My mother just read my article on shyness and suggested a couple of additions.
One is an anecdote I’d never heard before:
At the last parent/teacher meeting of each elementary school year, your teachers confided how pleased they were that “Rebecca has finally started to come out of her shell.” Every year. They were so proud of their good influence. Knowing how calmly you could address a mass audience, I tried not to let my amazement show; and in later years as I kept hearing the same brag, I tried not to snort or contradict them. I knew you were okay, and blending into the wallpaper is a useful skill too.
That’s very funny, yet I completely understand what the teachers were seeing: It did take most of the school year for me to feel comfortable enough to participate in class in a normal sort of way. In junior high, I was in a math class with just 8 other kids, including some of my best friends, with the same teacher both years, and I remember fondly the day when I had laryngitis and Mrs. Helmer commented on how quiet it was without me! I’d never gotten a comment like that before! I remember also an English teacher who wrote a poem about the class toward the beginning of the year, in which the first line about me was, Rebecca S. seldom speaks, but there’s wisdom there. I wondered whether she meant that I had an aura of wisdom despite my few words (cool!!) or that it was wise not to talk too much in the class of a teacher who assigned extra work to excessive talkers!
Anyway, it’s amusing that the teachers seemed to think I was blossoming because of something they had done. I think it was mostly a matter of time. I can’t recall any elementary school teacher doing anything really helpful regarding my shyness with my peers*, and a few of them did the “little talk” that I grumbled about in my previous article. However, some of my teachers did become grown-up friends who helped me feel that I had allies at school. I would hang around talking with them when they had playground duty and stay after school to visit them, in some cases for years after being in their classes.
*I have to give credit, though, to the teacher who was unpleasant in many ways but managed to notice that I had not a single friend in her class but did have friends in the other classes of my grade. She pulled some strings and arranged for all my friends to be in my class the next year! That was wonderful.
My mom also reminisced about my early public-speaking experience, reading aloud a newspaper editorial titled “Thirty Reasons Why Women Should Have the Vote” to meetings of ERA advocates in the late 1970s, when I was 4 and 5 years old. That certainly was good practice in being comfortable with being seen and heard by unfamiliar people and in accepting compliments about my precocious reading ability. I can’t recall what strategies I used, but my mom mentioned one that I think is worth promoting to other shy people:
I figured that you must have used a ploy similar to the one I relied on in school: Now I’m not being me, I’m being a Speaker so I’ll just act the way a Speaker does. No sweat.
“I’m not being me” is a way of shrinking your self, the self that seems so awkward and vulnerable, to get it out of the way so you can get something done. People who have never been shy often seem to think that a shy person’s problem is a too-small self, a lack of self-esteem and consequent fear of growing one’s self to normal size. But I often felt that being me meant being highly visible to the normal-sized people, an unusually large target, like an elephant among penguins. Those other kids, the amazingly bouncy talkative ones, must have a compact and non-burdensome self securely tucked in the middle of their big colorful personality, I figured. I’ve since learned that some very bold people do in fact have big, cumbersome, trouble-ridden selves (which perhaps they’re trying to hide behind a lot of bluster) but my point remains: A big part of shyness is worrying about your self, the way you look to others, the way they could hurt you. A shy person does not need strategies for making her self bigger; she needs help developing a public persona that works in tandem with her self.
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