I thing I came to realize over the years, either during the most acute shyness times, or the slighter shyness moments is that I am shyer when I find myself in the middle of a group composed of unknown people and some of my family members and / or my close friends.
It’s clear that the type of audience you have is an important factor to make you comfortable or uncomfortable, but one might think that you would feel more comfortable when you are surrounded by your loved ones. Sure?
It’s definitely true that I feel safe, comfortable and willing to talk and participate actively in a conversation when the audience is only composed of family and friends. But when there is a mixture of close ones and unknown ones, I feel way more uncomfortable and shy than if I were only with unknown people.
And it’s proven. Few months ago, I spent few weeks in Istambul on my own. I challenged myself to be more social and talkative so I interacted more with some of the people that were staying in the same hostel than me and I even went out with them several times. And the curious thing is that, even if all the people I was hanging out with I know them from barely a couple of days, I was acting more open and chatty and more uninhibited than usual.
I felt as if I could behave in any way I wanted because since nobody knew about my shyness or “normal / habitual” behavior, I could be whoever I wanted to be. There were no expectations to live up or fail. And since I didn’t know that people and I knew that I wouldn’t probably meet them again, I didn’t care much if they liked me or not and, therefore, it didn’t matter if I was acting or playing a role, because they wouldn’t have the chance to discover my shyness by themselves in the future.
However, when I am in a group with, lets say one close friend or a member of my family (who know, of course, about my difficulties socializing) and new people, I feel really, really constrained. Even if I know that my people would be happy if they saw me all open and comfortable and interacting smoothly with the others. And that might be the reason that causes the opposite. When I am compelled to take part in the conversation I feel observed. I feel a pressure. I start thinking that if I participate too much they are going to notice the difference in behavior, or if I don’t participate enough they are going to feel disappointed, or even if I participate or not, I can’t help but thinking about what they must be thinking about my “performance” (or lack of it) in the conversation.
And that’s only my imagination. I know. It’s related with what the psychologists call an “imaginary audience”, which is a heightened state of vigilance, it’s the believe that we have a group of followers that are watching, dissecting and judging every word you say.
The truth is that nobody performs well under constant observation.
- This imaginary audience is imaginary, ergo it doesn’t exist outside your mind.
- Even if the observation is real and your loved ones would love you to participate more in the conversation, they are not evaluating you nor your behavior, they are probably more focused in what is going on in the conversation (what you should definitely do!) or in their own minds and they don’t care that much about your performance.
You are not the centre of the universe and even if you would feel extremely uncomfortable if you were, you act as if you believed you were. So, get over yourself and relax!
It might be a little bit disappointing to realize that people, even your loved ones, don’t really care about your behavior, but it you think it you’ll agree with me that is a blessing. And if they do, if they tell evaluate your performance during that dinner or that meeting afterwards, then, there’s time to ask for being ignored.