When the Need to Connect Becomes Terrifying: The Dilemma of the Shy Extravert

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Imagine that a person stands outside of a banquet hall looking in at delicious and tempting foods. The heroine of our story is starved and her energy is depleted. However, blocking each entrance to the hall are chained tigers who happen to be hungry themselves. She knows these animals are no strangers to the taste of human flesh and are to be feared. The food is so close, and the only thing holding our heroine back is her fear. Consequently, because she does not receive the food she needs, she starves.

Extraverts, like the heroine of the story, need to restore their energy, and they do it through social interaction. However, for some, fear stands in the entrance to their means of fulfilling this need. Some Extraverts are shy. Does the phrase “shy Extravert” sound like an oxymoron? Indeed, popular usage would have us think “Extravert” means the opposite of “shy.” That’s not necessarily so.

Just as Introversion and shyness are often considered to be the same, Extraversion is also frequently distorted. Extraverts are commonly thought to be in a constant state of social exuberance, fearlessly going through life with metaphorical lamp shades on their heads. They will glad-hand absolutely anyone who wanders within handshake distance.

In truth, Extraverts aren’t necessarily the life of the party. They just like being at the party. Even shy Extraverts like to show up, and they are energized by others like any other Extravert is. Nonetheless, when the room is jam-packed with unfamiliar faces, they can be intimidated. It can be a fearful situation. Shy Extraverts help us recalibrate our definition of what Extraversion really is.

Shyness is about fear. Even though shyness can run parallel to both, neither Extraversion nor Introversion are defined by how socially fearful we are or aren’t. It’s possible to have a socially fearful Extravert while an Introvert can be boldly outgoing.

However, when an Extravert is shy, there may be challenges. As in our story, it may be difficult for these individuals to get their Extraverted needs met if they are blocked by limiting fear (shyness). So, let’s consider some things that might help shy Extraverts put things in perspective.

Two Interesting Things about Shyness

There are some interesting things to consider about shyness when pondering the dilemma of the shy Extravert:

The First Interesting Thing: Just like our core personality traits, phobias and anxieties exist on a spectrum. A person can be a little shy or devastatingly shy. Reasonably, an Extravert who is a little shy will have fewer social problems than those who are largely shy. Not all shy Extraverts are paralyzed by fear, and feeling awkward around strangers differs from running away whenever one approaches. In real life, few shy people are so terrified of social situations that they will avoid them altogether. So, shyness doesn’t always overwhelm a person. It’s all a matter of degree.

Still, some Extraverts may be unable to get their needs met due to their social fears. The good news for them comes with the Second Interesting Thing.

The Second Interesting Thing: Unlike Extraversion, which is a fairly stable trait throughout one’s life, shyness can get “better.” All it takes is experience, gained confidence and even aging. Probably a significant number of people reading this will report that they were shy as children or teens. However, they “grew out of it” as they got older. One of the gifts of maturation is confidence, and confidence can render the shyness of youth a thing of the past.

In addition, there are psychological and self-help interventions that can lessen or even eliminate phobias and anxieties like shyness. Googling the word “shyness” can produce all manner of useful resources. There are even medicines that can blunt anxieties, should they be needed. Usually when people talk about therapy for phobias or anxieties, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is usually brought up early in the conversation. Should one choose, there are always ways to become “less shy.” Overwhelming shyness is not inescapable.

Remaining a Shy Extravert

However, keep in mind, it’s only when shyness limits one’s opportunities that it becomes a problem. There’s nothing wrong with remaining a shy Extravert as long as the person is a happy one. It’s mostly when it becomes extreme that it’s a problem. Remember, shyness is on a continuum. Some may not want to worry much about a little fear when it doesn’t interfere with their quality of life. And who knows – some social reticence might even add to a person’s appeal by lending an air of mystery.

Are you a shy Extravert or do you know any? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Please leave a comment below.