energized by the presence and activities of other people (Erin Thomas)

Definition of INTROVERSION

: the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life (Merriam-Webster Dictionary); or the personality predominantly able to become energized by time alone after social interaction (Erin Thomas)

Definition of Shy

1 : easily frightened : timid
: disposed to avoid a person or thing  (publicity shy)
: hesitant in committing oneself (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

One of the most common errors we make in trying to create connection and soul friendship is equating introversion with shyness. Not all introverts are shy! They can be gregarious and engaging with the few, close friends they associate with and find great fulfillment in being open in their circles. Conversely, not all extroverts are easily outgoing. While they do draw their energy from other people and find their best fulfillment in active social situations, getting there can be difficult for some. There’s a hesitancy, a fear, or a pause.

They are shy.

To be “shy” is not considered a good thing in our society. Whether I am project oriented or people oriented, intuitive or pragmatic, our diverse cultures expect that these traits be shared openly. We teach our children “don’t be so shy!”, for fear that they won’t learn to speak up for themselves; we teach our co-workers that if we don’t engage in workplace chit-chat in specific ways, they aren’t team players; and we construct church around MAKING people feel welcome… MAKING people understand we want to be together with them… MAKING people feel or see things they aren’t ready to see or feel. And if they are courageous enough to express their hesitation or nervousness, sometimes we condescend to them:

“There’s nothing to be scared of!” (because I’ve just met you, and I’m supposed to trust you???)

“We’re being as warm as we can. What else do you want?” (because it’s all about us sometimes)

“Just try it. You’ll like it!” (might work for children staring at a plate of unknown food, but deeply burdens people who already know what they do and don’t like and need space to decide for themselves how to proceed)

Shy extroverts become frustrated when their energy needs aren’t refuelled by being with other people. When shyness overcomes the courage to move ahead with people they want to get to know, or to learn a new job, or to move into a new phase in life, there can be depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.

Likewise, shy introverts experience a danger zone when shyness converges with introversion too deeply. Isolation occurs, and while introverts by nature need peace and quiet, we can’t be left alone forever. Shyness can impede our need for deep, meaningful social interaction to the point where social functioning is impaired, depression sets in, and even suicidal behaviour.

But these are extreme examples of how shyness can impact my quality of life. I’m an introvert AND I’m shy. My social anxiety can go through the roof some days, and there’s not a whole lot I can do to change this. There are ways I can learn to cope with my personality, ways that I can communicate with people that whatever’s happening around me is not good and I need to get out, and ways I can learn to believe that shyness, in fact, has beauty and virtue and brilliance all its own.


You bet.

Listen to what Henri Nouwen has to say about it:

The Beauty of Shyness (from: Take This Bread)

There is something beautiful about shyness, even though in our culture shyness is not considered a virtue. On the contrary, we are encouraged to be direct, look people straight in the eyes, tell them what is on our minds, and share our stories without a blush. 

But this unflinching, soul-baring, confessional attitude quickly becomes boring. It is like trees without shadows. Shy people have long shadows, where they keep much of their beauty hidden from intruders’ eyes. Shy people remind us of the mystery of life that cannot be simply explained or expressed. They invite us to reverent and respectful friendships and to a wordless being together in love.

There are days I wish I could be warmer and friendlier. I sit in awe of those folks who see a lost soul and have this Hogwarts-esque ability to connect with them, make small talk, and engage in foundational relationship building. I can’t count the Sundays I stand around after church, totally unable to read the social cues milling around me (or unable to control the anxiety keeping me from reading the cues). At work, sometimes coffee time drains all I have in me to use that was really supposed to be for the rest of the day.

And the pressure rests on me. I am expected to be friendly, warm, welcoming, connective, community-minded… by the definition given me.

Maybe it’s time I explore this puzzling gift of shy. Maybe it’s time I discover its other perspectives and dimensions.

Perhaps I am friendly… warm… welcoming… connective… and community-minded but in different ways entirely. Sometimes those ways are noticed and appreciated; sometimes they aren’t. Most often I’m happy to leave this kind of work to the non-shy extroverts. I’ll just mangle words on my tongue.

But a long shadow…

Long shadow…

Long. Shadow.

I like that.

I like imagining a long shadow at sunset, heat on my back, shadow across dry grasses on the hill by the lake. I could stand there and lose myself in the shadow for days and be happy. Is there a way to create community in that?

Perhaps this is for me to find out. And the idea of a long shadow explodes with the reality of a long journey. I like that too. I like feeling that I can take my time exploring, being curious, and discovering how a long-tarnished gem could possibly be truly wondrous in a demanding world.

Here’s to long shadows, and the length of love and community they cast across our landscapes.

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