How would you describe shyness? Stereotypically, shy people are portrayed as being quiet, often loners who don’t want to stand out from the crowd, but is this really true? I was inspired to write this post whilst reading Quiet by Susan Cain, as it really got me thinking. What is shyness, and why do we see it as a disadvantage?
In her book, Cain starts by explaining the difference between shyness and introversion (for more on introversion, read my post here). Introversion is a personality trait in which people prefer lower amounts of stimulation, they may choose to spend time in their own company rather than with others or prefer quiet over loud music. Shyness, on the other hand, is more about how we perceive other’s judgments of ourselves, in particular a fear of looking silly or being disliked. Of course it’s possible to be an introvert and be shy, but they don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand.
Shyness is also separate from society anxiety disorder – a type of anxiety disorder in which individuals have an extreme fear of social situations and will often try to avoid them all together. Whereas shyness is a personality trait and isn’t necessarily negative, social anxiety disorder involves intense anxiety during social interactions, for example when meeting new people or speaking up in front of others (Stein & Stein, 2008).
Cain argues that shyness and introversion aren’t inherently negative personality traits, despite the fact that modern society often prioritises people who fit within a more extroverted personality type. As a child who was often shy, I have consciously tried to move away from this label as I’ve got older, both socially and at work. I’m also definitely an introvert as I need to recharge by relaxing alone. I wouldn’t classify myself as shy now, despite the fact that I don’t always feel comfortable speaking in public (I feel that’s quite normal!). Although trying to push myself out of my comfort zone to alleviate some feelings of shyness has helped me, reading Quiet definitely made me reconsider how I view shyness and introversion, and view them in a much more positive light.
What are your thoughts on shyness and introversion? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!
Cain, S., 2013. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Broadway Books.
Stein, M.B. and Stein, D.J., 2008. Social anxiety disorder. The Lancet, 371(9618), pp.1115-1125.