How can I overcome my shyness and feel more comfortable?

"I'm 32 years old. I married young and decided to dedicate myself to my husband and our four children. For many years, they were my only concern. One day, I decided to do something for myself, so I enrolled in college. As a student I was great, but I realized my social skills were a total disaster. I found myself being stomped on by colleagues and apologizing whenever I stood up to them just to retain their friendship. I dislike the idea of being so weak and unassertive. I've been practicing being assertive with my own family, and it feels great. My problem is learning how to do the same with other people like coworkers, friends and siblings. I have always been a shy person, but at this age I really feel it is time to "wake up and smell the coffee."

My DH is getting ready to leave the army, and we're in a transition phase that includes moving to another country, which is stressful for me. When we went to look for an apartment, the people were nice but I felt very uncomfortable with the way they were looking at me. I was, of course, nervous (it happens every time I go somewhere), and my guess is that they noticed it or judged me wrong. This is very frustrating for me because no matter what I do to feel good about myself, I end up feeling lousy. When I'm about to leave the house, I prepare myself so I can project a positive image and seem like a secure person. This is where my doubt lands. I know I'm doing something wrong but I don't know what it is. Can you help me realize what that something is?" --iVillager wondermom69

Question:

Dear wondermom69,

It's wonderful that you are motivated to stand up for yourself, speak your mind and be true to who you are. Being shy isn't bad. It's what we do with it that matters.

Much of this is in your head and not in the minds of the people you think are judging you. It is a reflection of how you see yourself. You could trip over the front door step and people would think nothing of it if you were confident. So, bottom line, nothing you do on the exterior is going to honestly help in a way that you can trust. The work is on your interior. Start there. Another wonderful suggestion from someone on the iVillage message boards: "What I've been doing that helps is working on accepting that part of myself. I know I come across as mousy and nervous, even in normal, everyday situations. It's been helping to embrace that mousiness, to embrace the nervousness. I tell myself over and over, 'it's okay to be nervous, it's okay to be nervous.'" As she says, "Fighting against the nervousness makes me more nervous." I would underscore that; it's so very important. "If I beat myself up for it, I become even more timid, anxious and nervous. I welcome the nervousness, accept and embrace it, and I become much calmer. When I am speaking to others, I keep repeating to myself, "It's okay to be nervous. It's okay to be mousy." I know it sounds odd, but that's what helps me. When you accept your flaws and insecurities, you minimize their impact on you. It's really about accepting yourself, warts and all."

I would also suggest that you develop your curiosity with people -- you'll be amazed at how everything shifts when you get curious about the person you're talking with. Ask questions. Be curious about who they are, what they think, what they're saying. Take the focus off of yourself and move it onto the person you're talking with. You'll learn a lot and get out of your head.

For dealing with colleagues who make you nervous, I especially like the technique that iVillage member wgs04kx uses. As she explains it on the message boards, "I have a very close friend who has a similar background. Whenever we get into a situation where we are going to need some great communication skills (like asking for a raise or negotiating a lease), we talk to each other beforehand and role-play the conversation. We think of the worst possible scenario so we can work out the necessary responses and tone of voice beforehand (voice tone is just as important as what you say). This allows the actual situation to go much more smoothly. We did this about three days ago for a difficult situation of mine regarding my tax return and my accountant. The conversation went exactly as my friend and I had planned it and I left the meeting with the desired result." I can't tell you the number of women in my courage books who started our interviews by saying, "I'm really a very shy person." And, to this day, when I'm interviewed on the radio, invariably a talk show host will tell me about how shy she was in the beginning and what a stretch it was for them to do their shows. I always thought that, to be courageous, I had to get over being shy. Boy, did I have that one wrong!

Being shy doesn't have to work against you. It doesn't mean anything -- good or bad -- about you. It's just the way you are. A lot of great people have done great things being shy.

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