Shyness and insecurity are not mutually exclusive.

I read an atrocious Brietbart article a few weeks ago where the author (a man) lamented that shy men often get the “creep” label simply because of their shyness when asking people out. The implied argument was that shy guys should be given the benefit of the doubt that they’re coming from a good place and so should at least ‘get a chance’.

I’m not going to link to the article and I’m fully aware of my poisoning the well in how I’ve described it, and I don’t particularly care. I’m a very shy person and I resented the article in part because of its blatant critique of the act of withholding consent, and in part because I don’t think that what the author was describing was actually shyness.

Shyness and Insecurity tend to get lumped together. They’re not the same, nor are they mutually exclusive. A shy person can be totally secure in themselves, and an insecure person can be very forward in their insecurity. Depending on the day, anyone can be prone to fluctuations between the two.

“Shy” comes from the Germanic, “Scheoh”, meaning “timid or easily startled”. “Insecure” in its original Latin has a connotation of “unsafe.”

Shyness, in its original sense, is a state of being, one in which a person (usually me) feels small and overstimulated. Insecurity is an internal filter containing core beliefs that inflect one’s interpretation of their physical state. It is a person’s insecurity that makes them creepy, not their shyness.

Behaviourally there are crucial differences between a person who is simply shy and a person who is insecure:

Shy people tend to own their anxiety (and so are far less dangerous to be around) whereas insecure people hold others responsible for it.

Shy people read averse body language and back off; insecure people read averse body language and view it as a personal attack.

Shy people pat themselves on the back for saying “Hello”; insecure people get indignant if they don’t get a “Hi” back.

Shy people wish they had more intimacy; insecure people attack others for having more than they do.

Shyness plus privilege equals potential insecurity; insecurity plus privilege equals potential violence.

And finally shy people fear crossing boundaries; insecure people criticize others for having them. See: “You should just give us ‘shy’ folk a chance”. People simply experiencing shyness don’t say things like that, because criticism of someone else’s boundaries requires the addition or sole presence of insecurity.

It’s a useful difference to parse, and can help you not just to better understand those who are purely shy, but also to figure out when your own shyness ends and insecurity begins.

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