Lets face it, today’s world is one for extroverts, show offs and loud speakers. The ever accessible social media and reality TV are all geared up for self promotion ensuring that at every turn, there is a place you can put yourself front and centre for all to see. It is creating a social shift, a place where the confident reign and those lacking are left behind, pushed out of the way by those super confident, jazz handed, all round performers, tap dancing us out of the way!
In my opinion, being shy has now become a problem, a forgotten personality trait, something that people who don’t struggle with confidence do not understand and consequently do not know how to deal with, leading to us (when I say us I mean my fellow introverts!) being labelled as boring, quiet, sensitive, rude, fragile even, overlooked and ultimately unseen.
Many of us who suffer from shyness don’t stay quiet through choice, it is the constant voice in our head telling us to hold back, that we have nothing valid to say, the fear of going bright red, of people laughing, of being dismissed and ultimately battling the demons in your head that run through every nightmare scenario before actually speaking. Now you are probably thinking this sounds pretty melodramatic especially if you don’t identify with the shy end of the spectrum, but I can assure you, although I am prone to overthinking, this is not an over exaggeration!
Personally, I have generally not had a great relationship with my shyness, however I am starting to learn to appreciate that it is not all bad and being shy does not necessarily go hand in hand with lacking in confidence but for me I had both, which is why I think I gave the shy part of me a hard time. Shyness is no doubt part of who I am, part of me kind of likes the shy part, the person who waits and watches before making a decision, who can listen and take time to think before responding, the person who remains slightly aloof (or as I like to call it mysterious and interesting!). The other part of me does not get on with my shyness – the person who goes bright red whenever she feels uncomfortable, who constantly tells herself she is not good enough or can’t do that, the person who stays in her lane, follows the crowd and blends in.
I have confused shyness and confidence for many years, my confidence levels taking a battering because my shyness came out blushing. I can’t tell you how hard it is to keep going when you feel like your every feeling is scorched onto your burning face – and if someone points out that you are going red – it feels like you could burst into flames on the spot!!
As the world was getting more and more confident, I felt I was being left behind.
What’s the point of this insight into the mind of me and my shy, I hear you ask – well, I want people to know that despite our best efforts at hiding, shy people are worth the effort and sometimes we need to be seen, (ignore the blush!), believe me most of the time we do want to be involved. Yes, I know we may require a bit more out of the box thinking, patience and in some cases hand holding than lots of other people but don’t give up on us as we truly do have just as much to offer, we just don’t quite believe it yet. That’s the thing about being shy, sometimes you need someone to show a bit of faith in you, to enable you to start believing and having faith in yourself.
Now I am not dissing those confident people out there, I envy them, it is something I have strived for most of my life but felt I have struggled to pull off – the curse of a blush giving me away at every turn, seriously I know I go on about it but being fair skinned has not helped my cause! For years I have looked on in awe at those people who seemingly find it easy to walk into a room full of strangers, to stand up and speak in front of others and offer their opinion with a self assured smile. The thing is I know, with hindsight, that those people probably have their own struggles going on however, when we look at others, we only see what we want to see, especially if it is something we desperately want. I have come to understand that confidence is an asset, not something you either have or you don’t – you can start off with nothing, as I did through my school years and early adulthood but you can acquire it, as I have done in recent years, through knowledge, situations and experience.
To all you shy people out there, stop beating yourself up about it – you are amazing! You don’t fall short. And to all you confident people out there, give the quiet one a helping hand every now and again, lead the way and share your confidence! Confidence can be infectious and there is more than enough in the world to go round!
Now as I am sure you can appreciate, this blog is about version 20, I have lost count as it has taken a little while for me to get right, thank you cut and paste! Anyway, in my original version I included quite a lot of information about my shyness journey and how it affected me at various points of my life. When I read it back it sounded very much like I am looking for sympathy, I am not – I just wanted to share some of my story to show that your feelings are your feelings and need to be acknowledged whatever your situation. For years, I would think to myself, ‘there are so many more people out there who have been through many more traumatic events than me’ and it made me dismiss my feelings as not valid which was why I think I brushed everything under the carpet and tried to plaster a smile on my face. After all – what have I got to be sad about?
Anyway, this is not a sob story and I have tried to give you the shortened version, however I warn you writing this blog was quite cathartic for me and once I started typing it was difficult to stop! That was your waning, feel free to stop reading now if you have had enough of me already! I would, however, be grateful if you could indulge this shy person who has decided it is time to put herself out there and move forward and give it a read with an open heart and mind.
Perhaps one of the first things you should know about me is that I am an identical twin. Being a twin can be pretty amazing, however it is only now in my adult years that I can appreciate it for what it is – a lifelong friend who knows me inside and out, someone who accepts me for me, who doesn’t judge, who listens and offers advice with honesty. I would definitely say we have a bond. However it was not always this way, growing up as a twin, sounds really fun and for the most part it was but it did have it drawbacks. From the word go you are constantly compared, because we looked so alike everyone expects you to be the same, when you are not it inevitably draws comments, comments that subconsciously chip away at your confidence. ‘Am I not good enough because I am not like my twin?’, ‘She is so much better than me.’ and ‘I wish I could be more like that.’ were the thoughts that churned in my head from a young age. I am sure my sister would be horrified reading this as I would be if she said the same about me as I know none of this is true but when you are a shy child who lacks confidence, growing up in a world where there is someone that looks exactly like you doing the things you desperately want to do, it does not take much to see the worst in yourself.
Another thing about being a twin is that you always have the comfort of having someone with you so I don’t think I ever got the chance to build my confidence on my own, leading me to struggle with going into new situations alone and always needing somebody there, in some ways it leads to a messed up sense of self and individuality, at least for me anyway, as you never truly know what it is like to go it alone.
Moving on, school was Ok for me, I had a solid small group of friends and tended to gravitate to the more confident, allowing me to safely hide in the background and get through my school years pretty much unscathed. Hanging round confident people made me feel like my confidence had improved however when faced with the make your own way as an adult world, I realised I was still that shy school girl desperately trying to fit in. Outwardly I was functioning in everyday life but inwardly I was still doubting myself at every turn, worrying what other people think, struggling with any form of decision making and just generally overthinking pretty much everything! I hid all this behind a smile and hoped no one would notice, pretty much functioning on autopilot.
My parents moved to France when I was 18, something that both helped and hindered my confidence. I was propelled into the world of adulthood of independence, bills, rent, food shopping and working perhaps a little earlier than I was ready for – however it forced me to address some confidence issues and I began to find my feet, I still lacked faith in myself but everyday tasks and work became easier. I got married young, I think this stemmed from my need to always have someone around, although I am happy to say we are still together today and Lee has been and still is one of the biggest positive influences in my life with his unwavering support and love.
I became a new mum at 25 and motherhood is something that did not come easy for me. I had a traumatic birth and first few days/weeks with Dominic and what little self confidence I had plummeted, I immediately felt anxious, worried and totally lost. Those first few months were a rough ride, having a baby was supposed to be magical, there should be an instant bond shouldn’t there? For me, in those very early days, I am sad to say it just was not there. I had completely lost my sense of everything and was just trying to get through the day, hoping that no one would notice what a rubbish mother I was.
In hindsight, I am pretty sure I was suffering some form of post natal depression but my bottle it up and carry on attitude took over and I buried everything and tried to move forward – I would not recommend doing this!! Even now I still feel an enormous amount of guilt for those early days of Dominic’s life as I am convinced I have had an impact on the lack of confidence that has become part of Dominic’s personality today.
Dominics early years were a lonely period for me as none of my friends had babies, Lee was at work all day so I was often on my own for long periods, he could not understand how relieved I was to see him when he came home from work! I tried to make the effort to go to mums groups, but found them really daunting, however instead of celebrating the fact that I found the courage to go, I would beat myself up and call myself a failure for not being more confident especially if I hadn’t really struck up a conversation with anyone. Thankfully I did manage to meet some mums along the way and in all honesty, it was this support and revelations from these other mums that made me feel like I was normal and less on my own and as a result my confidence started to grow and I started to trust my instincts and I am relieved to say so did my bond with Dominic. I went back to work part time when Dominic was 6 months old, which if I am honest was a relief. It was a chance to be me again to feel confident in what I was doing, at home I felt lost, lonely and questioned myself at every turn. Work actually helped me overcome those feelings, my confidence slowly started to grow even more and I began to settle into motherhood. The years passed and I began to find my feet, don’t get me wrong, I still had lots of doubts along the way but being friends with other mums gave me the support that made me feel not so alone, which really made all the difference.
I know I don’t mention Erin my second child much so far, her early years were much more enjoyable (sorry Dom!). I had found my feet with motherhood by then and felt much more confident in all of it, from pregnancy and labour to feeding and sleepless nights – maybe it is because your second child had to fit in with the life you have already created with your first or maybe I had just grown more comfortable with the knowledge and role of being a mum – I knew what I was doing this time, well as much as any of us do! Whatever the reason – I was not so much of a mess second time round!!
Now remember how I mentioned that Dominig struggled with confidence? He was always a shy child, he needed the reassurance of someone being there, sounds familiar right? When he went to school he struggled to communicate with the teachers resulting in him generally being left to stay quiet, the teachers just did not know how to deal with him. He wasn’t naughty, he was popular with his peer group, he just could not contribute, speak up or form any sort of relationship with his teachers. Consequently when he left primary, I was told they didn’t really know him at all, he had not progressed and he would struggle at secondary. I honestly have never felt more of a useless mother than I did at that moment, I felt like I had failed my son. Of course this was my lack of confidence demon rearing its ugly head again, something I had obviously passed on to Dom. I had in fact been working on trying to improve Dom’s confidence ever since he started school and he had actually come a long way and made great progress outside of school, it was just not translating in the classroom yet. Progress for someone who suffers from shyness and confidence issues looks a little bit different from those that don’t , so much so that some people don’t see it at all. You may need to look a bit closer, the steps may be smaller but this should not take away from the achievements made.
It was after the awful school report I had for Dom that I realised I needed to do more to help him, the best way I could think of to do that was for us to help each other and work on our confidence skills together as a family, hence our regular family conversations were born and I can honestly say this has made such a difference to all of us.
You remember a few paragraphs ago when I said this was going to be a summary!! Thanks for sticking with me, turns out I am no good at summarising!
Anyway, our regular family meetings have provided us with a place to just be a family, without the pressures of everyday life creeping in. A platform where we can share how we feel, support each other, have fun, discuss problems, offer advice, celebrate and be proud of what is unique about us as individuals and as a family.
Now don’t get me wrong, this has not been an easy process and we still have a long way to go but each time we have a family conversation, we make a small dent in that journey and we all know small steps add up! There are times when our conversations don’t flow at all, (cue awkward silences), but there are also times where we talk for ages (insert applause here), the good definitely outweighs the bad and as you know because I like to say it a lot, the more you talk, the easier it gets!
Look, I am no expert in families, I am just a mum who wanted to help herself and her family believe in themselves, to find the confidence to be proud of who they are and give us all the skills to tackle life head on and I found a way that works for us. One that is so simple that I wanted to share. All I will say is that family conversations work, they provide an opportunity to stay connected as a family and encourage a culture of openness, something that is vitally important as your children grow and your relationships change. Talking about how we feel is a skill that is never too late to learn and can have a massive impact on your confidence at any age – helping us all to understand and support each other better, no matter how confident or shy we are.
It is often said that parents are one of the biggest influences on their children, which I completely agree with but I would add that our children also have the ability to influence us as adults too. Spending regular time together as a family is a chance to grow those influences and learn from each other in a fun and supportive environment encouraging everyone to support one another and work together to be the best version of themselves. Being in a family is to be part of something special – nurture your family and watch everyone grow. (Sorry, you know I love my flowery language!). Look no family is perfect, if you struggle in some areas, talk about it and work together to look for solutions. In my experience, people don’t often realise the impact their actions have on others but by opening up conversations, it can lead to change. It won’t happen overnight but you will get there!
Overall, what I am trying to say is that let’s stop hiding – (introverts that you guys) and apologising for being who we are – (that goes for everyone). If you start valuing yourself, the labels we give ourselves blur until you just become you.
How do we start valuing ourselves I hear you ask, well in my opinion conversations with your family is a great place to start. By introducing and addressing subjects such as confidence, self worth and empathy in your conversations you can provide a solid base of support and understanding for you and your family leading to positive self image, increased self belief, confidence and the ability to help each other. I know you must be thinking that this seems a lot to achieve from a conversation and it would be in just one conversation but if you make talking as a family a regular part of your family routine, the conversations will add up to something amazing and you will see the changes come. Small talk makes a big difference.
Right, I think you have heard just about enough from me, thank you for getting this far just time for me to say why not get your family together and see where the conversations take you?