Overcoming Being Painfully Shy and Introverted

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Are you painfully shy and introverted? For many years so was I. It’s an affliction but the good news is it can be overcome with effort. I find that lots of creatives are shy and introverted—even famous actors and comedians. So there’s hope.

The psychology behind this affliction can be different among people. In my case it was belonging to a family of dwarfism—both my father and youngest brother were dwarfs. To go out in public was to suffer the slings & arrows of being different.

Society writ large doesn’t like different, it likes sameness and conformity. Differences breed suspicion, fear, anger and even hatred (this is the fertile ground that spawns bullying, abuse and murder). To be different is to be at risk (emotionally and sometimes physically) and none of us wants to feel unsafe—so we retreat into ourselves and become shy and introversive. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: the more introverted we become the more different we seem which singles us out for more attention, ridicule and possible abuse. It’s no wonder, then, that we choose to retreat in the face of that threat.

My shyness was so pervasive that I refused to give verbal presentations in school whether it was a book report, speech or poetry reading. I just wouldn’t do it. And I paid the price—either in a modified lower grade or a trip to the office. In my middle school Speech class I would get an A or A+ for preparation and an F for presentation. If I was lucky my teacher would give me a C- as an overall grade but generally I got a D (barely passing). It affected my GPA to the point where I would take a different class (maybe English or History) in summer school to offset the poor grade in Speech.

No one ever tried to find out why I was the way I was—they just put it down to being contrary or rebellious without trying to find a solution or a way to help (just another form of bullying I suppose). The result was a boy who eventually grew into a man who rebelled against authority, flaunted the rules of convention, trusted only himself and came to hate bullying and injustice in all its forms. I finally took control of that young man so he could function, survive and become successful in a society he wanted no part of. But at what cost?

Role playing, or fake it till you make it, saved my life. Standing outside of myself as an objective third-person observer allowed me to play the role of someone much more confident. This is the method used by many actors and comedians and it really works. If I have to stand up in front of a group and give a presentation or speech I disassociate from myself. It’s like looking down on someone else and watching them perform (instead of me). It’s very much like the out-of-body near death experience we hear so much about. Try it and I think you might find it useful.

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