I don't know if I've been shy my entire life. I certainly have been called shy enough that I have developed a complex. When I was younger, teachers called me shy. The other kids didn't call me that because "freak" and "weirdo" just rolled off the tongue so much easier. When I was in kindergarten my parents told me that the teacher was concerned about my shyness, that I was too shy to speak up in class. I tried to tell my parents that I was not too shy; I just had already learned how to read, write, and do math, so I was busy daydreaming about witches instead of paying attention in class.
The fact that my teacher expressed "concern" surprised me. I had no idea shyness was a negative quality. I had been raised by very polite people that believed in public a "good child" was synonymous with a "quiet child." I am quiet; I like listening and reading and daydreaming and being in my own imaginary world. I am also a very sensitive person to both my own feelings and that of others. I cry so often I should move to California to help with the drought. I am reserved partially because I am protecting my feelings from getting hurt. I like all of these qualities about myself and I don't believe they stem from a lack of strength or confidence. I think I was always introverted, but my social phobia developed more gradually.
I know I've been using the word "shy" a lot, but that word has a special significance for me. Shyness is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness especially when a person is in proximity to other people. I definitely identify with that definition now, as an adult. I'm uncomfortable, especially in groups of men. I don't like going out to open mics where I know there will be large groups of comedians judging me negatively. Whether or not it is imagined, I sense an immense amount of hatred shooting from they eyes of many male comedians when I quietly sit down and read or write in my notebook before an open mic.
Because of my reservedness I have been called cold, off putting, intimidating, rude, distant, aloof and stuck up. A lot of people tell me they were intimidated to meet me because I am closed off. This raises a conflict for me. I don't want to be closed off from others. I think of myself as a kind loving person, and I'd love to seem open enough that people can talk to me because I like being nice to people. This is endlessly frustrating, because I don't want to inadvertently be an asshole to someone just because I'm awkward and uncomfortable.
However, several times (probably upwards of a hundred times) when I've been even slightly comfortable around straight men, they take that as an invitation to profess their romantic feelings at me. Because, why would a woman be sweet if not to lure them into the snare of her vagina? Then when I very coldly and factually tell them that I am not interested, they get angry. Sometimes they never hit on me, but just attack me for my political or social beliefs and try to make me admit I'm wrong for my strong feminist ways. This in turn makes me even more reserved and protective of my feelings around men.
Subsequently it takes me about a year to warm up to any straight cisgendered man. Did I mention I'm an aspiring comedian, so I work in a male dominated community filled with unchecked delusions of artistic genius and entitlement?
My shyness around women however, is more of the stereotypical nervousness and awkwardness around someone you respect and don't want to view you as an idiot. Sometimes I'm comfortable right away around a woman. Sometimes, I'm timid at first when I don't know her that well. That timidity usually fades quickly after a few chats with her. In a select few cases over my life, the shyness has worsened around certain people the MORE I got to know them, because they lash out at me or bully me. As aforementioned, I'm sensitive to my own feelings and that of others and this leads to heightened anxiety when I feel that anyone in a group (not just me) is uncomfortable. My fear is irrational, but I am still very timid around some people in some situations.
For me shyness is like comic books: because I have a lot of issues.
My social anxiety and social phobia has arisen almost as a learned trait subtly throughout the course of my life. I'm 27 years old, and I hesitate to leave my house sometimes to go out to shows and parties (though it's technically for my career) because I feel apprehensive about discomfort. Sometimes I catch myself quietly standing near other comedians, struggling to break into their conversation, not to take it over, but just to listen.
Friends say things like, "Barbara why are you so afraid of people? People love you." That's not really how fears, even social fears work. You wouldn't be like, "Barbara why are you afraid of bears? Bears love you. Bears love the taste of your organs. Bears love scraping open your soft malleable flesh."
A few years ago my social phobia was very bad. I felt unwanted in any social situation, and worried that I ruined any conversation simply by speaking. I was scared to be around others. I felt constantly guilty and uncomfortable speaking. That feeling of immense anxiety is impermanent, and faded once I surrounded myself with good friends who loved me and made some better choices with therapy. Sometimes the intensity of the phobia will resurface, but I know it will go away with time and work.
Perhaps my shyness stems from low self worth, from guilt for taking up space. Why bother talking at all when I'm clearly not the most interesting person here? Maybe I'm afraid to speak in social situations because I'm terrified of criticism, which comes from my overly critical perception of myself.
For the most part my social anxiety and shyness are under control. I greatly enjoy my alone time. I don't feel guilty for hermitting up some nights with a good book or tv show. It is still hard being in groups around people and worrying that they hate me. Depression and anxiety feed into my shyness, and my shyness can make me more anxious, but I’m coping with my issues and doing everything I can.