Prompted entirely by a post on a great site I have discovered (www.mymidlifemayhem.wordpress.com) I have been thinking about something which gets in the way of quite large parts of my life and the lives of a great many other people; shyness.
On that blog I mentioned that I feel that shyness may be the most prevalent and overlooked disabling mental issue of our society. I'm not suggesting that it's a mental illness; apart from the unwelcome stigma that goes with the term 'mental illness', I think that to use that label would detract from the seriously debilitating nature of other more fundamental afflictions. But an affliction it surely is; what else should we call a widespread mental process which is characterized by an aversion to social interaction or gregarious behaviour?
I'll use myself as the example - basically because I only know for sure what is true for myself. Here is what 'shy' means for me;
- Meeting new people is stressful.
- Talking on the telephone causes me anxiety.
- Answering an unexpected knock at the door is often difficult.
- Describing myself objectively to another person is extremely hard.
- Much of my life is lived playing a role I am uncomfortable within.
These are just a few of the features of my shyness. Frankly, there are times when it absolutely sucks, because I would prefer to be more gregarious than I naturally am - I think I would get more out of life that way. Here's an example of how it affects me; a friend of mine - whom I have known for almost ten years now - has offered me an open invitation to share a sporting activity which she enjoys. I also enjoy the same activity and I think I might have a flair for it. The problem I have is my shyness. I am very reluctant to take up her offer, not because I don't enjoy her company or because I won't enjoy the activity, but because it will involve being introduced to as number of people I have never met before. It will involve me trying something as a beginner in front of other people, and the fear of failure and rejection is a major obstacle.
It is, you see, at the heart of my particular shyness; this fear of failing, of being negatively judged and of not being 'good enough'. I don't know if this is what other 'shy' people experience; any or all of them, but it's deep seated in my psyche. I'd like to pry it out and kick it down the road. I think all shy folks would prefer not to be in their particular cage.
Yes, shyness is a problem for so many millions - if not billions of people, and often an unseen one. I am partly to blame for this, because most of the people who know me on a friendly basis would laugh out loud at the suggestion that I am shy. People I have worked alongside for years would be most surprised to hear of this aspect of my character. This is because they don't know. I don't show them that side of me.
I think that most of us, to differing extents, live lives which involve role-playing. Often these are described as 'hats'; "Oh I see you've got your work hat on!" and such like. Some people's hats are small, some are large and some, like one or two of mine, are full-body condoms.
I list some of my former jobs as police officer (!), teacher (!) and regional manager. All of these involve excesses of confidence and outgoing behaviour. So what do I do? I play the role - effectively stepping out of my shyness patterns to 'become' a different person in order to succeed. I have to admit that it works, but there is an emotional cost; it's tiring and it can be very stressful when the pressure rises. One result is that I am very much a confidence-based performer; if I am succeeding the world is a great place; if things aren't going to plan, I struggle to be at my best.
Blogging is a relatively safe way to have a voice (although not completely so); I can have my say without being interrupted, hit 'publish' and metaphorically run away...