Escaping the shyness gene


Not being a scientific type, I’m not sure if there really is a gene for shyness, but if there is, it must be – of course — a recessive one.

“Scientists have found the gene for shyness. They would have found it years ago, but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes.”  ~ Jonathan Katz

A little girl with stick-like legs hides behind her mother when someone talks to her.   In school, she never raises her hand to respond to her teacher’s questions because she’s afraid her answer may be wrong.

In everyday life, she won’t answer the phone or even make calls to people she doesn’t know.  In the bigger scheme of life, she’s not fond of trying something new or taking a risk.

She’s shy.  Her mother tells her she’s afraid of her own shadow, but that’s not true.  Other people’s shadows or things that go bump in the night frighten her because she’s afraid of the dark and unfamiliar things.

That little girl used to be me.   My shyness lasted all the way up to my senior year of high school.  If you asked my former teachers about me, they would say I was a quiet student, if they remember me at all.  But something happened during my senior year that brought me out of my shell.  I took a drama class.

My teacher, who also directed all the school plays, required all drama students to participate in some fashion in school productions.  I’m not certain how I summoned up the courage to audition for an acting role, but I did.  I vaguely remember my friends shoving me into the school auditorium for try-outs.   Once I was onstage reading the script, I forgot to be scared.  The result was I landed a leading role in the play.

At school the Monday after our weekend performances, one of my teachers stopped me in the hall, his mouth widened into a perfect O, and he said, “Wow, that WAS you!”  Yep, a scared little butterfly emerged from its cocoon.

Once I became mother to our three children, I was determined, genes or no genes, not to pass along the trait of shyness to them.   Together, hubby and I attempted to provide challenges and new, exciting  experiences for them so they would embrace adventures and unfamiliar territory easily without fear and hesitation.

For much of their growing up years, my husband’s job transported us to different areas of the country.  We endeavored to make each move a grand adventure for our kids.  We traveled as much as we could to investigate unfamiliar areas, learn new information, and experience various events.

Our oldest daughter attended a different school every two years, which could be detrimental, but instead became an asset for her.  She learned quickly to adapt, make new friends, and gain a sense of independence.   I think acquiring those skills molded her into the adventuresome woman she is today – one who traveled by herself for a trip of a lifetime to Africa,  served others on mission trips to Honduras, and moved to a state far from home without family or friends.

Middle daughter overcame insecurities and displayed confidence early in elementary school and on the soccer playing fields.   She’s faced uncertainties with courage and bravado even when she felt like yielding.  Her perseverance enabled her to become a strong and assertive nurse who has used her compassion for others in the mission field from poverty-stricken areas of Mexico to hurricane-ravaged  Mississippi.  She loves to travel, appreciates historical and scenic sights, and records it all with her ever-present camera.

To me, youngest son seems fearless.  He welcomes new experiences like a parched man gulping a long draught of water.   He’s always eager to taste diverse foods, attempt different sports, engage in activities he’s never tried before.  Go on a mission trip to Belize?  Why not?  Try sailing? Sure.  How about a little surfing?  Go for it.  White water rafting?  You bet.  He’s traveled westward across the country and Pacific to Hawaii and eastward across the Atlantic to Germany and Italy.

This weekend, all three of my adult children reunited for a sibling get-together.  Son traveled from the state next door, met middle daughter in the city, and together they drove all night to oldest daughter’s home down south.

The three of them planned a big adventure for themselves to knock an item off their bucket lists.  They are all going sky-diving together!

Has that once shy, fearful little girl succeeded to instill a sense of daring exploration in her children?  Did they escape the shyness gene? 

I’m happy (and a little bit proud) to say yes in my book called Opportunity, Chapter 8, Page 12.  And I can’t wait to hear all about their exciting escapade after I go pray for their safety!

© 2011


12 responses

  1. I’ve heard that shyness is another form of egocentricity. When I first heard that I was taken aback but I believe it to be true. Outgoing people express their “self-centeredness” through more outward verbal expressions. Shy people are also self centered but not being able to express it as well.
    My son was extremely shy as a child. It was so extreme that when he went to a Moms day out program at 2 1/2 years old, the director (who had her PhD) thought he was deaf, because he wouldn’t respond to other children. He would respond to adults only. I heard from my MIL that my husband, who was a twin, was the same way.
    Some of it is emotional maturity also. My kids are now in their 20s. I think there is still some emotional maturity that will take experience to evolve as they move into the working world. It wasn’t easy for me at the parent.


    • Yes, I’ve read that too about shyness being another form of egocentricity. But I think all humans are egocentric. I bet it is difficult to be the parent of a painfully shy child. I’m sure it takes a lot of patience. I don’t think I fell into that category as a child, I think I was just a little fearful of new experiences. But I got over that quickly when I headed off to college, married my true love, and moved around the country.


    • I’m happy to report they all survived their sky-diving yesterday! 😉 They all took turns calling me on their cells after they landed to tell me how exciting and awesome it was. I found it interesting how each one of them had a different mode of reporting. Engineer son informed me how fun it was and then launched into the numbers of it all — how many feet up they were, how long the free fall was, something about G-forces, etc. Joyful middle daughter relayed how much happy screaming she did, hooting and hollering as she got her picture taken, and how the air rushed so fast into her mouth, it took her breath away. Oldest daughter just kept repeating how surreal the experience was and how she just couldn’t believe she’d done it. Each one of them so different, yet the same. It gave me such joy that they shared this experience together, I wanted to cry!


  2. Mom, the landing was so soft; no need to worry about breaking bones! If I landed okay already having a broken toe, you would have been totally fine 😉


  3. Loved hearing about your children and the shy little girl who was you. Being shy is a hard thing to deal with, and theater was such a good experience for you. Believe it or not, my shyness through college actually got me my husband. His best friend dared him to ask me out, telling him, “She’s so stuck up, she’ll never go out with you.” I wasn’t stuck up at all; I was just very shy around boys. Anyway, my husband asked me out, and, as they say, the rest is history. Great post about your family.


    • It’s so true that shy people can be misjudged as being ‘stuck up.’ So many folks miss out on getting to know truly wonderful people because of that fallacy, Lucky for you, your husband was brave! 😉 My husband was the shy one between the two of us. I always tell him if I wouldn’t have chased him, he never would have been caught. Drama WAS good for me because evidently inside that little shy girl was a ‘ham’ just waiting to get out! Ha! Actually at home, being the youngest of three girls (sisters were 12 and 9 yrs older), I was the center of attention and liked showing off for my family. After I came out of my shy mode, I just showed off for anyone who would watch! I still enjoy making my sisters laugh!!!


  4. Mission accomplished! What an exciting adventure your children have planned and so great that they have such a wonderful relationship.

    I was terribly shy as a child and am probably still overcoming my shyness a bit at 50! I’ve had to muster up the courage to stand and talk in front of groups of people through work and church, but not without my knees literally knocking together and my face turning beet red. Practice makes perfect, however, and I am at a point where I’m shaking less and my face is a nice shade of pink instead of red!


    • Yes!! Definitely mission accomplished! They had the most amazing adventure and we all (me included) survived. 😉 I think some people are just naturally shy, so don’t beat (or beet, being punny!) yourself up. Besides, I think pink is a most becoming color. Inside that fearful shy child that was me was a definite “ham” just waiting to get out. After I took that drama class and acted in the school play, I actually loved being in front of large groups of people and still do.


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