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Monday, July 27, 2009


Circumspect, thoughtful, and reserved might be other words to describe what might usually be called "shy" as in a shy person or shy behavior.

A surprisingly high number of people would, if honest, describe themselves as shy. Certainly many of us feel shy at times. In the Western Culture this is usually experienced as problematic. Why is that?
Partly because we are a culture that values extroversion. If you are invited to a party and you don't want to go, it requires that you have an excuse. The best excuse is another social event that you are already obligated to.
The common question preluding an invitation, "What are you doing Friday?" feels a little uncomfortable. If you don't have something already scheduled, are you going to be suddenly stuck doing something you don't want to do? What if you wanted to spend Friday puttering around in your yard and relaxing alone in the evening? Might be difficult to say that to someone who is asking for your company. If you say you choose to spend that time alone rather than with this friend or friends, they might be insulted.

There are cultures that value introversion--some Eastern Cultures, for example. I once saw a Japanese documentary about a woman who was a cancer patient. The doctors in the hospital where she was being cared for had to hold a big meeting about her. She was causing a problem: She was going around the hospital, engaging other patients in conversations. Worse yet, she was sharing her diagnosis and her experience with it and asking the other patients what they were hospitalized for, how they were feeling and so forth.
It occurred to me that in America, this story would be the exact opposite.
We do seem to consider an ill person quietly spending time alone as isolating themselves. A person alone, for example, dining out alone, can be cause for concern.

Carl Jung, one of our wonderful theorists in psychology coined these terms, introversion and extroversion,which are now in common usage. But, they have taken on a flavor which he did not intend. To describe someone as an extrovert is usually complimentary and introversion is often equated with depression. Actually, what these terms refer to is how an individual is stimulated and relaxed. Introverts receive much stimulation from inside. That is, they can be excited, interested, entertained by their own thoughts and solo activities. It is relaxing for an introverted type to have time to themselves. Extroverts get restless with too much time alone and thrive on outside stimulation from other people or exciting events. Their thinking is stimulated by others and they enjoy solving problems with others. Relaxation for an extrovert is a party.
It would be a mistake to assume that introverts are always quiet; an introverted person can have excellent social skills. One misconception is that extroverts are always noisy or talkative or just out-there. However, there are all kinds of extroverts, including Reticent Extroverts. They still prefer the outside stimulation but may be shy.

Many ideas have been written about how to combat shyness; they are probably well-known to you, the reader (such as, make the other person talk about themselves or, if you have to do a presentation, imagine everyone in the audience in their underwear, etc.). Of course, these notions pre-suppose that shyness is viewed as a problem.
As the human genome continues to be researched and understood, we will undoubtedly find some combinations of genes that create a predilection for shyness. Hopefully, we will move toward realizing that this is just a variation of part of a personality type. It's not bad or good. It's one way to be. That's all.
My thought is, if you feel shy, don't let it stop you from doing what you want to do. Just do it in a shy way. A shy person in our sometimes frenetic social world can be refreshing. Shyness can be charming. Shy people balance flaming socialites.
We need both in the world, the warmth of the socially comfortable and the calm of the quietly shy.

When I began graduate school,it was some years after I had finished college. I felt very unsure about whether or not I would be able to succeed. When I began, I found myself in small seminar settings where class discussion was an expectation. At first, I couldn't participate. My silence made me more and more uncomfortable. So, I had to deal with my shyness. I decided finally, that at the next class I went to and every new class I took, I would say something, anything, right away. It worked. It 'broke the ice' for me. However, my voice was quiet and I certainly was not entertaining or dominating. In other words, I did it in a shy way.
Carl Jung thought that we came into the world with these tendencies, toward extroversion or introversion and that we were roughly divided by half and half. He presented these two ways of being as natural and equal.
Do you know a shy person who brings value into your life?


  1. Yes much of my family is introverted. I consider myself an introvert also in that I like to reenergize on my own. My parents see me as an extrovert because I do love people and hearing their stories and I am able to talk to pretty much anyone.

    I don't consider myself shy, but I do consider myself an introvert because I can talk to anyone and I am not afraid too. It's just I like my shy time.

    Can you believe that they considered for a little while of including introversion in the DSM-5!!! What kind of shit is that?

  2. Introversion is completely normal. It is the preferred way of functioning by half the people in the world. There are degrees. Some people are almost at 50/50 between introversion and extroversion. Others are at very high levels---80-90% one way. And there's everything in between. It's a range.
    Also, extroversion doesn't guarantee social graces and an extrovert can be awkward socially. By the same token, an introverted type can be quite gracious.