Once again, I failed to introduce myself to someone. I’m 27 years old — by now I should have mastered the incredibly complicated art of walking up to someone visiting my own church group and simply saying, “Hi, I’m Marissa. Welcome. What’s your name?”
It would probably come out more as a squeaky “Hi” followed by awkward silence as I frantically tried to come up with words resembling normal small talk.
*sigh* So much for INFJs being “the most extroverted introvert.” Perhaps some INFJs are, but I’m not. I’m shy. I thought it was getting better, but apparently I still need more work battling my social anxiety.
Introversion is healthy for introverts. Shyness … not so much
Despite Google’s antiquated definition of introvert as “a shy, reticent person,” shyness and introversion are far from the same thing. “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments” (quote from “Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does It Matter)?” by Susan Cain). Shyness produces anxiety in social situations, while introversion means you lose energy when around other people. The traits often go together, but extroverts can also be shy.
Introverts who aren’t shy still prefer the inner world of thoughts and ideas to the outer world of people and things, but they’re capable of socializing and even enjoy it. Extroverts who are shy want to spend their time in the outer world, but they’re scared of people.
One of the most genuinely friendly extroverted women I know was once shy. For her, the turning point from shy to social was when she realized her fear of talking was rooted in self-focus. It was about “I’m scared to talk with people,” or “Socializing makes me nervous,” or “What if they don’t like me?”
My shyness is selfish. And it’s made me rude
Now, I know you can’t just snap out of social anxiety (which is an extreme form of shyness) by thinking of it as selfish. That’s just going to lead to feeling guilty about something that’s a real struggle. But perhaps shifting the focus away from how our fears make us feel is a first-step to overcoming the type of nervous shyness that makes it hard to meet people.
Confession time: I can walk up and talk with people who are older than me. I can introduce myself to other young women. But when I try to start a conversation with a guy close to my age? I’m still just as awkward as I was 10 years ago as a shy teenager. Maybe this is why I say I like extroverted men — they’re the only ones I’m likely to meet because they’ll introduce themselves and keep conversations moving long enough for me to get comfortable talking with them.
But there’s no reason I can’t be the “extrovert” in the conversation by starting a dialogue. I’m an introvert, and that means I know how to talk with introverts. As an INFJ, I also have the Harmony/Extroverted Feeling function as a key part of my personality. I should be able to make other people who aren’t likely to start a conversation comfortable talking. (Side note: Harmony is the mental process that Personality Hacker suggests INFJs focus on developing for personal growth. No wonder it’s so hard — growth involves moving out of your comfort zone.)
We need to root-out falsehoods fueling our shyness
This past Sabbath after coming home from church, it really hit me that I’d done something wrong. Not by being shy, but in letting it control me and even using it as an excuse to be rude. Because that’s what it was when two young men visited my church and I didn’t even say “Hi” as we were standing next to each other in the potluck food line.
I think the root of my shyness lies in beliefs about myself which are (I hope) false:
- I can’t keep an interesting conversation going
- I’m taking up time they’d rather spend with someone else
- People are constantly judging me and thinking I’m weird
- If I let them know the “real me” they won’t like me
- Guys I introduce myself to think I’m “after them” and try to get away
These thoughts are all focused on how I negatively perceive myself (and therefore assume others will perceive me). They have been reinforced by some people, but those incidents are much rarer than my anxiety wants me to think. I need to love and accept myself, then get over focusing on myself, if I want to bring my best and most friendly self into meeting new people.
Usually when I think of selfishness I think about people who obnoxiously insist life’s all about them. But I’ve done that exact same thing in a quiet way. Even though I’m shy instead of arrogant, the focus has been on how I feel and how I think others look at me. I know I would be a better conversationalist if I focused more on how I can make the other person’s day better than on how awkward I feel starting a conversation.
Let’s go be friendly
I’ve had glimpses of what it’s like to feel confident when meeting people, but it’s far more rare than it should be. I believe it’s time to let go of all that worry about how others will see me and just be genuine while focusing on getting to know the other person. And I hope you can join me in that.
I don’t mean to make this a “you should feel guilty about your selfish shyness” type of thing. I’m shy; I know what it’s like. I know we’re not trying to be shy and it feels like something you can’t help. But I also know I don’t want to feel crippled by my insecurities. If taking my eyes off myself and setting them on loving the people around me (in a non-romantic sense) will help, then that’s what I want to do. Actually, that’s what good people do, not just ones trying to overcome shyness.
Will I suddenly stop being shy or self-focused just because I wrote this blog post? I doubt it. But I hope I’ll remember this next time I second-guess whether or not to be friendly. I hope I’ll walk across the room, smile, and say “Hi.”