One of the most common misconceptions about introversion is that all introverts are shy. Of course, this is isn’t true. Shyness is related to a fear of social interactions. Introversion is a personality type that is evident from infancy.
But what if you are both shy and introverted? And what if you are only selectively shy (confident in certain scenarios and timid in others)?
Introvert blogger and musician, Andy Mort, creator of www.sheepdressedlikewolves.com, offers some interesting insights on the topic of shyness and introversion:
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron explains that she prefers to use the term ‘social discomfort’ rather than shy. She says we need to understand shyness within its context and that it is more accurately described as social discomfort emanating from a fear of being rejected by others. It is a response rather than an ever-present trait and so we must refrain from identifying people as naturally ‘shy’.
Thinking about it in terms of social discomfort is helpful because it shows that it is something we all experience at one time or another, and that it is not something we intrinsically ARE, but rather something we may feel in certain situations.
When people say you’re quiet
When someone says ‘you are very quiet’ it brings me a feeling of ‘social discomfort’ because it communicates judgement and feels like I am failing to behave in a way that is deemed to be ‘normal’. This can take me from feeling comfortable and accepted within a social situation, to feeling self-conscious and like an outsider, which in turn breeds a fear of what others are thinking, and thus ‘shyness’.
In many ways it can get quite confusing for introverts because quietness can slip from being comfortable and natural, to a feeling of discomfort shyness because of a few apparently harmless words.
When I was at university this was a constant struggle for me. We would frequently meet in small groups for seminars and I found it very uncomfortable. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I was put on the spot with a question from the lecturer ‘because I was quiet’ and therefore not paying attention. Invariably my response was incoherent nonsense, ‘I don’t know’, or even to falsely confirm their suspicions and just say ‘sorry I wasn’t listening’. I generally would be listening but at that moment simply unable to formulate and communicate a tangible thought.
It was not a good environment for me and not a conducive way for me to learn either. I spent more time worrying about what I would say if I was picked on than I did genuinely engaging with the topics. I became shy, lost my confidence, and stayed away from as many seminars as I could get away with missing.
Experiences like this are enough to lead us to believe things about ourselves as introverts that are not true. To be thrown out of your comfort zone, judged for being quiet, and demanded to respond to something on the spot, is not a very nice place for many introverted people. And so for this reason, the classroom very quickly became an environment of great social discomfort for me.
What to do about social discomfort
Identifying what is going on within us is important. I wish I knew about my introversion when I was at university. I imagine I could have managed things very differently, and not allowed the discomfort of an unsuitable learning environment to dictate how I saw myself more generally (stupid and an awful communicator).
It can be difficult to recognise what is influencing our social discomfort. Unless you spend time assessing the situation, the suitability of the environment, and the impact certain things have on your ability to function effectively, you might believe that the problem is 100% internal. The big danger is that as a result you might start to believe that you ARE shy, and start living the label, perpetuating this shy myth in every social situation.