Coyness is nice, but coyness can hurt you..
February 7, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I"m still struggling with shyness and anxiety as an adult -- and I'm not for therapy. I think I can overcome, as I seem to have two personalities, it's a matter of making one of them stick. How can I just stay in the right one, and make the other one never come back (or limit how much it does)

I was shy yet naturally confident as a kid. I think that's the key point.. that I always felt this natural confidence or strength. I came from a family who were pretty social, lots of older sisters. I was the youngest bro.

So I feel like I really have two sides. You could say one's extroverted, social, secure, the other's not. It's kinda a day by day thing now. Before, it used to be year long phases. Now I wake up not knowing if I'm going to be social me or shy/anxious me. That's what's preventing me from making new friends, cause I don't trust myself. I might be social that first month I meet them, but turn in a matter of minutes to shy, triggered by some event or situation.

That's the thing. When I'm social.. sure I'm not exactly a butterfly, but I hold my own. I'll meet cool interesting people, I know lot of people who are really socially active, who go to parties and events, people in the entertainment biz. I grew up near LA but now I live in Santa Monica where being comfortably social is pretty much expected from you. It is tough here.

But when I turn shy, it becomes crippling shy. That's the issue. It makes me totally avoid people and lose friends. But they never know why. I generally hang with the 20's/30's crowd, where it seems this stuff *should* be common but it doesn't seem so. I can go online and feel like I have plenty of company, yet in the real world, I do feel as if I'm the only person on the planet experiencing this.

Yet I think as long as I can hold on to that thread holding my social side together, I can be fine. I just don't know how to make it consistent.. to make it last. The shy side keeps coming back and killing my social life. Any advice?????? Thanks.. much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, you are not the only person on the planet experiencing this. I have a vested interest in the notion (harebrained as it may seem) that no one, ever, is the only one on the planet experiencing anything in particular. You are always in company, albeit unknown to you in the present moment.

That you say you wake up to a surprise as to which--extro/intro--vert you will be that day, well, I will agree that is odd. Not necessarily in a bad way. Many people suffer depression because every day they wake up and everything's the same. Could you maybe reframe your experience of these (sometimes/perhaps/ always unwanted) shifts and changes in your perspective as a kind of adventure into being yourself?

Please know, I am no self-help advocate, guru-acolyte or even a failed scientologist. I am a laywoman to the max. I am just thinking on the keyboard as it were on your behalf.

Once upon a time I was so shy that if my fifth grade teacher spoke my name aloud I blushed scarlet/crimson or whatever. Now I have no problem talking to complete/total strangers in elevators and waiting rooms. People like to be acknowledged/recognized/answered/seen. It's probably some biological thing that will be verified 25 years from now after some expensive research.

Let yourself be. And maybe tell your friends, when you are feeling effusive, "Sometimes, I get kind of weird and retreat, it's just this thing I do. It doesn't mean I don't want to still know you."

You might be surprised (and pleased and enchanted, even) to find how understanding others can and most of the time want to be.
posted by emhutchinson at 7:49 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you suffering from shyness or a lack of confidence? Because they're different.

Lack of confidence happens to me, weirdly, when I'm a bit hung over or didn't get enough sleep. When I'm shy, it's different - It's like I'm too close to my own behavior to be able to observe it realistically or observe other people's reaction to me, and if I can take a mental step away from myself and observe my interactions with others detachedly, it helps.

Also, sometimes I just get too much input from the world and have to withdraw. It's not shyness or lack of confidence, just sensory overload. Maybe you're like this and you can plan for some alone time so that you can save your outgoingness for when it counts. There is nothing wrong with being like this.
posted by zinfandel at 9:47 PM on February 7, 2009

The way I understand it, a personality is a set of ways of acting, responding and making decisions (conscious and unconscious). It is not as much a thing as a dynamic, most personalities rely on certain kinds of responses from others, and there are cycles and feedback loops where people can bring out the best (or worst) in each other. I am sure anyone who has been in an intimate relationship has experienced this.

It is not at all unusual to see things and respond to them differently from one day to the next, there is nothing pathological about this. As far as I am concerned you are better off if rather than reducing the number of "personalities" you have, you increase them. Expand the number of alternatives you see for yourself. Most people (myself included), have certain activities or behaviors blocked off, set as off limits, for no practical purpose other than preserving a fleeting sense of identity. Go ahead and try some harmless but "off limits" things.

It is appropriately enough probably the very fear of the shy behaviors coming back to sabotage things that causes the shyness to happen. The larger the repertoire of alternate ways to respond to something that you can learn, the easier it is to jump out of a harmful one. The shyness can be subverted, it will be painful, and maybe even embarrassing, you may even make mistakes and regret them, but I assure you that being a fool in front of friends is better than not being a fool in front of no friends.

Try practicing with "single serving friends". Make conversation on a bus or airplane with someone you know you won't ever see again. Try different ways of interacting, if you fumble badly, you have lost only the fleeting respect of a stranger who most likely won't remember you after next week. Of course be polite about the fact that many people would rather read or nap etc. but you will find plenty of people at an airport on layover who won't mind having a friendship that lasts only two hours.
posted by idiopath at 9:50 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's important to understand the distinction between being extroverted and introverted. Neither necessarily defines how you act in social situations. It's how those social situations affect you.

When you're extroverted, you're energized by interacting with people. Social interaction gives you a boost, and that's why extroverts seek those situations out. Introverts can still be the life of the party when they're out, but they need that time alone to recharge. They can often find social interactions exhausting. Extroverts are less likely to be shy, but that's probably just because they tend to be around people more often.

I'm fairly similar to you, in some ways, I think. I can really enjoy myself when I'm out, but I often feel like I'm putting on a bit of an act. I'm naturally more comfortable alone, so when I'm out I have to give myself a mental push to stay engaged in the situation. I need that time alone, though, and if I find myself in a social situation when I need that recharge, I sometimes have a hard time putting on the act and am often seen as unsocial, shy, and overwhelmed. The idea of socializing when I'm in this state can definitely cause me to become anxious about going out.

I may be way off the mark here, but if your situation is anything like this, I've found that the way you mentally approach being social can help a lot. I used to think of these situations as intrusions on my alone time, which makes you dread them and resent being out. I now try to think of being around people as being the norm, and my alone time as being cherished moments between. It sounds a little silly, but the mental switch actually helps me a lot.

Although, if you find yourself really anxious a lot of the time, you might want to see a doctor. Anxiety disorder can be fairly serious and can be overcome with drugs/therapy.
posted by Relic at 10:27 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

You dont have two personalities. What is most likely happening is that you act a certain way when your anxiety is kicking in. How to observe and control you triggers isnt simple. Controlling and overcoming anxiety disorder takes a long time. You can start with a self-help book like the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook or Feeling Good. If you have no progress then yes, you need therapy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:50 PM on February 7, 2009

This might not be anything you relate to, but this "I have two personalities" thing feels to me like someone about to cross over into accepting all sides of him/herself but not quite there yet. With your 450 words, I have a tiny view into what's going on with you, but my instinct from that is that in a few years, you'll be in a better place. (I feel like a fortune cookie here; vague but well-wishing; good luck.) More practically, everyone here says good things about the Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, so if you think social anxiety is part of your issue, that's a place to start working on it.
posted by salvia at 12:25 AM on February 8, 2009

I don't know if it's as bad as what you're dealing with, but I also feel as though I'm two different people sometimes - the bright, funny, friendly person I am when I'm comfortable, and the shy, frightened, quiet person I am when I'm nervous. All I've found that has helped so far is just really pushing myself in the shy moments. I know what's happening and I know that this isn't how it has to be. You and I are both capable of more, we've both done it before, we've experienced it, just for some weird reason we're having trouble now.

Another thing that helps is if I say something dumb or trip a little or whatever it is that might trigger my shyness in an already nervous-making situation, I just tell myself "1 in 10, Shaun uh!", on the theory that even the most socially adept people can only say the perfect thing 9/10s of the time.
posted by shaun uh at 10:58 AM on February 8, 2009

Maybe you just need more time alone. That's not wrong, even in Santa Monica.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:07 PM on February 9, 2009

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