Posts Tagged ‘shyness’

Theodora Goss recently wrote one of those lists of what she’s learned in her life. The entire post is worth a read, but I was particularly interested in her #9:

“Your habits create who you are.”

I completely agree with Dora. Our habits are the building blocks of our lives and of our identities. I actually love this truth because while changing habits can be difficult, it is very possible. So that means if we don’t like our lives or identities, we can work towards doing something about that.

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

Take the identity of being a writer, for example. (How could I not go there?) Some people are satisfied with the daydream of being a writer, which is fine but unlikely to bring about the reality. But for people who seriously want to claim the writer identity, it’s all about habits. It’s about making the time to write on a regular basis. It’s about making a commitment to finish projects. It’s about revising and reading other people’s work and thinking critically and educating yourself to become better. All those activities can be developed into habits over time.

This works for personality traits to a certain extent, too. We all have our original set points for different traits, and some of us will have to work harder than others to change and maintain those points, or will have limits to where we can move those points. But we can choose to encourage new habits that develop a certain trait. I used to be quite shy when I was younger, but I decided it wasn’t really very fun to be shy. So I practiced meeting people, I practiced inviting people to do things, I said yes to invitations, and I cultivated new hobbies that encouraged me to be social. I still have my shy moments, but now I often look at those moments as a challenge or game that I can try to succeed at as opposed to a miserable experience. And really, most of the time I’m not very shy at all because of the habits I eventually formed. I’ve talked to several other people who have had similar experiences.

And finally, habits even affect the kind of thoughts we have. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about. If we decide we want to be more positive, we can explicitly practice framing our thoughts in more positive ways until it becomes second nature. If we want more self esteem, we can practice thinking kinder thoughts about ourselves until, you’ve got it, those thoughts become second nature (or at least more frequent). Sometimes a lot of how we see the world is affected by our individual thought patterns, which are really just habits of thinking we’ve picked up over time.

When I think about it, I realize how strongly my habits shape my life, from how I spend my time to what and how I think to what my actual expressed priorities are. Of course, habits can arise FROM those priorities as well as shape what those priorities are. I think that’s why I care so much about living an examined life, so I can be more conscious about choosing those priorities and figuring out how to express them rather than have priorities happen TO me.

What habits have you chosen to develop? What habits do you want to change?

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I’ve been working to become more assertive (and less like a doormat) for a long, long time. I think it was in seventh or eighth grade that I realized that my shyness was a problem that would hold me back, and I’ve been peeling various layers from this issue ever since. While it’s true that I used to be an introvert (and maybe I still am, depending on your definition of the term ambivert), introversion hasn’t ultimately been the cause of my problem. Much more pervasive and destructive of my peace of mind and overall happiness has been my tendency to be a people pleaser.

Mac (from the TV show Veronica Mars) shows some signs of being a people pleaser.

This insidious condition shows itself in many guises. At its worst, here are some of the symptoms:

– constant placement of others above yourself, often without much thought or communication. (Please note the word constant. This isn’t the opposite of being selfish so much as it is door mat behavior.)
– constant second guessing of your interactions with others
– being quick to feel guilt
– conflict aversion (desire to avoid making people unhappy/upset/angry)
– allowing people to take advantage of you, OR struggling to prevent this and feeling overly upset as a direct consequence; inability to say no or stand up for yourself
– ease of seeing another person’s point of view and using this skill to make excuses for them
– getting ensnared in one-sided conversations, in which the other person basically delivers a monologue, won’t ask you questions about yourself, and will do their best to divert the conversation back to them at all times
– perfectionism; a lingering worry that if you fail to be perfect, people will no longer like you
– a sense of isolation; feeling that nobody cares

Early Willow

Early Willow (circa Seasons 1-3) is definitely a people pleaser to watch out for.

Just to be clear, this list is no longer an accurate description of my state of mind. I’ve had twenty years to improve, after all, and I’m nothing if not dogged. (Some people think stubbornness is a bad thing. Does not compute. It’s one of my most useful traits.) But these are the sorts of things I have to guard against because I might fall into one or more of them if I’m not paying attention or am otherwise not at my best (ie sick, tired, worried, discouraged, etc.).

These are the social responses I was raised to have, compounded by female gender expectations to “be nice”. Unfortunately, they are not particularly effective if one wants to have a happy life that isn’t completely overrun by anxiety. They are also not helpful if one wants to be treated with care and respect. (Sad to say, there are plenty of people out there who will treat others with disrespect unless doing so has personal consequences–consequences that people pleasers are often ill-equipped to give.)

I’m writing about this problem because I know there are many people out there who struggle with one or more items on my list. And yet so often we don’t talk about it, and sometimes we even pressure each other to conform more to societal expectations of the unhealthy roles we play. (Have you ever looked up general interpersonal advice on the internet? It can get pretty scary.)

Next week I’m going to write about some of the thoughts and strategies, especially those I’ve discovered more recently, that have helped me break out of the people pleaser mold. In the meantime, can anyone think of any fictional characters who fall into people pleaser territory? Have any questions or experiences you want to share? Comment below!

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