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Friday, 10 February 2012


Jeremy Vine just covered this story on his Radio 2 programme, about whether shyness should be considered a mental illness. While I don't want to get into the specifics of that, I took issue with one of his guests who suggested that shyness is selfish and indicates that someone isn't interested in the people they're communicating with. Rubbish! I'm more interested in other people than I am in myself most of the time. I don't think the level of my shyness and my interest in others have any correlation at all.

Why am I so shy? I can't put it down to one thing. Maybe this is what happens when you're a tomboy with very few friends as a child, one who much prefers to read Enid Blyton than play dress-up for her hypothetical wedding. I was a mucky kid, always out in the garden making a mess, but I can't recall shyness having an impact on my life until I got to secondary school and the bullying started. I was told by one teacher that I was visibly different and therefore brought it on myself. Perhaps that was when it happened. In order to stop 'bringing it on myself', I became ultra-conscious of everything I said and did before eventually evolving into Lucy 2.0: the person who has health problems partly due to her fear of interactions with other people.

It's irritating and I certainly didn't choose to be this way. Plus, I make a conscious effort to force myself into things that set my nerves on edge. I meet up with friends in public places, occasionally I sing karaoke and, later this month, I have to go through my upgrade viva as part of my PhD progression. Does it sound like I'm not pushing myself? Of course, I allow myself my 'me' days. I hide behind the computer - still completely invested in what's going on outside of my bubble - and relax a little bit more than I can when I'm out and about. Writing and study are inherently isolating and this also impacts on my life: these two things take up much of my time and hinder any efforts I might make to combat my shyness. As a distance student, reliant on public transport, I don't really have the option to participate in much that goes on at Sheffield but, frankly, I find much of it pointless. I'd rather be at home researching a political piece for 2020UK than discussing a long-lost poem with some English students. Not that I don't enjoy poetry; I just spend enough of my time on literature and want to focus on something that, I feel, can make a difference in my (rare) spare time.

All this said, I lose my inhibitions on occasion. Nothing makes you less self-conscious than having children to worry about. I've been known to hop, dance and sing my way around Asda in order to keep my twin nieces semi-amused and quiet during a shopping trip. I've had altercations with charity workers accosting me in town centres and, on one memorable occasion, I almost got myself beaten up by arguing with a scary bloke who criticised me at a climbing wall. Something else takes over my body sending my perpetual shyness away for a few minutes. Do I wish I could be that person full time? Well, no, because I wouldn't be me then. Do I wish I could have a few more periods of inhibition? Yes! If only for the sake of my sanity.

You may also be interested in the post I wrote last year on Recluses.  


Shelley said...

I hate it when people describe shyness as some sort of over-exaggerated sense of self. I've seen many outgoing people who are quite concerned with how they look to others and worry a lot about their image. As with many other things, you can't just make blanket judgments like that. Some shy people are self-centered, and some aren't. Some outgoing people are self-centered,and some aren't.
What a horrible teacher!!

Debbie said...

I wanted to listen to that show, but got caught up with things in the house and forget. Will catch up with it on iplayer.

Could I have been programmed to be shy? As I was growing up, that's the word I always heard. I'm introspective. Is that bad? I don't think so. I won't apologise for being me. My attitude is 'take me as I am.' I'm different, and I'm happy. :)

CharmedLassie said...

Shelley - I think he was just fed up of having to deal with me all the time! I've never identified it as a motivating factor before but today it just struck me all of a sudden.

Debbie - I love that attitude. In the last few years I've become more and more intolerant of people telling me what I should and shouldn't be like. If we have nothing else in life we should at least have the ability to be who we are.

Natalievintagegirl said...

I can't belive someone would say that a shy person was selfish! i must be really selfish then. great post.

Katherine Hajer said...

I wish I could remember where I read this, but to me it sums up the whole issue of the non-shy trying to understand the shy: "Extroverts think that introverts are broken extroverts." I suppose you could add, "who need fixing" to the end in the case where it's considered a mental illness.

Imagine a world where everyone is shy and introverted. It would be a lot quieter, and probably more books would get read (and written), but it wouldn't necessarily be less sociable.

Now imagine how an extrovert would appear in that world. Loud, blustery, in constant need of attention from others... sort of mentally ill, yes? Funny how the "problem" stays the same when it's flipped on its head.