Shyness, a definition as well as others for the sake of comparison:
Shy – 1. bashful, retiring 2. easily frightened away 3. Suspicious, distrustful, or wary. 4. Reluctant
Selfish – Devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others. Egocentric.
Selfless – having little concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc., unselfish. Altruistic, humanitarian.
I fall into parts of each of these definitions, which I would wager many folks do.
Shyness and It’s Complications
Internalizing my true thoughts about what is going on around me is what I have always done. Although less so these days, I still engage in this kind of retiring behavior. When acting out my shyness I am examining and reflecting my observations and experiences without directly dealing with judgement from others. I can sit with my own thoughts, become angry, frustrated, jealous, happy, amazed and then set them free without retribution.
Cloaking myself in a shield of “shyness” for years, I sought protection from outside scrutiny. What others think is a constant hovering cloud. To a much lesser degree these days, but nonetheless, present.
When looking at the definition of shyness, this behavior could be described as “being easily frightened” away by the judgements of others. Essentially avoiding conflict.
Having always been wary or distrustful of others and their motives would explain why getting close to anyone has been difficult at best. I am one of those people who does not have friends I have known, been close to and loved since grade school. The wariness of others, early on, led to my obsession with being self reliant and often alone as I got older.
We have all experienced being stabbed in the back. And as a hypersensitive being, those are events one does not forget easily. Most of the backstabbing comes from people who did not give me the time of day or chose their own narrow minded perspective. Or worse, basing those perspectives on false information. This is one of the main drawbacks with being shy. The shield intended to protect me, but left me open to judgement anyway because of my silence.
Selflessness and Protecting the True Self
When digging deeper into some long held beliefs, I realize that my shyness essentially shields me from my true self. In addition, I have figured out that what I am doing in my shyness is not only protecting myself, but protecting the feelings of others. Which sounds a lot like selflessness; a concern for others at the expense of my own truth.
This is an all too common behavior among women, especially. Carrying the burden of culturally induced female expectations and doing it with a forced smile. Pretending everything is hunky-dory by retreating into the business of being who we are suppose to be, which is anything but our true selves.
This is where a great deal of my anger manifests. Suppressing what is true in order to keep the peace creates a deep and weighted resentment deep within my subconscious. I have been holding on to a great deal of that anger from childhood. Which still rears it’s ugly head on occasion.
Shyness Includes Self Centeredness
Being the oldest of the four siblings, there was little time to be by myself. As my parents were tending to the needs of the younger members of the family. I was often left to my own devices when I could take care of myself. Pretty normal for kids growing up in the 60’s.
I can openly admit now that I was never an active participant in the lives of my siblings. Yes, I was expected to babysit when I was a teenager, if needed, but I was that one sibling that preferred to be left alone. My preference had nothing to do with not caring for my siblings, it’s just that I was in my head more than I wasn’t.
Once puberty hit, I was often labeled the moody, emotional one of the family. I rarely smiled, always angry at something.
As I come to terms with my youth, I realize now that I was not so much a moody b**ch, as lost, not knowing who I was or wanted to be. Being left alone was a way to figure it out. My siblings always seemed pretty carefree, had lots of friends and got along with almost everybody. That was not my modus operandi. I tried, but was uncomfortable in my own skin. So anger was the response and self centeredness was the prominent behavior.
Via reading and writing I discovered that shyness at its core is indeed self centeredness. Which most of society deems selfish. I disagree, unequivocally. Not with the fact that shyness is being self centered, but that being self centered is somehow selfish. That wanting to know yourself, be in your own skin, love yourself or even just like yourself, is somehow wrong.
This assessment offends me.
The Excess of Selfish and Selfless
Of course there are extremes to being selfish, just as there are when one is selfless. Narcissists on one end and martyrs on the other. Moderation within that spectrum is vital.
I am not even close to either of those ends, placing myself in the middle most days.
When I am moving toward the narcissistic side of selfishness, I am listening to my ego as opposed to my own solid intuition. But as with most things in life, it is important to go where we maybe should not in order to recognize our limitations or boundaries. Remembering that our actions influence others, directly and indirectly. There are collateral disturbances with almost everything we do (some good, some not).
In order to help others (selfless) we need to begin by helping ourselves (selfish).
Being Shy, Serious and Okay
I remember sitting on a park bench once, contemplating the river. I was on a break from work or school. A guy came up to me and asked if I was okay. Why?, I said. “You’re not smiling”, he stated.
Seriously? I remember that brief but indelible encounter to this day and it was 30 plus years ago. That engagement made me angry on so many levels. I was enjoying a moment of silence in nature. What does smiling have to do with anything?
Like many women, I grow weary of the labels; difficult, emotional, moody, high maintenance, or too passionate. These descriptions linger over me simply because I choose to be serious at times or more authentic which may be too direct for some. A smile is not included in the exchange.
I laugh plenty when there are things to laugh about. Often laughing at myself. The importance of laughing is not lost on me and hearing the laughter of others brings me joy. When meditating while walking or going about my daily routine, smiling or cheerful behavior is not necessarily part of the equation. Smiling does not indicate my well being or anyone else’s for that matter.
Being agreeable with a smile on your face is a cultural expectation among women. In the most basic sense, it can often mean shut up, be still, smile, no one wants to hear what you have to say. I know this sounds pre 1950’s, but the assumption still lurks beneath the surface of many an encounter.
A smile or cheerful disposition can often hide what is really going on inside of us all, especially if we are doing it to please or appease. Think about the class clown or office prankster and why they are vying for that kind of attention? Or the sweet, quiet, always polite student whom no one really knows, but say hi to everyday. We all know them or are them.
Looking into someone’s eyes is a better indicator of how they are doing. Its a deeper more authentic manner of knowing a person’s state of mind.
Traversing the Shy, Selfish and Selfless Spectrum
So how is it wrong to become more true to yourself? Is it really selfish or self-centered? If it is, is that so wrong? How else are we going to come to terms with who we are, if we rely only on the perspectives, opinions and criticisms of others who do not occupy our minds or bodies? How else can we help others if we have not a clue how to help ourselves. When we act and speak our truth, it may be painful for others at first. But that pain will subside as we learn and began to understand the truths about who we are without 24/7 analysis.
Fortunately this where my life as an artist continues to save me. I have found ways to expel most of those resentments and anger through my work in the studio and my writing. Taking my inner thoughts and making them visual allows me to let them go. Surprisingly, the work I create does not appear angry. It may appear mysterious and moody, but my imagery does not slap you in the face with rage. My subconscious seems to work through these feelings using nuance and subtlety.
Admittedly, there are times it can be a heavy and tiring daily slog. Anger has many different levels of delivery and exposure.
“Sometimes, simply by sitting, the soul collects wisdom.” Zen Proverb
Image: Gentle Existence, acrylic, 20″ x 24″
I chose “Gentle Existence” for this blog because the work was inspired by nature and how I feel when I am in it. Whether looking out my studio window, sitting outside, on my deck, walking along a trail or meditating in the open, I can do so without scrutiny from the sky, river, trees, birds, flowers, etc. I can be with whatever feelings I have at the moment and then set them free. Scream in anger in the middle of forest and let it go. Dream and wonder as I look out toward the sunrise marveling at the hues. I can be selfish, shy and selfless all at once. As I am alone, nature gives to me an abundance of beauty and I give to her my admiration for her magnificence and vastness.