Shyness. Why it's perfectly ok to be shy.

This topic is one I have been considering lately for various reasons and I was inspired to write about it after seeing a pic on Instagram from Lifeisknutts, where she talks about her shyness as a child. I related to it very much as I was also painfully shy as a child and it made my life difficult, not just the experience of being shy, but being made to feel odd because of my shyness. It was the external reaction to my shyness that was the problem a lot of the time, not the actual shyness itself.

Shyness Quote Henri Nouwen

I want to look at this subject because I feel very strongly that the stigmatising of shyness is wrong and misplaced and we need to accept that people have differing personalities and stop trying to change them, especially when it comes to children.
The approach to shyness tends to be how to get over it, how to become more like extroverts so that you will fit in with society's expectations of you. You should overcome it, manage it, deny it, basically stop being this way that makes people uncomfortable.  My feeling on the topic, though, is that it's not my job to make people less uncomfortable.  If someone loud and boisterous makes me uncomfortable, there isn't some unwritten expectation that they should change behaviour to seem more 'normal.
Shyness isn't a sign that something is wrong, it's simply an indication that you have a different way of being, and a different way of expressing yourself.

When my eldest daughter was little, she was also very shy. She was, however, a very happy child - I have loads of toddler pics of her with a big smile, enjoying whatever she was doing.
I did worry about school though, and whether it might be too much. We made the decision to send her to a Steiner Kindergarten, and then to the Kildare Steiner School. We actually moved house to be near the Kildare Steiner School. Our reasons for choosing Steiner Education were manifold, the small class sizes, the emphasis on nature and art, the beautiful location. The main reason, however, was the fact that it is very child centred and accepts different personalities. I never once felt within the school that either of my girls were treated as odd because they were shy. Their personalities were nourished and encouraged and accepted just as they were. Both girls had friends and happy times and weren't in any way hampered by their shyness whilst in primary school.

My experience of Second Level has been slightly different though and it has been annoying me lately that my younger girl's shyness seems to be an issue, not for her but for the teachers.
There is a strange preconceived notion equating shyness with problematic behaviour. I don't want to misrepresent either because she's praised for academic achievement but the shyness comes up as a regular issue.  It is strange how it generates such a negative response and knowing my daughter very well (obviously!), it doesn't reflect who she really is at all.  She's creative and bright, has a wicked sense of humour, lots of friends and loves music.  She just doesn't feel comfortable putting herself forward but that's totally ok!

Being shy isn't a problem unless you really feel that it is hampering you and you want to change it.
I completely dispute the equation of shyness with lack of confidence.  Again, there is a societal vision of confidence as someone who is brash and 'out there', advertising themselves, speaking loudly, being the leader, etc. That person may be confident and happy but it's equally possible that they are not and wracked with self-doubt but putting on a 'face' for the world.

I've outgrown a lot of my shyness as I've gotten older but I'm still a very quiet person. I'm happy to listen rather than speak a lot of the time (I'm genuinely interested in other people), certain situations do make me a little uncomfortable, I don't particularly like loud places or loud people for that matter.
None of this means that I lack confidence - I'm actually super confident and happy with the person I am. I see the same confidence in my daughters, they have an inner quietude and resilience that I see all the time. My eldest is now doing amazingly well in Art College, loving the whole experience and she shines with confidence.

There is a prejudice against shyness that I feel is ill-judged and mistaken.  Shy people can be perceived as weak or snobby or sneaky even! A lot of this prejudice comes from people with little imagination or insight - these people like to fit everything into acceptable little boxes and if they can't make you out, they will put a negative spin on it.

Many times in my life people have made assumptions about me, based on my quiet nature. When I was younger, many people told me that they thought I was a snob until they got to know me. People have also seen my quietness as a kind of passivity. This one in particular is hilarious because I'm 'fight to the death' tenacious and determined when I feel strongly about something.

My eldest daughter has also come across a bad attitude to her shyness. She was in a drama group (she has a fabulous voice) full of super peppy stage school girls who wouldn't give her the time of day because she was a little bit different to them.
On another note, she also stunned everyone in her school when she played the lead in the Transition Year musical.  Despite being quiet in school, she stepped up there and sang her heart out, with not the least problem! I think quite a few people were astonished that she had been hiding her light under a bushel for so long :)

So my message for today is - if you are shy, it's OK!


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  • Unknown
    Unknown 11 March 2016 at 22:48

    Heres your sister!!! Painfully shy as a child. Still shy and a very quiet person which of course is why being online is good for me. Fab fab post Cliona! I knew you were shy when I met you!! ��������

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 11 March 2016 at 23:05

      Aw, thanks so much Mary!! I'm so glad you like it, I've been thinking about this for a while. Maybe we recognised something in each other although I would have thought you were far more outgoing than me :) Online is great for me too and being able to write is the perfect way for me to express myself, much easier than saying it!

  • Unknown
    Unknown 11 March 2016 at 23:41

    ... well you know the way us shy people learn a trick or two to appear 'normal' !!! One very positive thing i have developed from being shy is sensitivity to others.... I have super powers!! LOL ...

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 11 March 2016 at 23:58

      Yes, totally true, I have the same antennae!

  • Melanie Frost
    Melanie Frost 12 March 2016 at 22:42

    I have always been an extrovert but my hubby and kid are shy, so I try to see things from their perspective. It can be a little frustrating for me sometimes, and I end up doing a lot of things by myself because they just are not into being social. But as long as they also understand that I am different and have a need to get out and socialize, we have a mutual understanding.

  • Leslie
    Leslie 13 March 2016 at 04:08

    I use to be shy, not so much anymore. Haha, im pretty sure everyone wishes I was.

  • Unknown
    Unknown 13 March 2016 at 13:11

    I love this post because I am very shy and can relate. I agree with you that being shy doesn't mean lack of confidence as I am very confident and have great self esteem, I am just not a talker and would rather observe and listen than make sure everyone knows what I am thinking.

  • Unknown
    Unknown 13 March 2016 at 15:14

    I was not shy as a kid but now am a lot more quiet and keep to myself and would rather not be noticed. I think the environmental factors help dictate how we act in public. It's interesting how people can go both ways.

  • Suchi
    Suchi 13 March 2016 at 16:38

    This post is so real! I was never a shy person..but now I am lot quieter & like to keep to myself! :)

  • Eliz Frank
    Eliz Frank 13 March 2016 at 18:35

    Interesting isn't it ? People assume shy people are timid bores but that is far from the truth as the story you shared proves. Frankly, I'm a bit tired of all those oxygen depleting showboats. I was a shy child and I'm proud of that human quality. :)

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 13 March 2016 at 20:41

      Me too and we absolutely should be proud! :)

  • Karina Martinez
    Karina Martinez 14 March 2016 at 01:03

    I think in general people tend to think there is an ideal personality, and instructors, and sometimes even parents have a hard time accepting their child's innate personality and seeing that every personality type has strengths and weaknesses and rather than trying to change a person, it is best to focus on their strengths and watch them thrive. Specially with girls there are so many constant messages from the media, society, and pretty much everyone around that one thing or another is not good enough and I think it leads to low self-esteem.

  • Anosa
    Anosa 14 March 2016 at 11:14

    What a lovely post, I must admit I have never given much thought to shy people in that I don't see them as incapable I just view them how I want to be viewed:human and capable end of. Glad your daughters are flourishing and surprising those who want to categorise them or think them being shy problematic

  • Unknown
    Unknown 14 March 2016 at 11:53

    So glad you wrote this. I'm an introspective extravert and although I was the class clown I was a broken down little bird on the inside. Although my four year old is alot like me, she gets very very shy in social settings, peer groups and new environments. I've been freaking out for the last two years trying to help her ' change '. Then I only this week come to the conclusion that I could be making things worse by not accepting her as she is. So this morning I told her that I accept her when she's shy and always will no matter what, that there are loads of shy people and they all get on grand. I could see the relief in her face and although we were smiling my heart was breaking that I've been so blind during her crucial years. Anyway, then I get up and read this and just so thankful as you've reinforced this lesson I've been learning.

  • Unknown
    Unknown 15 March 2016 at 00:33

    So, I also have a shy child who also has anxiety. As you said society pins shyness as something being wrong with the person. Society wants everyone to conform to a certain way. Everyone is amazing just the way they are...So like you say no apologies!!

  • thesingleswan
    thesingleswan 17 March 2016 at 17:43

    It's interesting isn't it. People seem to think that shyness is something kids grow out of. I haven't. I am an introvert and come across as shy. I can modify my behaviour in some scenarios but I am who I am and I am proud of it.

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