On Being Judged for Shyness
[Note: This post was reblogged and praised here by another shy, quiet person. And got a couple of likes. 🙂 ]
I am painfully shy. Always have been, and despite all the scoldings I’ve received about it over the years, probably always will be.
The very last thing you should do with a shy person is scold about it, order her to talk more, bring attention to her shyness, punish her for it, or accuse her of rudeness.
It’s counterproductive, pushing us further into our shells. A scolding will merely get you resentment, not the outgoing, talkative person you were trying to get.
Whether the shyness is from just shyness, a social anxiety disorder, NVLD, Asperger’s, or selective mutism (or all of the above), scolding will get you nothing at all, just make the shy person even quieter and more shy.
In college, I went to a frat party because they were going to show a movie which I had not seen before but all my friends had. My friends didn’t show up, but there were a few other people there whom I knew, so I occasionally spoke with them. But mostly I watched the movies.
One of them, a guy who was supposed to be my friend but kept criticizing me all the time, told me that after I left, the frat guys sat around joking about me, asking if I had said anything to anyone. It made me feel like a freak.
In the beginning of my time playing in the SCA (medieval re-creation group), I was extremely frustrated because all people ever said to me was, “You’re so quiet!” Yeah, whatever, tell me something I don’t know. Or ordered me to smile when I didn’t feel like smiling.
I felt like an aberration because I wasn’t outgoing and chatty like them.
Meanwhile, people just seemed to leave me alone while they went off with their other friends. I didn’t enjoy events at all because there was nobody to hang around with, nobody to make me feel like anything other than a sore thumb just wandering back and forth with nothing to do.
One guy even told me–completely unasked-for advice–that I needed to be “livelier.” What the heck does that even mean?
I finally wrote an article which was published in an SCA newsletter, “The Care and Feeding of Shy People.” I was amazed at how much support it got, that I wasn’t the only shy person in the SCA after all, that there were plenty of people like me.
In 1995 or 1996, my manager at work told me I was being too shy, and because of it people were scared to talk to me.
It didn’t change a thing: Instead of inspiring me to talk more, it merely made me resentful to be singled out yet again as the freak–and baffled at how anybody could be scared to talk to me when I was never mean to anyone, just the meekest person there.
What does my being shy have to do with my ability to do my job? I did it quite well, in fact.
I can talk more easily around people I’m comfortable with. There are those friends with whom I can talk easily for hours, even. But they are few, because it seems like few people want to take the time to actually draw me out and make me into a friend.
Do you really expect someone who can barely croak out a “hello” to be able to just walk up to somebody and start a conversation, or invite you to coffee? If I’m not comfortable with you, I can barely even think up a comment about the weather, let alone anything else. It actually blocks off the conversational centers of my brain.
It has been scientifically proven that introverts don’t do well at conversation because their brains actually work differently than an extrovert’s in that situation. We must think before we speak; we can’t just rattle off stuff.
If I know nothing about the topic the other people are speaking on, or have no experience with it, then I have nothing to say about it. Or maybe the other people are talking so quickly, one after another, that I never get a chance to say what I do want to say, before the topic has changed.
I had finally found a friend who did take that time to get to know me and spend time with me. I was able to talk to him easily for hours, and it seemed like it was never enough time to talk. He said I was the most awesome person he knew. But his wife absolutely refused to believe that my shyness and quietness around her was anything other than disrespect and rudeness.
I kept trying to plead my case to him and beg him to explain it to her, to get her to let me be me and not put so much pressure on me. But he refused to believe I was doing anything but making excuses, and kept putting pressure on me to be all friendly and outgoing with her.
And she refused to believe I was shy, just kept finding new ways that I was somehow “snubbing” or “disrespecting” her, while he kept accusing me of violating this or that conversational rule, giving her an excuse to take away normal friendship privileges with him. He could do these things with all his other friends, but not with me.
And what I could or could not do with him kept changing all the time; I’d be punished without knowing what I was doing wrong this time. She was abusive to everyone around her, and decided to abuse me, too, which made it impossible for me to get close to her or feel comfortable around her.
I finally had a friend, someone who lived near me, and had many interests in common with me. Then he was taken away from me because other people chose to judge me instead of taking off the pressure and allowing me to be myself, helping me to get comfortable enough to talk with her.
In fact, I have been more scared of people in the year and a half since she yelled and screamed at me online for no good reason, wondering who I can trust to not be judgmental.
Then he accused me of somehow being “more offensive” than her “harsh words” (which were foul and filthy) because at some point, I supposedly didn’t speak two sentences together to her for a month and a half.
(I have no idea what month and a half, since nobody ever said a word about it at the time. And I certainly never heard of this “rule” that you’re supposed to speak two sentences in a row to be considered inoffensive.)
It still makes me angry. No, not angry, furious. Furious that even people in their late 20s/30s can be so judgmental about shy people. It made me feel like a freak yet again. And I bet those creeps still blame me for the end of the friendship, still think I’m the one with the problem.
Please, don’t be that person. Don’t expect shy people to talk. Draw them out instead by asking questions.
If we still don’t say much, don’t take it personally: Sometimes it takes a while for us to become comfortable enough with you to talk easily. Or maybe we simply have nothing to say about that subject.
Because our brains have such a hard time coming up with conversational topics off the cuff, just give us a chance. Let us be ourselves, and don’t make a big deal about our quiet natures.
It may take a few meetings, it may take 20 or 100, but eventually, we may begin to open up to you. Even now I can be very quiet in a group of people I’ve known and been comfortable with for years, but one-on-one I can often be more talkative.
I am the son
and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way
I am Human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
–The Smiths, “How Soon is Now”