Shyness is quite an unusual characteristic in the sense that it seems to attract a multiple of reactions and emotions from people. Some people interpret shyness as a sign of rudeness, that the person does not care or value their interaction; other times it creates sympathy, whereby we feel sorry for the shy person who struggles with interactions which others find natural; and sometimes, we interpret shyness as a fundamental lack of confidence, whereby the shy person can be socially stigmatised and left out because of their discomfort of being in large groups. There are also tons of other interpretations: mentally illness, inept, simply introverted, nerdy, autistic! (which kind of covers mental illness!).
Ultimately, there are deep inherent labels which are placed onto people who are shy, and this can be extremely damaging to the individual. Furthermore, these labels can also create problems for the shy person, because the salience of their shyness begins to manifest into the forefront of peoples perceptions as we script our labels and opinions onto them. Yet, we do not think what it is like for the ‘awkward shy guy / gal’ as they struggle to form sentences with people they do not know; or what it is like as thousands of thoughts rush through their head at the pain of trying to appear ‘socially normal’ to try to make friends. Such feelings for the individual can create a surge of discomfort, and it can be utterly disabling. But because this feeling is not physical and cannot be physically seen, it is often misinterpretated as being abnormal.
A close friend of mine was speaking to me about his experience at University, whereby he suffered from agoraphobia. He had suffered from it for quite some years, and his parents were hoping that coming to University would help him ‘come out his shell’ and lead a normal rowdy student life. His agoraphobia was so bad that if he was in a group of more than three people who he did not know, he would systematically struggle to socialise with them, and could not sustain going to any pubs, clubs, or any crowded place. He spent a majority of his time in his own bedroom, thus missing out on the cliché student lifestyle which so many people go to University to experience. People would often take the piss, and knock loudly on his door to come out, or simply make comments that he is a rude ‘douche’ for not coming out of his room to socialise.
This stale and unforgiving attitude does not help the individuals who are shy or have an anxiety of being in crowds. Lets imagine this: you (or a friend) have had a great night out, and you have just pulled the most beautiful girl you can imagine (sorry people, this probably sounds sexist, but is not meant to be simply aimed at blokes!). She comes back to your place, and you succeed in your plan of ending up in the bedroom. Everything is going well and the passion is intoxicating; however, all of a sudden the little solider looks a bit sorry for itself: sat all sad and limp. The girl looks down with a look of confusion, offence, and concern. You feel flustered, embarrassed and awkward, so you try passionately kissing each other whilst caressing each others body in the hope to wake up Mr. Floppy. Yet, the driftwood has drifted away, and all you are left with is unsatisfying soft wood, which is no use to no one. You suddenly feel trapped in this situation, because you know the girl has a certain expectation from you – you feel trapped because no matter what thoughts you drive into your head, whatever you say or do, there is still no rush of blood: the more you think about it the more it taunts you. The girl keeps looking at you with an air of disappointing, and despite the saying ‘don’t worry, it happens to everyone’, you still feel like a frigid moron. And then the touch of isolation creeps up on you, thus gnawing away at your at your ego, masculinity, and pride.
I imagine these feelings may be extremely similar to shyness, whereby the individual feels that they can not perform one of the most natural things on earth i.e. speak and interact socially. Simple social interaction which most of us find easy is like a mountain to some people; they may be able to cope with professional strains, illness, crime and incidents which would strike fear into the most fearless. But for some reason, if you place them in a demanding (or even semi-demanding) social situation, they suddenly feel trapped within their own head; thoughts start to manifest that they are letting people down because they cannot apply themselves in a setting which they so desperately desire. This causes isolation, avoidance, and can even lead to extreme loneliness which can be horribly life defining.
The reflections I describe are from two people who have been dear in my life at one point or the other. One was of a guy who suffered from extreme shyness, and one was a highly confident childhood friend. As it turns out, my shy friend now has a beautiful wife (who I would literally cut my right hand off for!), and two gorgeous children, aged 4 and 6. My confident friend who had the unfortunate visit from Mr. Floppy, also has a child (aged 2), but seems to be finding it harder to be happy in life. I guess what I am getting at is to not judge a book by its cover. Confident and evidently social people are not always intrinsically better off, despite their appearance. Whilst the quiet, awkward and shy person can also have a unique confidence which is latent and not so evident at first sight.
So as you are mingling around at University, and you’re meeting new people, please welcome everyone with truly liberal open arms. A person who drinks all the time, has 1000 facebook friends, and seems to be tagged in every facebook photo, is not always the most interesting person. You may be missing out by shunting the shy guy or girl – you may be missing out on experiences which are more wild, creative, mad and intellectual than you can imagine. Because shy people also have a deep, wild and warm fire, and sometimes it may only come out to those who they feel are special to them. It is worth the wait.