Why is it OK to ask why are you so quiet?

I am in my thirties and I have suffered from social phobia since my teens. Over the years, my shyness has improved in some ways. For example, tonight I attended a landscape design class and on several occasions I had to answer the instructor’s questions. There was a time when I would have never taken a class in which I had to speak. In the past, I only took very large classes in which I blended into the background and never had to make a comment or speak to anyone. The problem is that even though I am speaking up a little, and that is an improvement, I still feel great embarrassment about how apparent my shyness is to others. The instructor of this class has made comments to me several times about my shyness. He actually said to me, “You’re obviously a timid person.”   I believe that when students are quiet, this instructor feels uncomfortable. I base this on comments he has made to others, such as “You’re such a quiet little mouse. You need to speak out and ask questions in front of the class instead of waiting to ask me afterwards.” And, he often says to the whole class in a irritated tone of voice “Give me feedback. Talk to me.” He believes he has the right to expect students to talk in class, and maybe he does. I’m not sure.  This instructor is very competent in teaching landscape design and I enjoy what I have learned in class. However, because of his calling attention to my shyness, and to others’ shyness, I also dread attending class.  How do I handle it when other people ask me “Why are you so quiet, shy, timid, etc.?” It is so frustrating when I am trying so hard to improve, and I am doing much better than before, and then I still hear (implied) “What’s wrong with you. Why are you so quiet and fearful?”   Why is it that people consider it rude to say to someone, “You are so loud? Why do you talk so much?” And, yet, it is socially acceptable to say to someone, “You’re so quiet. Why don’t you talk more?”  Behind the quiet, fearful exterior, I believe I am a person who is caring and intelligent and worthy of being in relationships with others. How can I let go of this wall of fear that distances me from other people?


1 Comment

  1. I know what you mean about people giving you are hard time for being quiet. I get this at work and in social situations. Even though I have learned to not be intimated by what other people may think of me (by practicing speaking my opinion) — my tendency is still to be quiet unless I have a strong opinion or view on a topic. Also, I don’t want other people to be bored so I speak when I have something of value to add, otherwise I remain quiet.It is especially tough being criticized by an instructor or employer as their opinions of us affect our grades, pay, and opportunities. We tend to think that people in authority (teacher,boss) know what they are doing — this is not always true. A boss or teacher may be competent, but may have terrible people skills.

    It could be that this teacher is blaming you and others who are quiet for their failure to engage the class and keep it interesting. Some teachers have a talent for making each person feel welcomed, safe, and good about themselves and the class. Other teachers have no people skills and can make class a miserable experience. Quiet people appear to be easy targets — don’t be one! Stand up for your rights — it is not hard once you get into the habit.

    I now speak when I have an opinion that others could benefit from or when I have an important question. Because I have created many opportunities for expressing myself in safe situations (relationship/ psychology/ personal growth seminars, therapy, classes, etc), it is now easy for me to speak up in classes that are less safe. I look at it this way, I am paying for the class and deserve to get the most out of it. If I have a question, I ask — even if I think other’s may think it is a stupid question.

    What I have discovered is that people do respect you when you express an authentic opinion — one that is yours. When you are quiet, there is no opportunity for others to get to know you.

    Being quiet is threatening to people because they cannot gauge you — they don’t know what you are thinking; and do not know what you think of them and their ideas. Are you friend or foe? — they wonder.

    It is amazing how enjoyable class and work can be with people that respect each others
    differences and when a safe environment is created.

    Safe Environments
    A safe environment is one you feel free to express yourself without fear and has the following characteristics:
    1) Comments are not directed at a person, they are about a subject
    2) A person can speak without being interrupted
    3) Criticism is not allowed

    The difference between safe and unsafe environment is similar to the difference between a critique and a criticism. A critique is constructive, supportive, and informative. A criticism is destructive, unsupportive, and insensitive.

    What can you do?
    Seek out safe environments and express yourself there. The more you express yourself when you feel safe, the easier it will be to express yourself in less safe situations.

    Remember not only are 80 percent of the population different than you(you being sensitive), but 42 percent of the population is totally the opposite — insensitive, without the ability to understand how their words and actions effect someone else (Aron 1996).

    When some is rude to you, remember they are the insensitive one.

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