PhoebuSam asks: From the beginning of my childhood, I was a very shy and quiet boy. I mean I made friends quickly if I wanted to, but it takes me a lot of courage to start the conversation. I’m pretty popular at my university so luckily I don’t have to start the conversation usually. But in turn, this has turned me into a more shy and quiet person. I have gotten to this point of my life where I feel shy of going outside of my own house alone, which is pretty stupid. Take today for example: It’s a beautiful day outside but I think I have a few classmates here so I’m sort of scared of going outside. I just don’t like being seen. And being seen alone is way worse. I could go outside in the nighttime but it won’t be like the daytime. Which is beautiful. So my question is, how can I overcome such a fear?
Hi PhoebuSam –
As a general rule, I’ve never been very shy. If I see someone I want to meet, I walk right up to them, sniff them, and check to see if I should jump on them, play with them, or run away.
But I felt some of what you’re feeling once. When I was a little puppy, I played with any dogs I could find. But when Handsome brought me to his home, from the pound, the veterinarians told him to keep me away from places with lots of dogs, till I could build up enough immunity to certain diseases. So for my six-month birthday, it was a very big deal that he could take me to a huge dog park!
I was sooo excited! I ran into the grounds, ready to play with all the dogs there… and none would even look at me. They’d either walk away, or snarl at me to leave them alone. I was just devastated. I kept trying, though, and at least enjoyed the chance to be out among all the smells, but when Handsome drove me home, we both felt sad and disappointed.
What’s important, though, is that he kept taking me back. And bit by bit, I developed more confidence, and started learning how to be “cool,” and sure enough, I made some great friends. So much so that, before too long, it was me who was ignoring the overtures other dogs were making!
Now it seems to me, you’re a bit like me that first day. You would like to be able to go out and enjoy everything and everybody out there, but you’re feeling like something is wrong. Especially by this time in your life. It’s so off that you even say you’re pretty popular at your university, but are afraid to go out because there might be some classmates of yours out there!
So what do you do?
Well, the most important thing to do is to get out and try. To say that it’s okay that you’re naturally shy, but that you can still make an effort to get what you want. I had a big human who pulled me into that park – you won’t have that, but you do have yourself! So pull yourself into these uncomfortable situations!
What you’ll need, though, to be able to do it, is a strong vision of what you can achieve. If you just imagine walking outdoors and being ignored or insulted by some classmates out there, you’ll never do it. But what if you imagine this beautiful day having lots of great surprises. I don’t know what you would look for, but for me, I’d imagine lots of cool smells, some playful dogs I’d get to meet, some friendly humans who’d scratch my forehead and tell me I’m cute, and… hmmm… maybe a truck selling popsicles, and Handsome would buy one of those ones made of chocolate ice cream, and suddenly the sun would get hotter, and some of that popsicle would melt and I’d get to lap it up off the ground (Handsome knows it can be unhealthy to feed a dog chocolate, but he’s not fast enough to stop me from that!)!
So what do you really want to find? Popsicle trucks are great, but what else? Is there, perhaps, someone from a class you’d be especially happy to get to know? Is there a friend you’d like to talk about something with? Is there a friendly dog in your neighborhood you’d like to cuddle?! Or perhaps you’d just like the feeling you’d get from taking a half-hour walk and surviving it!
Whatever it is, PhoebuSam, you can do this. My friend Handsome used to be very afraid of going into parties, afraid of not knowing if someone would want to talk with him or not. So you can probably guess what he did – he just started going to parties and forcing himself to go talk with strangers.
And you know what he found? Nothing terrible happened. Ever. Sure some people didn’t keep the conversations going, but no one sneered at him or turned away. And when he left those parties, he felt great about what he’d done. Sometimes he even made a new friend or two, but always he felt great about having beaten his own personal fears.
Now you can do this too, PhoebuSam. If I could, and Handsome could, you can. And you’ll find that, each time you try, it’ll get just that little bit easier. To the point where, a few months from now, you’ll be writing me saying “I was walking outdoors yesterday, sniffing flowers, smiling at strangers, and petting dogs, when I saw someone who was really cute, and couldn’t figure out what to say to them! Can you help me with this?!” You’ll still be shy, but you’ll be accomplishing so much more, and struggling with higher-difficulty tasks. It’ll be great.
So just visualize, PhoebuSam. And let me know how it goes.