Living with Shyness

Have you ever ducked into a library booth upon spying a potential mate?  Have you ever felt short of breath when someone you thought was attractive acknowledged your presence? Have you ever found any excuse possible to avoid socialising because the prospect gave you butterflies? Welcome to the world of the Shy. Shyness costs sufferers the opportunity to speak to the people that they lust after, express their ideas in seminars, and most painfully prevents them from enjoying university life.

Jay, a shy, self-deprecating student confessed, “I hate socialising with others. It equates to emotional suicide for me.” I met Jay on an Internet forum for shy people, a website that unites hundreds of ‘Shys’, serving as a platform to share their frustrations. As a regular member of the site, he agrees that reading the entries makes him feel less alone. Jay never participates in social activities at university, “I don’t have any close friends so I don’t get social invitations.” I feel uncomfortable about probing further, but he continues nonetheless, “Sometimes I feel like I have no emotions. I don’t feel like I’m living life to the full.”

Shocked by his extreme perspective, I googled ‘shy’ and several other similar forums appeared with thousands of people sharing the same difficulties. Many Shys associate social events with uncomfortable and upsetting feelings, so they use every excuse to avoid them; to them being alone is not as terrifying as meeting a bunch of new people. If a chronically shy person does occasionally venture to a social engagement they tend to sit and watch. If they are unlucky enough to be ambushed, they fail to maintain eye contact during a conversation and stumble painfully over their words. Jay shares his experience: “I just sit there and say nothing to anyone, I get called weird or whatever.” In terms of embarrassment, conversing with strangers is no different from publicly stripping naked.

In 1975, Psychological Today published a ground-breaking article entitled ‘The Social Disease Called Shyness.’ It presented a detailed portrait of those with the condition: Shys are usually excessively self-conscious and overwhelmingly preoccupied with how others perceive them. By remaining isolated this protects them from the judgment of others. The article also described how Shys often have difficulty meeting new people, leaving them woefully isolated, which in turn leads to depression. Shy people can often be misunderstood by those who confuse their nervous silence with pretention and disinterest.

Many Shys have difficulty expressing themselves, particularly when it comes to potential love interests. Jay describes the last time he met a good-looking female in the library, as like “walking into a pound after being attacked by a dog.” Moreover Shys can often feel despondent when they’re rejected, doubting their attractiveness, and becoming reluctant to speak to anyone else. Many shy people as a result limit themselves to finding love only on the internet; a safe cyber environment where no one will see their flushed face and trembling limbs. In fact much of their social engagement occurs behind the safety of a computer screen.

I met another guy on the website who similarly lived in fear of spending the rest of his life alone. Ray, a 26-year-old college graduate and another active member of the forum, shared his experiences of high school with me. Having fancied a girl for some time he finally worked up the courage to ask her to prom. To his surprise, the girl said yes. Crushingly, Ray discovered that the girl only agreed because she had no one else to go with. Even ten years after the incident, he still feels embarrassed and distressed about it and he still has not had a girlfriend. “Seeing so many happy couples out there is really hard and I have been taking anti-depressants to stop the pain,” sighed Raymond.

Kate has also endured a lifelong struggle with shyness. She only had a couple of friends in high school whilst other classmates were part of a much larger social circle. Her self-esteem hit rock bottom during her teen years when she plunged into depression and even attempted suicide. Luckily she has recovered and now lives a happy life with the help of friends whom she met at university. Her story is an inspiration to other sufferers; living proof that shyness can be overcome. Her advice is not to blame yourself, “you have no control over being so shy and it is not wrong.”

Spare a thought for those grappling with university life burdened with chronic shyness. However, university is also the ideal place to combat shyness with the plethora of social activity that comes hand in hand with academia. Kate smilingly tells me, “the social side of university really helped me move on from an unpleasant past.”

By Mazika Li

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4 Comments on this post.
  • Danny Quah
    23 November 2009 at 18:26
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    Good article, Mazika!

    When I lived in Minnesota, I used to listen to Garrison Keillor’s broadcasts a lot. He too talks about being shy [even as his monologues were being broadcast to tens of thousands] and I know exactly what he (and you) are writing about.


  • Yiwan Li
    23 November 2009 at 22:35
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    A very well written article for breaking silence about shyness! It is relieving to know that internet could be helpful in shyness-struggles, just by sharing and above all I’m positive that university life is contributive for overcoming past obstacles: a fresh environment plus new people make a bright start!

  • Rob
    25 November 2009 at 17:07
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    How Soon Is Now?

  • Robert Jones
    26 November 2009 at 01:11
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    Very interesting article with relevance to those currently at university. Hope those experiencing Love Shyness will get over their fears and live life to the fullest.

    Excellent article keep up the good work Miss Li.

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