Friday, February 25, 2011

The Shy Girl’s Guide to Communicating Your Way Through Life

by Suzie Johnson

Bashful. Shy. Timid. Reserved.
Quiet. Cautious. Wary. Guarded.

Do any of these words describe you? Who of us hasn’t experienced at least one instance of intimidation in their life? Or been afraid to speak up in a situation where you really wanted to? If it doesn’t happen to you very often, you’re one of the lucky ones who can explain it away and shrug it off as a one-time thing.

But if you’re even the slightest bit on the timid side, it’s so much more than a one-time thing. Shy girls almost never shrug it off. They carry it around with them, questioning themselves, thinking of all the witty things they wished they’d been able to say. Their hearts are too often filled with regrets. And in some cases, their timidity can be the direct cause of deep wounds.

photo by saavem courtesy of:
For those who aren’t typically shy, this can be hard to understand. In fact, shy people are often mischaracterized as being stuck-up. Oh, if those who are blessed with self-confidence only realized how far from the truth that really is. In fact, such a label can strike at the very depths of a shy person’s psyche and make it even harder for them to speak up.

Today I’m sharing tips for the shy ones among us. These tips come from someone who struggled with this for years. I affectionately refer to her as Her Shyness. If you guessed she is me, you’d be absolutely right. Today I’ll give you my personal insight into this often-times debilitating manifestation and share some tips on how I’ve been working to overcome it.

For all of my adult years (and most of my teen years), being shy has been as much a part of me as my height, weight and eye color. It has seriously interfered with my life, and did, in fact, cost me many things. A boy I really cared about in high school, a position in journalism that meant the world to me, friends, missed opportunities when I wanted so bad to speak up but sat paralyzed with fear of opening my mouth, and even respect from people I once held in the highest regard.

But, I must point out something very important. Being shy taught me many things about life, and as much as I want to banish it from my personality once and for all, it’s difficult to dislike a trait that taught me compassion and empathy for others, and strengthened my relationship with God.

… “Be strong and courageous… Do not be afraid or discouraged,
for the Lord God, my God, is with you…” ~~1 Chronicles 28:5

What’s Holding You Back?
This is one of the first things you have to figure out, because that is key to conquering the battle. Do some serious soul-searching. Did something happen when you were a child that dashed your self-confidence? Do you have issues with your self image? Would you be surprised to know people aren’t sitting around analyzing your looks? If they are, they have serious issues themselves. But truly, what does it matter what they think of you? It only matters what you, your loved ones, and your God think of you.

I can picture you all scratching your head. LIGMO? What could that possibly mean?

Let It Go. Move On. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to myself since I heard it a couple of years ago. When you hold something inside, it doesn’t hurt the other person. It only hurts you. That person who embarrassed you or made fun of you in the past – how is your shyness hurting them now?


It’s not. So LIGMO.
photo by cempey courtesy of:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~~ Phillipians 4:13

Self-Talk: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the expression “self-talk”. We use it all the time. It only makes sense that when we use self-talk, we start to believe what we’re telling ourselves.
  • “I’m worthless.”
  • “No one loves me.”
  • “This dress makes me look fat.”
  • “Do I really have anything important to say?”
  • “How do I even know they really like me?”
These really are bad and ugly, aren’t they? The list could go on and on because we say dozens of things to reinforce our negative feelings. Stop. Self-talk can make or break you.

Turn it around. Find the positive. Repeat it. Believe it. You have something worthwhile to say. Your input is just as valuable as the next person’s. You are worth something. You are smart.

What Language Are You Speaking?
Become a student of body language. What does yours say about you? Do you cross your arms when you’re sitting in a group? Slouch? Sit up straight? Make eye contact? Smile?

Do you project when you speak? Do you speak with confidence? If you speak in a well-modulated confident tone, and use positive body language people are more apt to pay attention to you.

How does a shy person accomplish this? I have a relatively unconventional method, but it works for me.

The Acting Studio
A lot of actors are basically shy people.
  • Jim Carrey
  • Kim Bassinger
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Tom Hanks
The surprising list of names is endless, proving if you are one of the shy ones, you’re in extremely fine company.
Elvis. Cher. Lucille Ball….

When an actor is playing a part, they’re pretending to be someone else. I used to love acting. Whenever I played a role, I forgot my fear of speaking in front of people and became the character. It didn’t matter how many people were watching, listening, critiquing. But would it work in real life? I decided to give it a try, and to my surprise, over time, it has helped. I’m growing more comfortable with each group setting I’m in. This method does, however, come with a caveat. First, you must be confident that you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you have your facts straight. And second, while pretending to be someone else might help you speak up in a group setting, as a whole, it isn’t constructive and should be used sparingly. Once you’re able to feel comfortable, you should be yourself and no one else.

We do, after all, want to be loved and accepted (and thereby comfortable expressing ourselves) for who we are. To achieve that, we have to learn to love and accept ourselves.

Stretch Yourself
Put yourself out there. Advising the shy person to put herself in a situation where she has to talk seems as unconventional as pretending to be someone else. It’s a bit like aversion therapy. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. Start with only one thing; a Bible study group, book club, a committee, a group blog. Get comfortable with those people and you can move forward from there.

The Magic Number
I once heard someone say you have to repeat something twenty-one times before it becomes a habit. That’s twenty-one times of forcing yourself to speak up. Don’t be disappointed if you lack a surge of confidence the first time. Your mouth might be dry and your stomach might feel like a dozen butterflies breaking out of their cocoon. This is perfectly normal, but will get easier each time.

Please don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up. Remember twenty-one times. Before long you’ll be a natural.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~~Isaiah 41:10

Remember, you never go anywhere alone. I know it sounds trite even to some Christians, but the truth is the truth. God is always with you. And through Him we can do all things. If God is with us, how can we fail?

You can be brave because you’re loved. Take courage in that and let it help you find your confidence. You’ll be surprised where it can take you.

Questions of the day: If you're one of us shy people, do you recall something that might have happened when you were young that may be a contributing factor? Do you wish you could change it, or do you think it's a part of what made you who you are today? Are you happy with who you are today?

Suzie Johnson has won several awards for her inspirational novels, including the Maggie, Lone Star, Heart of the West, and Beacon awards. She has also placed in the Touched by Love, Finally a Bride, Linda Howard Award of Excellence, and Virginia Fools For Love contests. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is a cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man who makes her proud every day, she lives with her husband and little kitten on an island in the Pacific Northwest. And although the beaches are rocky instead of sandy, lined with Madronas and Evergreens instead of Palm trees, and the surf is much to cold for wading, it is still the perfect spot for writing romantic fiction. You can visit her personal blog at


  1. I'm a weird mix of shy and bold. Maybe all my acting experience explains it. I can face conflict head on, but it takes a toll on me later when I'm alone. I've also noticed that I like public speaking or being on stage because there's sort of an emotional buffer between me and everyone else.

    Cyber-space is quiet today. Not just here at Inkwell. Wonder what's up. Great post Suzie.

  2. My new mantra is LIGMO! I was shy as a child but I was pushed into a leadership position when I was 13. My natural inclination is to be an introvert, but no one who knows me now believes that.

    Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. I'm with Dina, a convoluted mix of shy and bold. Give me a platform to teach from and I'm fine. Stick me in a room full of people socializing and I want to crawl under a chair and hide.
    IMO, the shy among us receive excessive sensory input when interacting with people and it's overwhelming ... all these mixed signals and other people's insecurities and such.
    That's why shy people can still be in the performance arts and succeed anyway: the stage provides a layer of insulation between them and the audience.
    That's why I like the Internet so much, too... that insulating thing. That and no one can see me in my jammies with my hair sticking up.
    Really good post, Suzie, er, Her Shyness!

  4. I'm a mix too. I hate having attention yet I tend to "act out". I am the first to volunteer to get something done (it's that task loving part of me).

    I once missed an important presentation I was supposed to do for work because I was receiving an alumni award the next day and I was so stressed about it, I completely forgot about the presentation.

    Suzie, thanks for letting know who Sydney, your alter-ego, is! Great idea to try and step into someone else's confidence when we need it.
    But I agree, it's also good to be able to empathize with others in our 'shyness'.

    I love your new graphic and bio. Very nice Suzie Jo! we love you, "Your Shyness"

  5. Thank you, Dina. I like the idea of the buffer you mentioned. Good thought. I don't think, however, that I'm ready for public speaking. I can't deal with conflicts head-on. For me, I freeze. I just shut down. Even if I know exactly what I'm going to say, and I'm convicted of it deep in my heart, I totally freeze - except this one time where I said something totally inappropriate and wrong. Very bad things happened that day...

  6. Hi Christine! I'm so glad you love LIGMO. I have to tell you, I kind of love it, too. Now the situation where I learned it was totally out of my element. I went to a conference by myself. Not a writer's conference. I didn't know a single soul and there were over a thousand people there. The first speaker of the day was a motivational speaker. A very smart and inspiring woman. The first thing she said (shouted) was: LIGMO! And then she had us all stand up, hold our hands up and do this little shimmy thing while saying LIGMO, until we said it louder and louder. Every once in a while she'd stop during her talk and have us do it all over again. It was quite an experience, and I'll never forget it. And truthfully, while some of us felt a little funny about shimmying and shouting LIGMO, I really did learn from it.

    Have a great day, Christine!

  7. Ah, Niki. You see, I came prepared in case someone called me that. Well...actually, I let Her Shyness write the whole thing because it's really hard for me to share this much of myself. But Deb, bless her heart, called me out on it. So now everyone knows my secret. Good or bad? Surprisingly, I'm not nearly as nervous as should have been.

    I totally get what you and Dina are saying about that insulation thing. I like it. I'm already thinking of a way to retire Sydney Bristow and become a little more bold on my own. An imaginary buffer just might do help it along.

  8. Sydney speaks. Just for you, Deb. Bless your heart. Seriously, I must thank you for the added boost of bravery. It's kind of liberating (in a Dina-kind of way but without jewelery) to be myself when sharing one of my secrets.

    Someone told me that when people from the south say "bless your heart," it's often an insult. I didn't mean it that way at all. I promise.

    Oh, I can just imagine being so stressed that you'd forget about the awards presentation. Oh, Deb. {{{Hugs}}} Thank you, Deb. For everything.

  9. Suzie, this was wonderful. I think God is trying to tell me something, because I've been working on something for next Friday's post that is something of a sister post to this.

    I'll be repeating some things to myself 21 times today!

    Love your pic and bio, Suzie!

  10. Thank you, Susie. I think God was trying to tell me something, too, because this wasn't at all the post I was planning. In fact, it could almost be a polar opposite.

    I can't wait to read your post for next week. Thank you for your good words on my bio and pic. One other thing that's difficult for us shy people...

  11. Excellent post, Suzie. I never knew! Several things came to mind as I read your post...

    I remember (as does anyone in my family older than me) travelling as a 4 yr old when we didn't worry about seat belts, etc. I was standing on the transmission hump in the back seat and leaning on the front seats. My mom was right in front of me and Mama was sitting in the front passenger seat. Apparently Mama turned to look at me and I poked her in the eyes (one finger on each side of her nose) and said, 'Don't look at me.' Hmmm. Shy? or just rebellious? LOL

    I had problems at school because I was too shy to go up and sharpen my pencil in case someone looked at me and laughed at how I walked. Or what if I tripped? Then in Gr 9, a guy I really liked purposely tripped me as I walked down the aisle to my desk. I fell hard on my knees. The kids were laughing all around me. I got up and kept going to my seat without a word. Their laughter died and when I looked up, they were kind of hanging their heads and the guy who'd tripped me had a red face. My knees still hurt, but I felt better. Later, one of the girls told me he'd been trying to get my attention. Well, he did. I was always attentive enough to stay out of his way after that.

    I have a great celebrity story about shyness but I'll be back later with it.

    Anita Mae.

  12. I've been incredibly shy my whole life. Shy isn't even the's more like a social phobia at times. ;)
    I so agree with you. Being so shy has cost me many things! BUT, I wouldn't be where I'm at right now if not for it, so I ultimately wouldn't change anything about my past with being shy.
    This post was awesome!! It's going in my inspiration section of my notebook! :)

  13. Anita, I am so glad your mother wasn't driving that day! Oh. My.

    As for the other issue, I can tell you from very personal experience, I know how deeply being laughed at wounds. So if anyone needs support with that particular issue, I'm here to listen and pray. I have been there. I think Junior High is the cruelest place for a lot of kids to be.

    I can't wait to hear the celebrity story, Anita.

  14. Oh, Bluerose, you don't know how your comment has blessed me today. I am so glad you stopped by, and so thankful I could be an inspiration to you. Even though it's been costly, it's hard to want to change something that brought you to where you are at this point in life, isn't it? I'm so glad you and I are both in a place today where we can see that. God is so good. Take care, Bluerose!

  15. I once heard Barbra Streisand admit her stage freight is so terrible, she throws up before every performance. She doesn't stop being queasy until a few bars after she starts singing. I always wondered if that was why she quit performing while in her prime.

    Anita Mae.

  16. Great post, Suzie. I'm with Dina and Niki. I can teach or speak in front of a group. (Although that didn't come naturally to begin with.)

    Social settings are really tough on me, UNLESS I feel like I'm helping someone else by engaging them.

    I was much shyer when I was young. Now I can step out and talk to people if the situation demands, but it is always emotionally draining.

  17. Lisa said:
    Social settings are really tough on me, UNLESS I feel like I'm helping someone else by engaging them.

    I always found this to be the case for me, too. Why is that, do you think? Is it instinct? We recognize it in them, so we want to reach out and help them through it? I think that might have something to do with it.

    I have a hard time standing up for myself. Still. I'm working on it. But I don't have a hard time standing up for someone else. I said earlier today that confrontation is hard for me and I freeze up...but not when I'm defending someone else. Just when I'm defending myself.

    Thanks Lisa!

  18. Anita, I think I've heard that about Barbra Streisand. Can you imagine? Someone with a voice like that, having stage fright? Sometimes it's easy to forget that celebrities are real people and no matter how much money or fame they have, a lot of them have the same struggles we do.

  19. Thank you Suzie for this post.
    I had to go to to look up the word shy :)
    Your post gave me a good insight into the heart and mind of people who are shy around others.
    My memory is currently scanning my brain trying to search for situations or events when I was shy around others and if this shyness happened because of topics, people, or situations. Very few results so far.
    I'm also trying to recall how I felt toward shy people and only happy and kind memories are retrieving...

  20. Hi Dani. Thanks so much for dropping in. I am so glad you only have happy and kind memories of shy people. That does my heart so good. I'm also glad you haven't had very many shy moments. I'm inclined to think that a lot of times our shyness grows out of something that happened to chip away at our self-confidence. And the sad thing is, that can really do a lot of damage. So I think when people like me finally reach a point where we're aware of the root cause, we can finally start to break free of it.

    Thanks Dani!

  21. Really relevant post, Suzie!

    Got me thinking; who are we in Christ? We are more than just the "labels". We can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us!!!


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