Posted on 28th July 2020 at 10:32
I remember standing at the kindergarten pathway with my 2 sons. The eldest smiling and chatting away with fellow parents, the youngest clinging to my legs with his head fully submerged underneath my tunic.
Had you not known I had two children, you might have mistaken me for some kind of creature best kept in the world of Narnia; motherly torso, slightly stressed smile... 4 legs.
I want to tell you that I was totally chilled out having a “clingy” child. I want to tell you, that I slowly let his wings unfurl until he could make his own way into the world. However that would be a lie, and there is nothing to be gained from that. The truth is very different, I agonized over having the “shy” child. I created pits in my eye balls pouring over online articles promising the cure for shyness. I turned to my therapeutic bones and wondered what part of this was my history and could I own it enough to set him free - was it his horrendous birth, my PND, the moment I didn’t sit with my hand on his back for 2 minutes 36 seconds (I kid you not).
I literally wanted the cure for shyness - and I’m eternally greatful for the friend that pointed out to me “if he can only make you happy by being something other than himself - what does that mean ?”. Oh the out breath, oh the guilt, oh the relief.
What is it about “shy” that we fear, because we most certainly do. Like it or not, for the vast majority of shy people I meet - they will often crave being different, and for the most parents of said children - they will inevitably ask “how do I make them be more confident / friendly / out-worldly.
Let’s first turn to Wikipedia - that old fountain of knowledge. “Shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness especially when a person is around other people. This commonly occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people. Shyness can be a characteristic of people who have low self-esteem.”
I notice a desire to take a pen and scribble all over the computer - because in my experience of having worked with all sorts of personality types, shyness - when supported with reclaiming it’s treasures is anything but apprehensive and awkward.
The easiest way of describing a confidently shy person is to imagine a butterfly as it emerges from its cocoon. It unfurls slowly, delicately, it is aware of its own fragility and takes care and consideration. It stays, grounded, resting just by the cocoon from which it emerges, and observes the world from afar - learning, digesting and working out which way forward.
And then it unfurls it’s wings and joins the rainbows of the world - all those other myriads of personality types and is an equal part of creating the beauty of our natural world.
Why then, does even Wikipedia appropriate the words awkward, lack of comfort and low self-esteem to the personality type of “shy”?
I think for any person reading this who experiences a desire to unfurl in the world such as a butterfly, you will be able to answer that well, for years you have been put under pressure to talk more, talk clearer, smile more, do more, join groups, push yourself a bit, learn how to be more social. The pressure for you to emerge quickly and loudly is immense - I’m imagining someone attempting to do something equally obscure for me - perhaps the opposite - to ask me to be silent and quiet for an hour (I do believe I would explode internally).
Teachers, group leaders, play school workers will all write on forms “needs support with socializing”, yet when you ask them to explain, their support often looks like pushing the child into group activities, or engaging the child in parrot speeches “go and say hi to Jenny, now ask Jenny what her pet is called, now tell her what your pet is called”.
What a lot of pressure to be different, no wonder internally they begin to beat themselves up and develop low self-esteem.
In my time as a therapist, I consider it a gift to meet people that process the world different to me. It allows me to learn and to grow as a human being. What I learn most about people who experience the world quietly - is that they are profoundly deep thinkers. They are incredibly honest, and tender in their thoughts often holding onto conversations for weeks at a time and coming back to them when they v arrived at a conclusion I would never have found. In artwork, their ability to find colours that song alongside each other - is incredible; a talent that I’m sure comes from their quiet and concentrated appreciation of the world around them. I have learnt how our way of life is not conducive to being shy, brightly lit shopping malls and overly loud cinemas with every squashed in to their shoe box space. A shy person prefers the outdoors, - walking alongside a friend who is able to converse in silence (trust me it took me such a long time to learn that language)
A social butterfly is not the person chatting to each and every guest, that is the sheep dog. A social butterfly is the one that has learnt the true power of being shy, the observer who is able to listen, think deeply and offer their friends wisdom from the breadth of their wings.
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