Advice for shy people

You know when you encounter someone in your travels through life and it strikes you, for whatever reason, that you and this person could be friends. You can’t help thinking that you have things in common, you have a similar sense of humour, they like some of the things that you like.
Some of you will nod at this. Some will say “Yes. And so you go and say hello to that person.”
This is not a blog for you.
This is a blog for those of you who, upon imagining the above scenario, begin to panic slightly.

Shyness is like asthma. Some people grow out of it, and we all dream of that. But a lot of the time you just have to learn to deal with it as best you can. Lots of you probably don’t realise that I am, at heart, awfully shy. The fact that you might not have noticed is a testament to the fact that you can live a normal and happy life in spite of a crippling and irrational fear of normal things (like making friends).

Shyness (to mix my metaphors) is very much like flying.
It’s the art of learning to throw yourself at the ground…and miss.

The reason that shy people don’t do things, is simple. It’s the fear of failure. Of rejection. Of imagined, unknown (but undoubtedly awful) bad things. I’ve always imagined these situations as a cliff. The problem with jumping off cliffs (apart from it being a Very Bad Idea) is the risk of serious injury. You don’t know what horrendous pointy rocks lie in wait at the bottom, just itching to dash you out of every feature of humanity.

The trick, when jumping, is to distract yourself at the last moment. You have to fool yourself into not thinking about the rocks. Because if you do, you’re more likely to hit them. If you think about lost luggage or tulips then maybe you’ll miss. And before you know it you haven’t hit the ground. You’re in the air and you’re flying. And it is wonderful.
(Here’s another piece of advice- use less metaphors.)

I’ve got two main methods of missing the ground.
The first I call ‘Scribble and Thrust’. (Yes, it’s a horrible, vaguely sexual name. In fairness I christened it that when I was about 15.)
The idea of this method is to write down whatever it is you’re too afraid to say. You then fold the piece of paper quite small, write the recipients name on it and, at an opportune moment, thrust it at them. Then (and this part is very, very important) you run away and find a quiet corner to have a panic attack in.

All the major romantic moments of my high school career (well, both of them) were conducted via this method. Technology has moved in leaps and bounds since then and now Scribble and Thrust is almost TOO easy. You can tweet someone, post something to their Facebook, message them, text them. There’s a multitude of ways to trick yourself into social interaction.

Email is my preferred method of applying for things (espically jobs I’m drastically under-qualified for). I have a history of royally screwing up phone interviews. Besides, email somehow seems less risky. Its remarkably easy to carefully compose a missive that makes you seem adequately intelligent and charming, proof read it seven times and click send before the consequences panic sets in. Online is a perfectly acceptable way of tricking yourself into job type things. Just remember to click send. That’s the key step.

I also think its totally ok to find a potential friend on Facebook (even via elaborate stalking) and friend request them. When it comes to the kinds of people mentioned in the first paragraph, I think breaking the ice online is fine. Just make sure you follow it up by talking to them IRL.

My friend Lizzy in this excellent blog (highly recommended) disagrees with Scribble and Trust. I agree there is one pretty important exception. When it comes to romantic endeavours, it helps if you don’t run away. It also helps if you can, to quote John Green, USE YOUR WORDS (this video– also recommended). Sometimes though, that’s really hard.

DO NOT tell someone you like them via social media. Not being able to see their face will cause you way too much angst. Not worth it. I do, however, think its ok if sometimes you write it down. Write down what you want to say before you see them, when the idea of telling them is abstract and you can almost believe that you’ll do it. Don’t go overboard- remember they might actually read this. Keep it simple and to the point, avoid metaphors.
Now, take that piece of paper with you. Try (trying is very, very important, trying helps) to tell them with your words. But, if that fails, hand over the words you prepared earlier. While they read it, you will need to concentrate very, very hard on not running away. When they have finished reading there is a chance they will ask you some questions, likely because what you have written contains too many confusing metaphors. Be brave. Talk to them. It’s going to be ok.

The second method of tricking yourself doesn’t have a name. But it is this- agreeing to things really far in advance. If an event is occurring, say, three or more months into the future it is somehow easier to trick your brain into thinking its not a big deal. This method is the only reason I ever did work experience at Sideshow. Driven by that particular kind of blind ambition which can so easily be mistaken for masochistic tendencies, I agreed to this horrible big terrifying thing. By the time it was close enough for me to appreciate the full gravity of the situation, it was too late. I was committed. There was no going back.

This method isn’t very effective when it comes to social kinds of things. It would help if people planned parties much further in advance. That way you can agree to them long before you’ve made any alternate (usually television related) plans that can be used as a handy excuse.
What it does work for is adventures. If you plan and BOOK and COMMIT to an adventure while it still exists as a fantasy in your mind, you’ll be forced to follow through with the reality. Adventures are an excellent way to force yourself out of your comfort zone.
And leaping outside your comfort zone is basically the key to managing shyness.

To pick up the flying analogy again- every time you successfully miss the ground it gets easier. The next time, the moment of distraction is less complicated. The panic is a little less. Eventually you develop an exciting new section of your brain. This part of your brain can actually operate like a normal, confident, functional person. It can do things and plan things and organise things for you. It’ll still rely heavily on the methods you’ve established and your regular shy brain will continue to panic inwardly, but suddenly it’s a hell of a lot easier to get scary things done. Because the panic is sectioned off.

Good luck. You’ll be abseiling before you know it.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year