Young People Ask . . .
Why Can’t I Be More Outgoing?
“Being shy is paralyzing. It’s a gripping fear that you have to deal with. It is so real.”—Richard.*
“I had a real problem with shyness when I was growing up. It was just like I was in my own little world.”—18-year-old Elizabeth.
‘IS SOMETHING wrong with me? Why can’t I be more outgoing?’ Do you sometimes ask yourself these questions? Like Richard, quoted above, you may feel nervous or anxious when you meet someone new. You may cringe when you are around people in authority. Or maybe you worry so much about what others are thinking about you that when you are given a chance to express your feelings or opinions, you clam up. “I find it really hard to go up and talk to people I don’t know really well,” admits young Tracey.
Just what lurks behind such feelings? Understanding the problem may be the first step in conquering it. (Proverbs 1:5) One woman said: “I never knew why I felt uneasy around people. But now that I have identified what my problem is, I can take it from there.” So let’s look at a few reasons why some youths may find it difficult to be outgoing.
The Problem of Shyness
Shyness is probably the most common reason. While an outgoing youth usually enjoys a variety of friendships, a shy, withdrawn youth can feel lonely and isolated. “I had a real problem with shyness when I was growing up,” says 18-year-old Elizabeth. “It was just like I was in my own little world.” Diane remembers the stresses she faced in her first year of high school. “I didn’t like being noticed. I had a teacher who had us rate how important we felt it was to be popular. On a scale of zero to five, zero meant not important at all and five meant important. All the girls who were popular in school put five. I put zero. For me, shyness was almost a fear of being popular. You don’t want to be noticed or to be the center of attention because you are afraid others might not like you.”
Of course, a tendency to be a bit shy is not altogether a bad thing. Closely related to shyness is modesty—an awareness of our limitations. We are actually commanded in the Bible to be ‘modest in walking with our God.’ (Micah 6:8) A person who is modest or even somewhat shy may be easier to be around than someone who is overbearing, aggressive, or demanding. And while it is true that there is “a time to speak,” there is also “a time to keep quiet.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) Shy people may have little trouble keeping quiet. Because they tend to be “swift about hearing [and] slow about speaking,” they are often appreciated by others as good listeners.—James 1:19.
All too often, though, a youth is so quiet, shy, or bashful that he or she has difficulty making friends. And in some extreme cases, shyness can create what one writer calls “a kind of neurotic self-imprisonment”—social isolation.—Proverbs 18:1.
Shyness—A Common Problem
If you are afflicted with shyness, realize that it is a very common problem. In one study of high-school and college students, “82 percent of the students regarded themselves as shy at some point in their lives.” (Adolescence, by Eastwood Atwater) Shyness was a problem for some even in Bible times. Men of stature, such as Moses and Timothy, may have battled with it.—Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10, 13; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 1:6-8.
Consider Saul, the first king of the ancient nation of Israel. Normally Saul was a brave man. When his father lost his flock of animals, Saul boldly set out on a rescue mission. (1 Samuel 9:3, 4) But when he was appointed king of the nation, he suddenly had an attack of shyness. Rather than face the cheering crowds, Saul hid among the luggage!—1 Samuel 10:20-24.
Saul’s apparent lack of self-confidence may seem puzzling. After all, the Bible describes him as a striking, handsome young man. Why, “from his shoulders upward he was taller than all the people”! (1 Samuel 9:2) Furthermore, God’s prophet had assured Saul that Jehovah would bless his reign as king. (1 Samuel 9:17, 20) Even so, Saul felt unsure of himself. When told that he would be king, he modestly replied: “Am I not a Benjaminite of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the most insignificant of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? So why have you spoken to me a thing like this?”—1 Samuel 9:21.
If someone like Saul could lack self-confidence, it is little wonder that you might be somewhat lacking in confidence at times. As a young person, you are at a stage of life when your body is changing rapidly. You are just beginning to learn how to function in the world of adults. It is only natural, then, for you to feel a bit self-conscious and insecure at times. Dr. David Elkind wrote in Parents magazine: “During early adolescence, most young people go through a period of shyness, when they develop what I call an imaginary audience—the belief that others are watching them and are preoccupied with their appearance and actions.”
Since young people are often judged on their looks by their peers, many fret about their appearance. (Compare 2 Corinthians 10:7.) Too much concern about one’s looks, however, is unhealthy. A young woman in France named Lilia recalls her own experience in this regard: “I had a problem that many young people have. I had acne—pimples! You do not dare to go up to others because you are worrying about what you look like.”
A Vicious Circle
Because shy people are often misunderstood, they can easily be trapped in a cycle of isolation. The book Adolescence observes: “Shy adolescents have more trouble making friends because they are often misperceived by others in a negative way. Shy persons tend to be regarded as aloof, bored, disinterested, condescending, cold, and hostile. When treated accordingly, they may feel even more isolated, lonely, and depressed.” Inevitably, this causes them to behave even more shyly, which, of course, only reinforces the misimpression that they are snobs or that they are stuck-up.
Of course, since as a Christian you are “a theatrical spectacle to the world,” you should be concerned about the impression you give to others. (1 Corinthians 4:9) Do you avoid eye contact when talking to others? Does your posture and body language send out the message that you want to be left alone? Then realize that others may misread you and tend to avoid you. This can make it all the more difficult to develop friendships.
Yet another common problem is the fear of failure. True, it is perfectly normal to feel a little insecurity or hesitancy when you are doing something that is new, outside your sphere of experience. But some youths take this to extremes. As a youth, Gail was what she calls a social phobic. She says: “I wouldn’t comment in class. And my parents were constantly being bombarded with comments like, ‘She doesn’t raise her hand. She doesn’t speak up.’ For me, it was very uncomfortable and stressful to do that. You know, even now it’s still hard for me.” Fear of failure can be paralyzing. “I’m worried about making mistakes,” says a youth named Peter. “I’m not really sure about what I’m doing.” Brutal teasing and criticism from peers can aggravate personal fears and cause lasting damage to a youth’s self-confidence.
A lack of social skills is another common problem. Perhaps you hesitate to introduce yourself to someone new, simply because you do not know what to say. It may surprise you to know that even older ones feel socially awkward at times. A businessman named Fred says: “In the business world, I know how to do what I do really well. If I just talk about business, I have no reservations about presenting a good image. But when I drift off into social conversation with the same people, I’m hesitant. I might be pegged as boring or bookish or too technical or not very interesting.”
Whether you are shy, self-conscious, or just socially awkward, it is to your advantage to learn how to be more outgoing. The Bible encourages Christians to “widen out” and to get to know others! (2 Corinthians 6:13) But how can you do it? This will be discussed in a future issue.
Some of the names have been changed.
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Shy people are often thought to be aloof
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Fear of failure causes some youths to withdraw socially