Is It Too Late To Let Go of My Shyness?

Question via Tumblr: Hello, My name is Dave. I’m 50 years old l’m and still a virgin. I’ve been overweight since puberty and underwent extreme mental and emotional abuse all through school because of it. In short, I was treated like crap. People I went to school with were very arrogant. I was raised by an anti social, over protective mother. I suffered extreme shyness until really only the last few years. I was never able to have any kind of life and now I think I’m too old to try to start one now. Am I past help.

Hi Dave, nice to “meet” you. Thanks for being patience in waiting for a response, I wanted to make sure I could give it the attention you deserve. It sounds like you’ve experienced some tough shit in your life, and it will probably take you some time to sort through it and grow past it. Childhood stuff is tough because we’re still forming our ideas about who we are, and if we see negativity reflected back to us, we assume that we’re somehow defective ourselves – as opposed to seeing others behavior or your environment as fucked up. What you experienced as a young child was particularly formative, because I’ve read that until the age of 7 or so, kids are ego-centric, meaning they think everything that happens in their life is in some way because of them. As adults we can understand others motivations and actions but as kids we think everything was our fault. And if those things never get resolved in us, we’ll continue to go through life as if its shit because we don’t deserve any better.

The fact that you wrote to me shows that you know its not too late to change your life. You’re only too old if you believe you are. I think a lot of people your age would say they are, even though they still have half their lives left!

You might be surprised to know, I’ve struggled with shyness and social anxiety most my life. As a child, I can’t remember NOT feeling that way. At age 4, my parents took me to a psychiatrist because I wouldn’t talk to anyone except my family & a couple close friends. He diagnosed me with ‘selective mutism,’ which meant I would only talk to select people, though (of course) I wouldn’t talk to him either so he couldn’t really help beyond that. Kids in school would make fun of me and ask me if I knew how to talk, which was humiliating, and funny enough my attitude-ridden ‘YES!’ were some of the few words they ever heard from me. My mom (who is also pretty shy) read me this book called Its Okay to Be Shy to try and help, though the way I felt was absolutely was NOT okay. It was horribly painful and made dread school and every day social situations. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone that because I was so shy, so I remained in my shell. Anytime I had to talk to someone, my mind would run rampant with how stupid I am, how there must be something wrong with me. I would be so frozen I literally had nothing to say most of the time.

Coming out of that has taken time, patience, numerous therapists, books, writing, personal development seminars, spiritual exploration, and honestly, experiences on illicit substances that shifted my perspective on myself and the world (I’d say this was one of the most important things, all the other work grew from and supported these experiences). I still have difficulty communicating, I still get frustrated, anxious and frozen – but in time I’ve created new patterns of behavior and learned to deal with my emotions enough that comfort zone has gotten much bigger. Most people I meet would never guess I used to be so shy.

Change isn’t linear, in my experience it happens in steps. You’ll make some progress, then plateau. And when that happens, you’ll probably go all “poor me, my life sucks, I’m a loser [or whatever your personal insult of choice is], nothing will ever change.” But take enough steps and eventually you’ll come to accept the plateaus as important as the progress. Its when you take stock, see how things have changed, and whatever needs to be dealt with next will come up.

If you’re a reader, I’d suggest the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It comes from a Buddhist perspective, but you don’t need to be into Buddhism to appreciate it. Its written in plain English and is very easy to digest. I’m reading it right now.

Otherwise, a therapist would be most people’s first stop. Try one. Or two. Or three. Try a few out and see whether you click with them. There are so many different approaches to therapy and some will work better for you than others, and depending on what issues are most pertinent at the moment.

Basically you’re embarking on a journey to explore yourself, learn that you’re an awesome person, and how to share your awesomeness with others (and appreciate others’ awesomeness in your life). The more you can approach it as a game, an exploration, the chance to learn something new and fun and interesting about yourself and life more broadly – the better the trip will be and the more likely you’ll learn to live life on your own terms.

I hope this helps :)

Edited: November 4th, 2014