Way to Go

Written in response to: Write about someone grappling with an insecurity.... view prompt

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Fiction Funny Coming of Age

She never liked getting up in front of a group of people, never wanted to go to parties or even casual get-togethers, despite the likelihood that she would know 99% of the attendees. She really tried to avoid them if she only knew the person inviting her.

She was in her mid-thirties, average height and weight, bright, sometimes participated in physical activities, and knew people she could hang around with if she felt like it. If.

Actually, she didn't care much for any sort of social occasion that involved over five persons. All the time she was there, in the audience or mingling (not that she knew how to mingle or even consciously did it) in a hall or bar, she was thinking about when it would be over, so she could put her coat on and dash out the door.

She was self-conscious, nervous, concerned about her clothes, bored, afraid. She was convinced her emotions were smeared all over her face, making her look like an abstract painting. No, worse than an abstract painting. At least art has an aesthetic; she was certain she looked like the muddy palette. She could never be a wallflower; her appearance was too raucous, she thought. She was out of place, out of her element, something to be noticed and commented upon.

Knowing that the others could and would see her true condition, she then felt extremely embarrassed. She was an adult, and adults weren't supposed to feel like that. Adults wouldn't bully or tease her, because they were grown-up. It was all in her mind, her pitiful, useless, infantile mind. Of that she was also convinced. It was better to stay home. Problem solved. Home also had the advantage of being bereft of asinine conversations. She liked home, a lot.

She was on her way to perfecting the stay-home syndrome when some thing or some body threw a monkey wrench into the works. They told her what her issue was, how she fit the profile, all the things she needed to know in order to manage her life with the condition she had. It was urgent. Her situation wasn't getting any better.

Her sense of insecurity went through the roof.

This was all because the people had determined that she was shy and had decided to let her know that they knew. The secret was out. That defect she had was the underlying cause of her behavior and how she felt about herself. When she heard this word pronounced - SHY - as if it were a lamentable, unfortunate affliction, she knew she should do some research on it in order to avoid aggravating things. She wanted to remain as healthy as possible, proper diet and all that.

Having some facts would be a good first step toward laying out a plan.

She thought she needed to find a good definition of this problem: Shyness is the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. Yes, that description fit her perfectly. Funny how nobody, until now, had ever accused her of being shy. They must have attributed her silence and withdrawal as something akin to awkwardness, which might or might not be the same thing. It's not cllear in this text.

She wondered if there were other symptoms of shyness, what made people with her same condition stand out (that would be so ironic): Severely shy people may have physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, a pounding heart or upset stomach; negative feelings about themselves; worries about how others view them; and a tendency to withdraw from social interactions. She didn't blush, but the sweating, most definitely, and heart pounding, too. They fit her perfectly. 

She must be shy. It was a diagnosis she'd never expected to hear. She heard her breath hitch...

The question was, how common was this disorder and was it genetic? Perhaps testing fetuses for shyness would help parents prepare for having a child with a disadvantage. There was also the fact that an additional lab test would provide somebody with some money. Lab tests aren't free, as we know. 

She wasn't thinking about the lab but about the seriousness of the disease or disorder or whatever it was. Yes, was it really cause for such concern? Was it so abnormal to feel bashful once in a blue moon? Luckily, the medical literature available to her on line, was slightly encouraging: Most people feel shy at least occasionally

Feeling encouraged did not last very long, nevertheless. She soon came across another warning from people whose business it was to know those things; i.e., psychologists. The, or some, psychologists felt that, as she read on the internet: Some people’s shyness is so intense, however, that it can keep them from interacting with others even when they want or need to— leading to problems in relationships and at work.

[All quotes adapted from Encyclopedia of Psychology ( https://www.apa.org/topics/shyness).]

She thought - hoped - that maybe she had only learned to be shy, might meant that she could potentially un-learn it. That turned out to be another short-loved hope, because the web with its endless store of information, also showed her a page with this: About 15 percent of infants are born with a tendency toward shyness. Research has shown biological differences in the brains of shy people. She would really have liked to know what those biological differences were. It sounded fishy.

Still and all, she could be doomed. Fifteen percent of the population was born with the limitation of shyness, science had affirmed. Limitation or disabilit, that condition called shyness? Fifteen percent is a pretty high percentage. It's like the proportion of female to male orange tabbies. Only fiften percent are female, the rest male. Well, have you seen how many orange female tabbies there are around? Lots of them. 

So she could be in the fifteen percent that were burdened with shyness DNA. The thought of her entrapment in that group almost brought her to desperation.

Fortunately, she trudged on, the keys clicking softly on her MacBook Pro, and found that: ... a propensity for shyness also is influenced by social experiences. It’s believed that most shy children develop shyness because of interactions with parents. Back she went to the optimistic idea that shyness too could be overcome, would not stand in the way of living a healthy life.

Parents who are authoritarian or overprotective can cause their children to be shy... True, her parents had been extraordinarily strict and kept her tied to both apron strings and leather belt. Their way was THE way. 

She knew now that this, her, childhood had set her up to be shy. Set her up? Had condemned her was more like it. Could she ever escape?

Schools, neighborhoods, communities, and culture... shape a child... She could think of nothing related to where she had grown up and had attended school that might have shaped her in a different direction. At least she didn't remember anything that might have saved her, helped her turn her life around. Not her parents. Not her teachers. Almost no friends.

There was also, she quickly fread because it was the next sentence on the screen, a very profound observation. The observation was simple: Children with shy parents may emulate that behavior. Not her case. Not her case at all. No shy parents in her family. What is so original about children either imitating their parents or doingg everything opposite what their parents do? Children either are copycats of their parents or push their parents out of their lives. She sould be shy if that's what she felt like doing.

In adults, highly critical work environments and public humiliation can lead to shyness. This seemed to be applicable to her, but then in this culture people were always competitive. That included being critical and belittling the competitors. The fact is, not many people can escape this in their work environments. It's everywhere. What does this mean when a researcher is trying to analyze the amount and effects of shyness? Is it really such a devastating disease or have the data been skewed?

[Above pyschological evaluatios are adapted from https://www.healthline.com/health/shyness#causes]

Now soomebody gives what could be considered a warning:

Read on, sister, because there's more and you might be cruisin' for a bruisin'... it might be too late for you. The medical authorities, some of them anyway, warn us that Sometimes, shy children aren’t diagnosed and treated. Unlike many other emotional disorders, shyness often doesn’t result in a child causing problems. Frequently, there are no tantrums or aggressive behavior to raise red flags and encourage treatment.

She now felt her shoulders slump. She hadn't been a bad child, hadn't ever thrown a tantrum or screamed at the top of her lungs. She had never liked noise. So she must have pretty much always been shy? She was being told to correct this part of her personality because...?

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, anxiety — which is more than shyness — affects approximately 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 in the United States.

Suddenly it was all quite clear: A behavioral style that was once just that - a style (and not a disorder or a syndrome) - generated no revenue for anybody. It required no medical visits, no treatment in the form of pharmaceuticals, no exaggerated physical effort. Being shy just was, or wasn't, part of a person's style, nothing more. 

Nowadays, things had changed. There were more professionals who need to make a living treating or teaching people. She was appalled at the idea, but there it was. According to contemporary standards, he most likely needed medical intervention, and fast. Treatment was long overdue. Her PCP was not going to be happy with her.

The bad part was also not over, because she read on and discovered that, apparently: Overcoming extreme shyness can be essential for the development of healthy self-esteem. Ah, yes, she thought, the spoiled little not-even-close-to-rich kids with no self-esteem whatsoever, who swear and punch when they don't get their way. They need to be told they're smart and the world owes them a living. Less discipline and more me! me! me! Individual me! Most important me!

Shyness can result in difficulties at school and difficulties forming relationships. Was it even necessary to state this? Everybody knows you can't make friends without meeting people. But who wants to go out and stop people in stores and on the streets? Saying, hi, who are you? Are you somebody too? (Apologies to Emily.)

Well, there was more to read (the internet was immennse) and she thought additional information might shed some light on the topic.

Psychotherapy can help children cope with shyness. They can be taught social skills, how to be aware of their shyness, and ways to understand when their shyness is the result of irrational thinking.

She was confused. Was psychotherapy different from teaching social skills? Or by teaching social skills and awareness of their shyness to children, the teachers were acting as psychotherapists? She didn't think so. Bringing in a psychotherapist was definitely going to cost somebody a pretty penny. In any event, it seemed to her that the teaching of social skillls was not done at home any more. Psychotherapy was also a lucrative career.

One question remained, however: How did the leap from shyness to irrational thinking transpire? What part of being irrational was related to being shy? Was it really good to be talking to children about things being irrational? How close to crazy was that to them? Too close.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can help children and adults cope with anxiety, which may underlie shyness. She realized she had just progressed further along the shyness odyssey to have encountered the need for either a wellness coach, a hypnotist, or a yoga instructor. Relaxation techniques. With or without crystals and low lights? The most unnerving part of this sentence for her, though, is the possibility that anxiety might underlie shyness. Which seemed to mean that a person has anxiety first, then is or becomes shy.

So shyness is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't? It's a curse, a burden, a cross to bear? An abnormality of the brain, a disaster in public, a plague, a virus... Shyness is evil and must be stamped out. If we need a silver stake to drive through its heart, so be it...

Group therapy can also be helpful in children and adults experiencing shyness. Who does group therapy? She had no idea. Is this an out-of-school event for children? She figured it had to be extracurricular. Do shy adults really go to anti-shyness groups like this? How much does a group session cost and how many sessions are needed? She figured the cost was something to keep in mind at all times. Somebody was getting paid for organizing those things.

At least the informmation-gathering was almost over. She had found enough to convince herself of a few things. First, though, she had two bits of information left from her search. First:

There are effective treatments for adults with anxiety who have difficult completing daily activities. However, severe anxiety often goes untreated.

Meaning that shyness is to blame when a person doesn't finish his or her work? Or that anxiety is to blame? Apparently, there was treatment for anxiety, but first it had to be obvious that anxiety was the culprit in a person's behavior. What if the person making a diagnosis confused shyness with anxiety? Would that be dangerous? Simply stated, this all tells me nothing.

Second:

In rare instances, medication can provide temporary relief for shyness

She was quite happy to find this at the end of her medical jaunt, because it mean that there was a treatment out there for her. Whether she was born afflicted with it and suffered numerous setbacks in her life on account of it, or whether she learned it as a child, she could down some pills or get injections for the temporary relief she so needed.

On the other hand, it had not occurred to her that she could just go back where there caring bullies had proclaimed her as shy, that she appreciated the compliment and would be happy to instruct them in the workings of a kinder, gentler, world.

October 09, 2021 02:35

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2 comments

Deidra Lovegren
15:19 Oct 10, 2021

Lovely treatise of the power of reserved people. :) This reminds me of Michele Connolly's book "How To Be An Introvert In An Extrovert World" and Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." Most relatable line: Home also had the advantage of being bereft of asinine conversations. So...at the risk of being annoying: Any chance you'd like to discuss your work and your writer's journey on a laidback little podcast? This is what happens when a Floridian and an Australian decide they like talking to up-and-c...

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Kathleen March
16:18 Oct 10, 2021

Thank you for your comments and positivity. I am camera- and audio-shy, but would be happy to contribute something. Also, my e mail is kmarch@maine.edu

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