Don’t Be Shy About Being Shy

By Mike Watts

My life from when I left school until I joined GROW was crippled by shyness. I want to start by saying that shyness is extremely common. It is sometimes called social anxiety.

My own label was pathological shyness. It was a condition that really interfered with my life. It stopped me being able to concentrate because I would be lost in an overwhelming range of intense feelings.

These included fear, embarrassment, foolishness, shame, powerlessness, frustration and sometimes anger. Because I couldn’t concentrate I couldn’t study. It stopped me being able to mix with people so I would tend to spend most of my time on my own.mike-watts

It stopped me having a clear goal for the future because whatever I thought of involved people and threw up too many barriers. I thought shyness was some kind of condition that came from outside myself. It had nothing to do with me.

Nothing really helped me with my shyness until I came to GROW. I say nothing but on reflection there were some people with whom I felt more at home than others. I did manage to find and keep jobs and friends, but there was always this great threat hovering in the background.

The first things that helped I think were parts of the GROW Program. One about being over controlled and another, a short one, that simply stated “Don’t be shy about being shy”. I think these pieces opened up a tiny bit of hope.

I know the “don’t be shy one”, actually made me feel happy. It made me want to laugh. It was so simple. It gave me a far more powerful ‘buzz’ than any tranquilliser I had been prescribed.

The group also gave me small tasks to do with my ‘shyness behaviour’. Instead of avoiding people, say hello. When you think everyone has nothing better to do than look at you, practice paying them compliments in your head.  This kind of task was just the start but its effects were amplified by a warm and encouraging group. Plenty of “Well done’s” and “Aren’t you greats” began to nurture the spark of life that was always there inside me.ordinary-and-agonisingly-difficult-tasks-such-as-reading-out-loud-even-one-or-two-steps-began-to-become-routine

Ordinary and agonisingly difficult parts of the meeting such as reading out loud (even one or two steps) began to become routine. To know that many others struggled with the same  problem helped as well. I had found my own ‘brotherhood of suffering’ and as I embraced it so the suffering began to fall away, like a false skin, allowing a me I hardly knew to wake up and begin to come alive.

I got many other tasks all of which were difficult at the time but were always quite possible. I began to notice people who could do the things I found difficult. People who could sing a song, be really animated, be expansive in their warmth when around others.

Leadership was important. It put me in roles that demanded more than I thought I could give. It made me sow new thoughts and new habits. I joined many groups outside GROW such as a writers group, toastmasters, set dancing, Comhaltas (traditional music) and the VEC (adult education).

As I changed, so my relationship with others changed. What had seemed insurmountable became steps on a journey.

Today, I am not shy. I get huge pleasure out of the company of others. I think, looking back, that my shyness was a habit that had grown over the years. It was a way of avoiding parts of life. I am extremely grateful that I was lead out of that crippling habit and when I think back to all the people who helped me on that journey I am amazed at the richness of my life.