I used to be painfully shy. The idea of meeting new people created a flurry of anxiety that churned in my stomach.
At social gatherings, I’d find one person I knew and stick by them like super glue for fear of having to talk to other people. If I didn’t know anyone, I’d cling to the perimeter of the room as if the walls were a protective shield and feign a curious interest in the artwork, furniture, or any nearby object to make myself appear occupied so no one would notice how uncomfortable I was alone.
On my best days, I’d scan the room and find a talker – there’s at least one at every social gathering – the person who loves talking about themselves. I’d muster up the courage to stealthily inch my way into their circle while nodding my head and smiling as if I’d been listening along with everyone else surrounding them. It felt awkward, but I knew if I pushed through the moment of discomfort to make my way in, I’d no longer have to worry about the shame of being the outsider for the rest of the evening. All I’d have to do was follow the talker around and pretend to care about what he had to say.
The idea that people would notice my shyness was worse than being shy itself, and fortunately, the talker was too self-absorbed to notice. He was too busy boasting about himself to ask me questions or engage in a conversation, which suited my fear of talking just fine. I wouldn’t stammer over my words because I wouldn’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise. And others would have no clue that I was socially awkward because they wouldn’t notice me over his chatter. He would serve as my buffer, allowing me to be invisible for the gruelling hours that followed until I could politely make my exit, staying long enough for the host to think I had a good time and gain accolades for coming.
It was exhausting.
While I’ve since overcome my shyness, I look back with empathy for myself as the young girl who was once acutely insecure, crippled at the thought of being judged harshly by others. I see how debilitating it was, but I also see the ways in which my shyness helped me.
It taught me to listen, to pay attention and be more observant of my surroundings and other people. It gave me a challenge to overcome, to stretch beyond my comfort zone and strengthen my courage. It helped me find creative ways to cope with discomfort, nervousness and anxiety.
Shyness may be considered a negative trait, but it has its silver linings. Here are 5 more traits that are considered negative, but which can be appreciated for their positive aspects:
While the world touts optimism as an elixir to a happy life, those who are pessimists are often left scratching their heads, wondering why no one saw that disaster coming, except them. Optimists generally underestimate risks and are more prone to indulge in high-risk activities without much thought for what might go wrong. Pessimists consider the possible negative outcomes of a situation, allowing them to prepare for the worst. Ironically, their incessant “worst-case scenario” thoughts can help them succeed in their new ventures by having failsafes and alternate strategies in place in case things don’t go as planned.
While excessive self-doubt can be paralyzing and inhibit a person from taking meaningful action in their lives, a healthy amount of self-doubt opens a person’s mind to learning. Imagine someone who thinks they know everything there is to know about themselves versus someone who admits they have much more to learn. People with self-doubt are more receptive to other people’s feedback, have a strong desire to improve themselves (often in an attempt to rid themselves of self-doubt) and usually think twice about their actions, allowing them to make better, more calculated choices.
While many people feel guilty when taking care of themselves first, selfishness is critical to the wellbeing of a person who cares for others. People who make it a priority to have their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs met know how to set boundaries, ask for what they want, and practice better self-care. As a result, they often have more time, patience, and energy for others. Imagine someone who has worn themselves out taking care of everyone else’s needs nonstop versus someone who took breaks throughout the day to recharge and ground themselves. One will feel scattered, exhausted, and cranky while the other will feel centered, focused, and happy.
While everyone knows that patience is a virtue, impatience is a virtuous teacher. Impatience is often an indication that what someone’s doing is either not that important or enjoyable to them (therefore they want to get it over with quickly) or the exact opposite, that what they’re doing is so important, they can’t wait to get it done and see results. Impatience is not an in-between trait, it’s a self-reflective tool that alerts a person to what’s truly important to them, or not. It motivates people to take action rather than wait for things to fall in their laps, seek creative solutions to problems, and, in some cases, focus intently until the job gets done.
5. People Pleasing
While nearly everyone agrees that people pleasing is, on balance, a negative trait, it takes a certain flexible and caring quality to be a people pleaser. Because people pleasers want people to be happy, they’re attentive to the needs of others, have a genuine concern for another’s well-being, and take an active interest in helping out. They adapt quickly and easily to a variety of different needs in different people and come up with creative, innovative ways to minimize conflict and keep the peace within a group setting, often to the satisfaction of everyone involved.
Personally, people pleasing has served me well, along with many traits others would consider negative. Instead of trying to rid yourself of a negative trait, which is often difficult at best, embrace it for the good it brings and use it to your advantage. Harness it for the benefits it derives rather than judge it for its disadvantages.
Make a list of your so-called negative traits and ask yourself, “what’s good about this?” You probably already know all the negative things about it, but have rarely considered the positive. Imagine you’re making a case for this trait and have to defend it in a courtroom. Find as many reasons as you can as to how it has served you.
When we embrace parts of ourselves instead of resisting them, we diffuse the grip they have over us. For example, our guilt and shame over our shyness softens, and as a result, we often find ourselves more open and confident around others. Shyness fades away naturally, leaving behind all the strengths and lessons it taught us.