She sits with her head down at all times in social situations. Her discomfort is visibly apparent from her demeanour. If she is asked a question she will continue to look down and be silent ignoring the question which she has actually heard but chooses not to respond. You can ask a few more questions and so very politely but she will continue to look down at her lap and be quiet. The silence is unnerving and irritating as she continues to maintain the posture of being ‘quiet as a mouse’. Her comfort zone is restricted to her parents and her elder sister whom she communicates to and through whom she communicates to the world. If she has to request the house maid to do some errand for her she tells her sister who then tells the maid! She however goes to college and is well educated. She writes poems and prose but does not show it to anyone. She is overwhelmingly shy!
Take another woman in her late thirties. She is a qualified and working professional and good in her trade. She has a problem of being tongue tied with her family members and her good friends. If her family hurts her or insults her or subjects her to misunderstandings and miscommunication, which happens often enough at home, she becomes numb and starts crying. She gets angry too and gets red in the face but suppresses her speech. If by mistake she loses control of her tongue and words fly out she feels burdened with guilt and shame. She is submissive at home with family and friends but not too much with strangers. She can manage strangers and their comments and answers them back but gets dumbstruck at home. It’s a reverse kind of shyness at home.
One gentleman refused his promotion consequently for three times and then it became embarrassing as his peers started raising their eyebrows and asking questions. He ran out of excuses that he was giving to his seniors and then decided to redeem him-self with counselling and therapy. Actually his wife pushed him towards it fortunately. The real reason was his acute anxiety and shyness in performing at a higher position. His contention was that the higher post requires a fair amount of leadership skills, such as, holding meetings, addressing staff at regular intervals, meetings and reporting to senior officers of the organisation, handling the grievances of staff members, solving their problems, fulfilling targets and being accountable and many such tasks. The job profile was scary for him and he was avoiding the post. He was a good conscientious worker and very reliable too in his limits of duty. He was unwilling to take on more and be proactive in his attitude. He was thus harming his own chances of rising up the ladder and becoming more accomplished. But he was helpless.
Most people who are shy are miserable about their condition. They do not like themselves as they begin to realise their weaknesses and shortcomings and suffer inside. The truth comes out starkly in social situations, such as, office gatherings, meetings, social and office parties, religious functions. They may be liked by many for being sober and sweet but are not popularly sought out. They are never in the limelight and may remain in behind the curtains doing all the work. If they are abnormally shy they may not be entrusted with work too.
An innocent child made a cute comment about his father- ‘my father behaves like a lion at home but acts like a mouse outside’! We knew where this observation was coming from although through the child’s mouth! His mother corroborated the fact that her husband was aggressive at home and docile in his office and with his seniors and peers!
This is loosely called ‘split assertive’. The individual could be assertive in one type of situation and submissive in another. Most jokes are made on ‘poor husbands being miserably submissive with their wives while being successful businessmen or executives’. It’s a myth we know. Some like the girl I mentioned in the beginning are submissive at all times and in all places except with her parents.
Shyness leads to submissive behaviour and does not allow you to communicate effectively. Shyness is based on the emotion of fear and anxiety and blocks your mind to say and do what you are required to actually do in that specific situation. A situation that generates fear or anxiety will inhibit your response systems and block your mind to act. There is a response generated inside the mind which does not find expression outside itself as it evokes an uncertain or specific fear. It is called the ‘flight response’. The person tends to take flight from the situation by keeping dumb and non-committal in spite of being physically present. The tendency is actually to run away to your cosy comforting corner, rather than face the situation, and since you cannot run away physically from the situation you keep mum. They may avoid confronting the situation at all costs instead of facing it.
Such fears and shy behaviour can be overcome with sincere efforts under a guided approach. They can be trained to control their high levels of fears and anxiety and then help them with the development of social skills. But, for those that are high in the scale of shyness, it is a herculean task indeed but necessary and worth the effort for good mental health.