I have this recurring dream. I’m in Oz. My friends are a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, a dog, and a little girl named Dorothy. I’m a lion and I’m desperately searching for courage.
Then I wake up and realise I’m not a lion. Of course I’m not. But I could do with a good dose of courage sometimes.
For I’m what you might describe as a shy person.
Shyness affects people in different ways; from general apprehension and lack of comfort, through to full on social phobia and anxiety.
I find shyness fascinating and terrifying in equal measure. Fascinating because of its power over people and because of the traits it inspires others to believe you hold. For example, that you are quiet, unassertive, indecisive and unconfident. When in actual fact you often find many inspiring people are the quietly confident ones who do things in a measured way. And on the other end of the scale you have the very loud, seemingly extrovert people who hide their shyness so much that they almost convince themselves it doesn’t affect them. And I even find myself surprised when I meet somebody one might consider to be loud/dominant/“in your face”, only for them to disclose to me that they are actually very shy.
My shyness has always been in my makeup but it became amplified and escalated into low self-esteem and social awkwardness when puberty hit as an early teen. Life at that age is tough enough, and then adding shyness to the mix makes it just that little bit harder. Harder to make friends, harder to make yourself heard, and harder to find confidence and believe in yourself.
Fortunately, over the years I have learned to manage my shyness, to “come out of my shell”, to hide it, and to make my quiet, sometimes reserved nature work for me. In my work people view me as quietly confident. In my personal life I find comfort in spending time with family and close friends and I rarely venture out to make new ones. I’m in my comfort zone and I like it here.
Except it isn’t always good to live in your comfort zone. And there is a part of me, a part of everybody perhaps, that needs to be stretched and challenged.
I had my first child in 2012 and my second just before Christmas in 2013, so they are still pretty tot-like, completely chaotic and very lovable all at the same time. Personality-wise, my daughter (eldest) is a little more reserved on first meeting somebody than my son, who is indifferent to new and scary situations.
I see myself in my daughter and I see the shyness I have grown up with since I was a child. If somebody told me that becoming a parent would completely expose that shyness and low self-esteem I thought I hid so well, I would have sneered smugly and said “Yeah, right” (or something a bit cooler than the phrase of choice in the 90’s).
I thought the zone I had set up for myself was strong enough to hold. But you can never account for change, for unpredictability, and for the chaos of the world of children.
I find myself now increasingly feeling less and less sure of myself in parenting situations, with an internal dialogue along the lines of “You did that wrong”, “You aren’t as good as Parent X”, “See, everybody is watching you mess that up”, and “Look, even the kids can see through you”.
It seems so silly that years of constructing the coping mechanisms can count for almost nothing as it feels like those mechanisms are slowly crumbling.
We often hear about famous people who are or have been shy, for example, Richard Branson, Kristen Stewart, Lady Gaga, and it brings us comfort that we are not alone. But maybe we need even more shyness champions and more parenting ones? Shyness manifests itself in me by way of self-doubt and self-doubt loves being attached to a parent. What better person to convince they’re getting it wrong than a parent?
I wonder how my shy trait will affect my children. Will they inherit this? Will they learn this from me, even if I think I am hiding it? Will they believe me less because I’m not always the loud, openly decisive one in the room? Or will they just accept me as I am?
Who knows? I watch this space to see how it will pan out and I hope to find a new mechanism to put my shyness back in its box, and to learn to manage it in an increasingly un-predictive world for me as a new parent. And I hope I continue to meet other shy people and shy parents, to remind me that I am not alone.