“You’re so quiet.”
“You should talk more.”
“Why don’t you ever speak?”
These are just a few phrases I’ve heard during my 18 years as an introvert, and I’m sure I could think of more. While these comments are usually lighthearted, it can make introverted people feel targeted and uncomfortable. People should be mindful of the comments they make, embrace all personality types and stop “shy-shaming.”
For some reason, extroverted personality types seem to be more widely accepted in society, at least in the United States. In our extroverted society, assertiveness is praised while being introverted tends to be looked down on. While most people seem to lie somewhere between extreme introversion and extroversion, those on the introverted end of the spectrum are likely shy and quiet, especially around new people and unfamiliar situations. Pointing out this shyness or “shy-shaming” places unwanted attention on the person and may make them anxious.
However, shyness is not the same thing as social anxiety, although it may be hard to detect the difference, and some people may experience both.
It is important that people, especially extroverts, be mindful of comments they make toward a shy person, because they have no way of knowing if this person has social anxiety. Social anxiety may manifest as physical symptoms, such as sweating, shaking or shortness of breath and panic attacks are common in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD). As a rule of thumb, shy people generally experience some degree of social anxiety, even if it is not clinical, so comments that place them at the center of attention are uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing. Shyness is linked with vulnerability, and commenting on a person’s shyness exploits this vulnerability, making the person feel unsafe and insecure, further contributing to anxiety.
Introverted personality types are often perceived negatively, but introversion actually has quite a few perks. Introverts are generally creative, empathetic, perceptive and intelligent, giving them an advantage in many areas of life, such as work, school and building meaningful connections with others. Different personality types are essential to a functioning society because it is important to have different perspectives and skills when problems arise.
Introverts and extroverts play different roles in society, which can be compared to a movie production. While the actors (extroverts) receive the most attention, the movie could not happen without the work of others (introverts) behind the scenes. To make a movie, there must be screenwriters, directors, set designers, technical crews, makeup artists and these are just a few. While the audience (society) may not see all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, that doesn’t mean the people involved are less important than those who appear on-screen.
Perhaps the best way to put an end to shy-shaming is for extroverts to practice empathy when interacting with their introverted counterparts. A good place to start is simply by asking an introverted friend to share their experiences and ask about their boundaries. Introverts are an invaluable part of our society, so it is important that we embrace them and reassure them that their shyness is not something to be ashamed of, but instead celebrated.
Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon