In humans, shyness (also called diffidence) is a social psychology term used to describe the feeling of apprehension, lack of confidence, or awkwardness experienced when a person is in proximity to, approaching, or being approached by other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people. Shyness may come from genetic traits, the environment in which a person is raised, or a combination of both. Some people with shyness have social anxiety problems or social phobia. But many people with shyness do not have these problems. Shyness may merely be a personality trait or can occur at certain stages of development in children1
So, yeah. I am sick and tired of people telling me that I'm not shy because I'm a tour guide, or because I speak a lot in class, or whatever reason they have that they think means I'm not shy. I am. Yeah, I can stand in front of a room of people and talk to them. Whatever. But the thought of going to a bar and talking to strangers ratchets my anxiety meter up to about a 9 (if a 10 is "panic attack" and 1 is perfectly chill and mellow). The people who question my shyness most frequently are people who've only ever seen me in situations where I'm comfortable, people who don't know me very well, and while I understand it, I get frustrated when people act like they know me better than I know myself and question my self-definition. It's even more frustrating when it's someone who should know me well enough to know that it's true (J, for example) but argues with me anyway.
Yes, I'm a tour guide, and I'm good at it. Because I know what I'm doing and I know what role I'm playing, and there's very little emotionally at risk. I hope they like me, but I'm not forming a relationship with those people, they're with me for whatever the length of time the tour is, and hopefully they laugh at my jokes and learn something interesting or useful in the time we spend together. But then they leave and I get a new batch. And if I had them for, say, a whole school year, I'd get to know them better, but that's not the case. I'm great in front of a group. But one-on-one? I get scared.
My father, who is also shy (if you ask my mother, at least), was a teacher for over 30 years and also the president of his union. People think that shyness means an inability to speak at all in public, an inability to communicate, an unwillingness to be the center of attention. But it doesn't, necessarily. Yes, it does for some people, but not always. And people frequently mistake the behavior of shy people for unfriendliness, aloofness, disinterest.
And for me, at least, I want desperately
to be involved in a lot of social situations. I want people to like me, I want to be invited to the bar or the movies or wherever my coworkers are going, I want it understood that I'm included. But I may not seem friendly or engaged because I'm holding back, observing, trying to figure out how to get involved. And also, keep in mind my nearly-paralyzing fear of failure, which makes it even harder to jump in with both feet, because what if they don't like me?
So, yeah. Tell me I'm not shy when you see me walking alone down the corridors of the Capitol instead of going out onto the West Terrace to see the concert, because it's noisy and there are people and I don't want to be alone out there in the crowd.2
Tell me I'm not shy when I can ask a coworker for a ride instead of accepting that I'll just have to walk 20 minutes home in the middle of the night when I take the metro. Tell me I'm not shy when I want nothing more than to participate in the conversation in the locker room but go sit on the couch with my book instead because I'm afraid I'm not welcome.
This, btw, is also why I have never and will never, as far as I can forsee, ever be the one to make the first move in a relationship. Maybe a little bit of flirtation, but that's all I've got. And flirting with people I'm not
interested in is much easier and occasionally more fun.
2. I should point out that one of the worst things for me is being out someplace crowded and social (a bar, the Mall on Independence Day, a shopping mall, etc) when I'm alone. I feel so overwhelmingly isolated and lonely that all I want is to finish my errand and go back home ASAP, where it's safe. People who can go to bars by themselves confuse me to no end, because to see people socialize and not actually be socializing? It's torment. And then, there's the anxiety that someone there might actually try to start talking to me, and I don't know why. I stop people on the street who look lost, and I'll make small talk with them as I escort them to their destination, but talking to a stranger just to talk to them is something I cannot grok.