When we were children, adults excused shyness as an endearment of youth. Many of us, as we got older, confused shyness with humility. Older yet, many now perceive it as feebleness, weakness, unfriendliness, social discomfort, or unsocial behavior.
Across the church alter of my youth appeared the quote, “The meek shall inherit the Earth.” This quote may be true, but it certainly never got me anything. I remember thinking that it must have been yet another bad translation!
For so many years, I was haunted by my shyness. There would be a girl or a situation I desired, but taking the first assertive step was nearly impossible. An invisible force, so daunting as to not go unheeded, would grip my entire being, leaving me stunned like a victim poisoned by a spider’s venom, incapable of movement.
This inclemency I knew all too well. What was this monster’s origin? Was it the stern judgment of a father, the harsh cruelties of adolescence, the self-doubt branding from a previous failure?
In what seems like another lifetime, back in grade school, I was completely entranced by a lovely girl in pigtails. I was incapable of doing anything but demurely smile at her because I was just too damn shy to say anything. My confused shyness would cause me so much anger. Why was I in the current of such a mean and oppressive deluge? I had NO SAY in the matter regardless of a need to reach out, connect, live my life. What was this inhibition, this self-imposed separateness, this insurmountable wall?
Was this shyness my believing in all those harsh criticisms? Was it a fear of reliving the rejection I had known all too well?! Or, the fear of not being able to live up to my end of an implied contract? Was it my fear of experiencing a closeness with another human being that I could only imagine? Perhaps all of these?
Then came a time when I had become so sick of being held back by this force. I had decided to tackle it head on and slay this beast face-to-face. My first conclusion: I needed to have more self-confidence. But why did I also see myself as unworthy? I had only chosen to see my imperfections, my harsh self-judgments. Although I could tell that there were girls who found me attractive, I didn’t allow myself to recognize their sentiments. Why?
Confidence was the first issue that needed addressing. How could I translate the confidence that I had on the ball field and band room into confidence with meeting girls? I figured that a residual benefit of becoming more accomplished would be a growing confidence as a person. In high school, I lifted weights until I became strong enough to be elected captain of the wrestling team, both junior and senior years. I also had a growing passion for playing the sax and was pretty good at it. I paid my college tuition and expenses by playing professionally. I even ended up playing with some famous bands and making a living at it!
Yes, my confidence had certainly increased over the years. Attractive girls were, let’s just say, less daunting. I eventually realized that being adored was not the same as being loved. I had confidence where I had earned accomplishment, but unknown to others, I had become even more isolated and lonely. Away from the stage, I still didn’t have the ability just to walk up to a girl whom I found attractive and engage in conversation. Further, if I had a feeling that this was someone I’d like to get to know even deeper, to ask out on a date even, I would forgo the opportunity.
Looking back at photos of myself, from the shyest years, I see such a handsome young man, filled with brightness! Why couldn’t I see this in the mirror? If only I knew then what I know now!
Yes, having a confidence from one’s abilities and accomplishments does not always translate into other aspects of personality. It doesn’t necessarily help with one’s personal relationships and social skill. So I decided to tackle this reformulated issue with a different strategy.
To deal with why I felt separate from people, I began studying various Eastern philosophies and religions. How could anyone be unconnected if they saw themselves as ONE with their universe? I studied various concepts and teachings of ego and self. Was it my ego that was causing the shyness? But, breaking down barriers and losing “self” didn’t work for me. These were mental constructs that wouldn’t penetrate into the emotional layers of my consciousness. What I thought I needed was to have a more clarified and useful understanding of who I was, where I was, and where I wanted to be.
But, how could this be? I’ve had the courage to leap into a road, saving a little boy chasing his loose ball into the street. To swim out into rough waters to save a drowning man; to disable a barroom maniac who had just punched his girlfriend and broken the bouncer’s nose.
Alas, this was a different kind of courage. I didn’t even have time to think about these actions, having originated from some natural reflex. There wasn’t time to reflect and ponder before acting. In contrast, to approach a beautiful woman and initiate conversation? This action takes some forethought. Right? There’s plenty of time to talk oneself out of something like this.
Today, there’s a glut of hero films. Many of these attempt to define what a hero is. The notion of a person being afraid yet going forward regardless has become a pop culture cliche. What is courage without having to look fear in the eyes?
Over the years, I’ve learned that fear and pain are very similar. Usually, it’s the running from fear or the avoidance of pain which causes us to perceive these as more considerable than they are. Sometimes, what appears to be reality is nothing but a misperception.
It was time to face this dragon once again. When my fear would well up, I would try to walk into it, through it. Over time, the fear would mitigate. I gradually became more at ease in situations that would have, in the past, caused so much anxiety.
When I allow myself to go into the pain of feeling a loss and feel it, the pain dispels. The sadness and pain of losing a loved one never do go away, but becomes manageable.
I’ve found that this concept can also apply to actual physical pain and discomfort. I have nerve damage in my left leg that can sometimes become unbearable. When I allow myself to focus on it and feel it completely, it inexplicably disappears. The mind is a powerful thing! If you don’t believe it, then try it sometime…hopefully, you won’t have to in the near future.
If I could get shyness under control, you can too. Face those fears. Go as far as you can. Try to go a little further each time.
On the topic of dating women, someone once said that it doesn’t matter what YOU want, it’s the woman who chooses. Yes, I think that’s right. But, you still have to make the first move! In the end, you select each other. So if it’s meant to be, then it will work out for you. If not, better to know right in the beginning.
Eventually, you may learn to experience the dating ritual or dance as a natural activity. Have fun. Be yourself. Lighten up. BREATHE! (Yes, breathe. When most of us get nervous, we hold our breath. Play some blitz chess, and you’ll see what I mean.) Learn to be comfortable with who you are.
Some New Yorkers get over their general discomfort with people by simply just not caring what other people think. We have a saying,”It’s none of my business what people think of me.” Within a socially responsible context, this can be helpful, to a point. But, if taken as a license for rude, discourteous, or disrespectful behavior, it is detrimental.
Yes, again, learn who you are and become comfortable within your skin. There’s no need to send to the dating scene, as Chris Rock put it,”your representative.” Send your Real self. If it works out, she’ll eventually see the real you, regardless. Save yourself some time. (Take this pearl from a twice married man.) If you don’t like who you are right now, then become a better person. Good luck!