Did you know that shy is a synonym for introvert?
This was pointed out to me by someone in a group for entrepreneurs that I am a member of. The topic turned to serving an introverted audience and which words to use that could relate to them. She suggested using the word shy, because that is a synonym for introverted after all. When some introverts in the group gave her some pushback on this, she posted a screenshot of a dictionary. There it was. In the calm letter type that dictionaries always use: "Introvert: a reserved or shy person who enjoys spending time alone". Over the next few days, I checked every dictionary I could find, both in print and online. And yes, 9 out of 10 dictionaries define an introvert as a shy person or lists shyness as one of the synonyms.
My first reaction was shock. The second anger. And the third determination.
I spent a lot of time researching and thinking about what an introvert really is and I am still learning. It is still too often that I see studies and articles calling introverts to be more extroverted because it would help them to function better in society. I disagree.
Thinking back now, it is no surprise that I always felt awkward when I was growing up and for much of my adult life. "Don't be so quiet", "Why don't you just join in?", "Why do you look so angry?", and later when I joined the corporate world: "You should be more assertive", were things I heard all the time. Both in passing and in official performance reviews. The call to behave, no to be extraverted is strong and always around. Because most people are simply uncomfortable with silence. I used to get uncomfortable too. A long pause would fall in a conversation and my mind would go: "Oh no, an awkward silence! Say something, say something!!" When I was on my own, I didn't mind silence at all but I was always afraid to make other people uncomfortable with my silence. So, I spoke when I had nothing to say, I laughed to fill the gap or I made a joke. It all felt very unnatural and deep down I felt like I was acting a role that I hadn't read the script for.
Shyness and introversion are in fact the same thing according to most dictionaries.
I don't blame anyone for thinking that introversion and shyness are somehow related. Introverts can appear shy because they don't always feel like talking, they prefer to spend time alone sometimes and they tend to think very long before speaking (hence the "awkward" silence). But the root of shyness is very different; it stems from low self-confidence. Introversion as a character trait stems from where you naturally place your focus (inward vs outward for an extravert). There is another reason why introversion and shyness are sometimes linked. Remember all those well-meaning comments and studies? "Don't be so quiet" They send the message that being quiet is somehow wrong. If you constantly hear that your natural tendency is "wrong" this can naturally lead to low self-confidence. And whether we admit it or not, introverts receive this message much more often than other character traits. Up to the point that shyness and introversion are in fact the same thing according to most dictionaries. We are in need of an update.
I think the notion of introversion as a character trait is still quite young and still developing. Carl Jung first used it as part of his system for analytical psychology in 1920, Susan Cain published her book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" in 2012.
Looking at all those dictionaries has reaffirmed my mission and I am more committed than ever to help introverts realize that what they bring to the table is equally valuable as everyone else.
It starts with recognizing your own value and giving yourself permission to be just as you are.
Wishing you a lovely flow today,
References (note: this list may contain affiliate links)