How Do I Know if I'm Shy
June 5, 2012 7:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I know if I'm shy?

I was super shy as a kid and when I went to college, pretty much challenged myself to get over it. Check out this popular comment of mine to see the details of that.

So I went through the last 12 years or so feeling pretty sure that I'd kicked the shyness. I'd consider myself extroverted and I like to talk to new people. I'm not the loudest person in a room, but I'm far from a wallflower. I add new friends to my circle every few months ago, mostly through work or meeting friends of friends socially.

However, I've gotten some feedback lately that some people thought I was shy when I first met them, just a body language thing they said. Also, someone who knew me way back when I was a kid made a comment on Facebook that I'm still shy. I said I didn't think I was -- she said I am still shy.

In that particular case, I don't always consider that person well meaning, like I would others who might have said their first impression is that I'm shy. She might mean well, but we have such a long history with lots of sisterly fighting and plus, she remembered me as a shy kid (well we were both shy kids) and hasn't shaken that.

Anyway, it bothers me that I might still somehow come across as shy and have had no idea all this time, whether it's to people who've known me well or new impressions. How can I figure this out? I know it's hard to tell without knowing me in person but what characteristics do shy people put across that they may not realize?

I'm mostly interested in help with this because I think it might be hurting me career wise or with dating, and also because i might be keeping people from getting to know me closely. I don't need help making new friends, I'm ok with that!
posted by sweetkid to Human Relations (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you afraid of meeting people? No? You're not shy.

You're probably still an introvert, which is not the same thing. But I think either one could induce "go away, don't wanna talk" body language at times. That might be what they're picking up.

And/or people who knew you way back may be determined to see you now as they've always believed you were. That happens too.
posted by eritain at 8:03 PM on June 5, 2012

Response by poster: if the definition of introvert we're going with is being exhausted by interaction by others, rather than energized by it, I'm definitely not an introvert.
posted by sweetkid at 8:05 PM on June 5, 2012

Yeah, my experience of shyness is a social anxiety thing. You don't sound anxious, shy or introverted.

Things that might come across as shy: "closed" or defensive body language, minimal eye contact, low voice, and/or not being as talkative as the people around you.
posted by moira at 8:08 PM on June 5, 2012

Best answer: I think of shyness as a state of being within yourself. So, if you don't feel shy, you aren't. But you are clearly asking about why people perceive you as shy. A few things that might seem that way:
* Making eye contact with people and then not immediately engaging them
* Body posture or language that is not inviting, do you cross your arms? Stand with your legs crossed or feet turned sideways to the person you are meeting? Bowed head or soft tone?
* Do you keep a lot of topics off limits when you talk? Are you reluctant to share stories that touch you closely?

To be honest, my reaction is that you are probably fine, but if you think there might be work or dating implications you should think about what those are specifically and devise strategies to note and address those situations. General concern about being shy isn't going to be as much help at this point, but you could practice things like more quickly networking, or going on more dates than you otherwise would, etc.
posted by meinvt at 8:21 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes other people are assholes, so there's always that.

I'd put more faith in how you feel rather than what other people tell you you are. Often, people either see you/want to see you how they've always seen you or are doing it for somewhat nefarious reasons.
posted by mleigh at 8:22 PM on June 5, 2012

Best answer: I am a shy person who reads as very outgoing. When it comes down to it and I actually have to talk to someone or talk about something I'm not 100% confident about, I just want to run away and hide.

But people are generally really surprised when I tell them that I'm shy. I'm very friendly, I make eye contact, smile a lot, say hello and good morning and all that good superficial stuff. I also do things that engage others in a very public way (I did oral interp/speech/extemporaneous speaking all through middle and high school, I used to give tours at a museum, I'm going to be leading a troop of Girl Scouts (no family connections, just a bunch of little strangers) soon, etc), except only in situations where I'm pretty confident that I know more about the subject or have practiced it or have the upper hand in some way. I remember that comment you made a while back, and like you, I work pretty hard at not being shy. I'm still not very good at the normal human interaction and socialization stuff, though.

Anyway, to get to the point, because I'm apparently pretty good at pretending, I tend to pick up on Shy Person signals other people throw down. Here are the things that indicate, to me (and I realize some of them are more just personality things), that a person is shy or lacks confidence:

-No or little eye contact. Or eye contact that only lasts for a second or two at a time before darting back down to their hands or drink or whatever.

-Hunched shoulders/bad posture.

-Boring hairstyle and/or clothes. (This one may seem like an odd indicator, but there's generally a correlation between folks who don't like to look like they stand out and folks who don't want to stand out period.)

-No smiling, or only thin, closed-mouth smiles that don't show your teeth.

-Restricted movements instead of bolder gestures.

-Asking questions (and this one directly counters what you mentioned in your comment) like where I'm from or what I do for a living. These always (to me) seem like filler material for people who are uncomfortable socially. (I know this because I am a person who is often uncomfortable socially, and it's often tempting to ask things like this (i.e. questions that the other person will have answers to in hopes of creating a low-pressure back and forth) when there is dead space in the conversation.)

Somewhat related but not especially: something I've taken to in the last several years in order to try to be more sociable/normal is to compliment random folks when the mood strikes. I do this in the style of "I really like those [glasses, haircut, shoes, etc]! They really suit you!" It's genuine, makes people feel good about themselves, and makes me feel a liiiittle less awkward about social interactions in general.
posted by phunniemee at 8:22 PM on June 5, 2012 [15 favorites]

Do you say hello first when you encounter a casual friend or aquaintance? Do you stick out your hand for a friendly handshake and say hello, how's it going? Or, do you wait for the person to say hi first?

How about if you're in a grocery store and you recognize somebody you met or used to know a long time ago, do you make eye contact and say hello?

If you told the sandwich maker whole wheat and they start making your sandwich with white, do you speak up or let it go?
posted by Fairchild at 8:25 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Shy" is one of those words that everyone defines to suit their own taste, so it doesn't mean much if someone insists on calling you shy, other than that they probably have an axe to grind. And some people think shyness is absolutely charming, so even if you were shy, by whatever definition, that would be a good thing as much as a bad thing.
posted by bricoleur at 9:32 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As the above poster said, "Shy" is really a vague word. In Japanese, we have another word for "shy" where it signifies being timid only in the beginning. There are "shy" people who are always reluctant to share their opinions and feelings because they don't want to be forward, or there are "shy" people who experience strong anxiety around people because they just simple don't feel comfortable. Some people seem "shy" when they are insecure and self conscious. I think the question is, what kind of shyness do you not want to project? It's important to note that I think most of us are always a little uncomfortable when meeting new people. It's only natural, and it's actually dangerous and a little ignorant if you were 100% comfortable. But that doesn't mean you can't express yourself properly, and if you feel like you are expressing yourself as you wish even if you are a little nervous, then I don't see any problem, and other people's labels shouldn't really matter, let alone trying to define whether you are "Shy" or not.
posted by snufkin5 at 9:17 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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