Timidity is a form of fear. In particular, it is a fear of
expressing oneself, and perhaps even being
oneself. Timidity is characterized by inaction and/or the repetition of
actions that are not fruitful. Timidity is roughly synonymous with “quiet
desperation,” the state of suffering in silence while you work to maintain a
life that isn’t right for you.
To be timid is to play the game of life too tightly. Timidity’s goal is to try to “Play it safe,” and avoid taking any damage.
This is timidity’s great irony: it puts the bulk of its efforts into protecting itself, yet it profoundly fears itself. How do you protect something you are afraid of? The answer: don’t get too close to it.
That means that, when you are timid, you try not to get to know yourself too well. You avoid intimacy. You shy away from your true desires, concluding that they are some combination of ludicrous, embarrassing, and impossible. You try to act as though you are some neutral entity without inclinations, convictions, curiosities, or ideas. God forbid anyone finding out that you’re actually human.
To a timid person, humanness is the most surprising and discomforting of things in this world.
The Components of Timidity
My words come from experience. I have long known timidity. That might be hard to comprehend, since I do things such as run long distances (up to 62 miles in a day, thus far), write openly about sexuality, and try unusual diets. It would be impossible to have a blog (especially one on personal growth) if I had no convictions, curiosities, or ideas.
However, there is a reality that enables me to be timid—even in the face of the above truths. It is that incongruences can exist. In particular, the way you act can be out of line with the way you feel, and the way you speak can be out of line with what you believe.
When I write, I say what is true for me. Yet, when I speak to others, that isn’t always the case. Similarly, sometimes when I make decisions I lose touch with what is true for me, and consequently make decisions that aren’t right for me. This happens often enough over time that my trust in my decision-making abilities wanes, and I succumb to inaction on the one hand, and futile action on the other.
Thus, we have the components of timidity: lack of self-trust, indecisiveness, avoidance behavior, escapism, and vagueness.
Avoidance behavior and vagueness (e.g. in the words I speak and the desires I claim to have) lend themselves to inaction. When you avoid the people and the challenges in your life, and when you say things that are unclear or basically meaningless, nothing happens. Timid people love when nothing happens, because if something were to happen they would have to express themselves in order to do something about it. And timid people hate expressing themselves.
Escapism lends itself to futile action. My chosen forms of escapism over the years have included running, reading, eating, sleeping, and fantasizing about romance. To practice escapism is to indulge in such behaviors while avoiding facing the desires, challenges, and problems that are staring you right in the face.
Simply engaging in these behaviors doesn’t mean that I am practicing escapism: obviously these are things that add value to my life. Rather, what determines whether someone is currently being an escapist is the intention behind their behavior.
Fantasizing about romance, for instance, might sound like a waste of time, and definitely always a form of self-distraction. But when done consciously, and with the right intent, it can be a valuable activity. Romance is a context in which I want to be my best, so it lends itself to imagining the type of person that I can become. This is also an effective way of entering a state of heart-centeredness. In that state, all fear- including timidity- melts away, and I genuinely feel good about myself and about life.
When you live in your heart, the obstacles to being yourself around other people, and thus to being able to love other people, essentially disappear. There can still be disagreements, incompatibilities, and uncertainties, but those matters aren’t problems when you aren’t timid.
Why Does Timidity Come About?
I’ve already begun to describe a solution. Let me back up a few steps and get back to the problem.
How do the events of timidity happen? In other words, why would someone be timid?
In my case, much of the time I live in a ridiculous state where I am constantly doing battle with the thoughts I imagine other people are thinking. I think that I should do x or not say y because someone else might like/not like or agree/disagree with it. Or, even worse, they might ask me a question about it, and answering that question might require expressing myself even more than doing x or saying y would. And, of course, when I am timid, expressing myself is scary berries.
The question that follows is, Why is expressing myself so scary? Seriously-- What is it about myself that I’m afraid of people knowing?
The answer I consistently come back to is that I care about growth. I don’t want to make that apparent.
Well… Why? Why is it so scary for people to bear witness to what I actually value? Because I perceive I’ve been raised in a society that values, maintains, and expects the opposite (i.e. of conscious growth)? Because I imagine that the people around me think that I agree with certain ideas or have certain desires, when in reality I may not?
Or, is it scary for people to see that I care and have convictions at all, and it would make no difference what the specific thing I care about is?
I could see the answer being both. I feel a bit unsure of myself when I perceive that my values and desires don’t match up with those of other people (remember that perceive is just what I imagine to be the case—it might not actually be the case, though I won’t know that until I change my perceptions). Likewise, it’s scary to show that I care—that certain things excite me and that I believe in certain ideas.
But that essentially restates the beginning of this article—that timidity is a fear of expressing oneself. What the hell is that all about?
The Progression from Fear to Fearlessness
Well, fear indicates that your ideas about reality are flawed. Your perceptions are not serving you. And because you can choose the way you perceive reality, you might as well change those perceptions.
In other words, it is simplest to conclude that timidity is a totally arbitrary way of being, just like any other. To be timid is a choice. If you aren’t timid, you can choose right now to start being timid. If you are timid, you can choose right now to stop being so.
Of course, it may not feel like a choice. Reality tends to be relatively stable, and things don’t change all at once (i.e. completely and immediately). What most likely happened is that long, long ago I decided to try on an aspect of timidity for one reason or another, and it served me well enough (in my own perception) that I decided to keep it on. Perhaps it comforted me from some problem I felt too weak to face or unable to overcome.
Since all ways of being are self-perpetuating, I became more timid over time, and the patterns of timidity instilled themselves in me. I would say that my timidity peaked somewhere in high school, about 3-4 years ago.
In that time I have diminished the timidity by facing my fears (i.e. exercising courage) and by changing my perceptions of reality so as to avoid needing to be timid in the first place. This is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding and incredibly exciting.
Right now the most troubling components of timidity for me are a lack of self-trust and indecisiveness, which go hand in hand (as explained above: it’s difficult to make decisions when you don’t trust yourself, and vice versa).
I’ve realized that the source of inaction is not a lack of discipline, but actually a lack of decisiveness. How can you take action when you haven’t decided what you are going to do? You don’t have to know what you are going to do for-ever and the rest of your days. You just have to know what you’re going to do right now.
At this point in my life, it’s not knowing what I want to do and deciding on a course of action that’s difficult. It’s not hard to bring into mind something that excites me and that I think is worth doing and exploring. Essentially, the problem is giving myself permission to do it. I’ll say to myself:
But shouldn’t I do this other thing first?
People won’t like it if I do that.
Oh, come on—everyone knows you’re supposed to do x before you do y. People tell me so all the time. They must be right.
Maybe I should pursue this other thing first because people will like it better. They might even give me a pat on the back. Oh boy!
That seems like a lot of fun, and it really excites me, but logically I just don’t see how it will pan out. Plus everyone seems to think it’s a stupid idea.
Arguing logically with these thoughts is futile, since they aren’t logical—even though they may appear to be. These thoughts are the products of irrational, unnecessary, useless fear; therefore, they are not logical, and cannot be won over with argument.
When you lack trust in yourself, as I do, you will be plagued by the opinions of the outside world. People will take note of your shields and clobber at them. The more you actively consider the opinions of others, whether real or imaginary, the more difficult it will be to trust yourself. Other people will seem so certain of themselves, and you’ll doubt your ability to make sound decisions and produce useful ideas. Surely your judgments are flawed—so you think.
The idea you must consider in order to dig yourself out of this hole is that Trusting yourself is more important than being right. When you decide on a course of action that sounds fun and makes sense to you, that course of action might not work in practice. In other words, you might be wrong sometimes.
But, here’s the thing. If you don’t trust yourself, you can’t ever possibly be right, because you’ll never decide on anything. You’ll live in a state of constant self-doubting and mind-changing, and you’ll never get anywhere. In fact, when you’re constantly overriding your decisions, it’ll seem that you live in a state of perpetual wrongness: you’ll always be declaring your previous decisions as wrong, while never going far enough down any course of action to see whether it might actually be right.
To commit to a course of action requires decisiveness, and decisiveness requires self-trust. So, as long as you fail to trust yourself, you will never do nor experience much—nor will your decisions be correct, nor your life functional. All in all, things just plain don’t work when you don’t trust yourself. So clearly this is an important quality to develop.
The kicker is that when you don’t trust yourself, it’s hard to see why you should start trusting yourself. So, in order to trust yourself, you must suspend your disbelief in yourself. You have to consider, Maybe there is still more to be seen here. Maybe by distrusting myself so badly I haven’t let myself shine. Maybe I’m capable of far more than I think, and the only way I’ll find out is if I let myself find out.
The way to sidestep timidity is to replace it with curiosity. Ask, What am I really made of? Who am I really? What if other people have different thoughts than I imagine they do?
And what if you just plain can’t know what other people think? What then? What is there to keep you from being yourself but your own fears and decisions?
Being Yourself Matters
When you’re mired in timidity, it’s easy to think that being yourself isn’t important. Be yourself? That sounds pompous! Who needs you to be yourself? We have shit to get done!
To that I would respond, Who decides what matters in the first place? Is it not yourself? If you’re always making decisions no matter what- even if you’re simply deciding to agree with what other people tell you- don’t you matter? Are you not the one who’s making things happen in your reality? Is that not incredibly powerful?
You can’t escape from yourself. As long as you are alive, you have nothing but the awareness that you identify as yourself. All of your experiences are contained within that awareness. Without that awareness, you perceive, experience, do, and are nothing.
This means that you can’t not be yourself. So, what I’m actually asking you to do here is Be the version of yourself that you want to be.
However you choose to be, you have to deal with it. You have to experience your chosen way of being and its consequences. You can be an individual who trusts in herself and chooses to be highly aware; or, you can take pains to constantly withhold what is true for you, and instead merely react to the input you receive from others.
You and I both know that you would never define being yourself as reacting fearfully to the outside world. To do so would be to declare that you are a mouse (sorry mice—you’re cute, but you seem pretty darn fearful). And if you are reading this sentence right now we know that you’re not a mouse, because mice can’t read.
When you think of being yourself, what comes to mind? What sort of person do you see? Does that person have any need for fear? Does that person dislike himself? Does that person try to squeak through life without getting hurt?
Or does that person care a whole lot about what matters to them? Does that person have well-formed thoughts? Is that person continuously excited about what lies ahead of them? Does that person have enough self-respect that they can express themselves honestly towards others; and, by extension, share love freely?
Your experience and quality of life hinge on who you decide to be. When you ask yourself who you really are, there is most likely a particular idea of a person that comes to mind. You can choose to embody that idea, and have a life that is endlessly exciting, fulfilling, and challenging; or, you can choose to hold back from that idea, and instead live in a fashion that is mediocre, draining, and disappointing.
Who you decide to be is a decision that you must make every moment. You have the ability to change that decision whenever you’d like. The most effective thing you can do is to simply choose, and choose consciously. You’re always making a decision no matter what; yet, much of the time, that decision is unconscious. Being timid and trying to hide who you are is a decision that can only be made unconsciously. You’d be hard-pressed to get someone to consciously choose to be timid.
Only you can know what your conscious decision is, and only you can make that decision. You are an intelligent being, and so the only way to be who you really are is to decide to be so, by using your own intelligence. You must decide for yourself who you are, and then to be that person.
To be yourself, or not to be: that is the question. How will you answer it?
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