“Close your eyes and imagine the best version of you possible. That’s who you really are. Let go of any part of you that doesn’t believe it.” -C. Assaad
Ever since I was a little kid, I was always considered shy.
I remember sitting in class and being absolutely terrified that the teacher was going to call on me because I didn’t want to speak in front of everyone. When the teacher inevitably did, I would turn beet red and struggle to get the words out.
I used to get all clammy when the guy I liked was anywhere near me. If he tried to talk to me, forget it. I instantaneously turned into a bright red puddle of sweat. I recall one time in particular, I was in history class and the guy I had a crush on was sitting at the desk next to me. The teacher was talking to me and the guy about snowboarding. The teacher (who knew I snowboarded from a previous conversation) proceeded to ask me what brand of snowboard I had. This seemingly simple question threw me into a complete panic. I suddenly could not remember the brand for the life of me. I started stammering, something that I had never done before. I kept saying, “It’s a….um…it’s just like a….umm…it’s a…” over and over and over. It was painful. We were all uncomfortable. I don’t know why I didn’t just say “I forget,” but apparently that would have been too easy. I was burning up, my face was the color of a tomato, and beads of sweat were forming around my hairline. The teacher finally said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, you can tell me another time.” I wanted to jump out of my skin.
People would always joke, “Katie, stop talking so much!” I would laugh it off, but inside it really bothered me.
Being shy quickly became a part of my identity. I embraced it. Other people embraced it. It just became a part of me.
I always had a few really good, close friends. It would take me a few months, but I’d eventually be able to open up to these friends and let out my natural goofy weirdness. But to everyone else, I was a borderline mute. Any time I was surrounded by people I didn’t know well, I would seize up, unable to speak.
This behavior didn’t stop at childhood. It followed me all the way through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. It’s not hard to see now that alcohol was like a panacea to my shyness problem. All I had to do was drink this liquid and I could skip over all the small talk, anxiety, sweating, worrying, questioning, calculated sentences, cautious sideways glances at everyone around me, and jump right into a conversation with a stranger like it was nothing.
Obviously, this was not a good solution, although it sure did seem like it at the time.
The crazy thing is, I never questioned my “shyness problem” until a few days ago. It was so engrained as a part of me that I just let it be, accepting that it’s just how I am.
But in a random burst of awareness, I asked myself: “Am I shy?”
How do we know what’s our natural personality and what’s baggage masquerading as personality?
Did I just have an experience in childhood where someone called me shy and that was that? I just assumed it as my identity?
The more I thought about it, the more I started to think that this shyness thing was a load of crap. Shyness is just a definition I gave to myself and something that other people gave me, but it was my decision to accept it. It’s simply a belief system. If we define ourselves as shy, then naturally we are going to remain shy.
The thing is, it’s not who we, it’s just who we think we are.
It’s a script. A pattern. A conditioned habit. It’s just a setting that we’ve returned to time and time again, so much so that it became the default.
However, just like anything else, this is something we can change.
While I think I’ll always be more on the introverted side, I do want to get to the root of my social anxiety because it’s something that holds me back from experiencing the most out of life.
My strategy for challenging this self-proclaimed part of me is the same way I approach anything I want to change.
I go towards what I fear.
I bet that if I went to a party every night for 100 days, by that 100th day, I’d be a million times more comfortable than I was on that first day. We simply need to recondition ourselves. To teach our brains that what we thought was scary and dangerous, isn’t actually scary and dangerous. By gradually exposing ourselves to social situations, while taking a stance of empowerment, we begin to develop new neural pathways. We teach our brains that these situations are okay, and slowly, over time, our confidence and comfort grows.
Just remember, this is your life. Don’t let anyone give you a label. Don’t give yourself a label if you don’t like it.
It’s never too late to change your mind.