Many seemingly self-assured performers and actors have been shy or introverted as children.
Some still are, as adults. And many have found that performing has changed their level of confidence.
Having the personality trait of high sensitivity – as many creative people do – can interact with shyness and introversion, to help us feel less confident at times.
Amy Adams says, “Being an actress hasn’t made me insecure. I was insecure long before I declared I was an actress.”
She talks about having an “existential crisis” at the Oscars, sitting next to Sean Penn and Meryl Streep and thinking, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I felt like it could all be taken away.”
Acting was not deep calling for her as a child, as it is for many actors.
She says, “I graduated high school and I didn’t have a skill set and I didn’t want to go to college. I needed a job. This is what I could do. And I like it, but it can be very painful. You feel so vulnerable all the time on set, so exposed.
“But I had that same feeling of being exposed when I was a waitress, I have it at parties…I’d love to be a diva. But I’d then have to send so many apology notes for my abhorrent behaviour.”
She added, “I like not being noticed. It has been a struggle because I love performing, but if I’m in a group of people and someone has a bigger personality I’m like ‘Go ahead, and have fun!’ It looks like a lotta work.”
[From article: ‘I was staring down 30, lost and confused’ By Louise Saunders, Daily Mail, 3 June 2013.]
A profile article noted that actor Rebel Wilson “thought she was destined for a black-and-white existence as an actuary, computing equations in a cubicle.
“The young Australian was painfully shy, so much so that she recalls her social anxiety as bordering on being a serious disorder.
“Then one day, her mother, tired of her daughter’s isolated behavior, dragged her to an acting class and slammed the door behind her, leaving the 14-year-old to fend for herself among a group of extroverted strangers.”
Wilson recalled, “It was so embarrassing…My face is red from crying. My mom has left. I’m stuck for the next 90 minutes. The teacher came up and asked me my name, and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Rebel,’ in an American accent. It was the only way I could deal with this traumatic situation. I became a character instantly. And then I just started making stuff up.”
The article adds, “In a sea of size-0 starlets, Wilson has the confidence of a performer twice her age and half her size. And the actress, who also holds a degree from one of Sydney’s most prestigious law schools, has parlayed that turn into a run of roles, four movies in about 16 months.”
From ‘Pitch Perfect’: Rebel Wilson finally fitting in, by Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times Oct 1, 2012.
Photo: Rebel Wilson as “Fat Amy” in the movie Pitch Perfect.
Gwen Stefani was a “shy girl who spent most of her time in a bedroom plastered with Marilyn Monroe posters, who nevertheless assumed she was destined for greatness,” according to a UK newspaper profile.
[From Gwen Stefani: Blonde with extra bottle, by Liz Hoggard, The Independent on Sunday, Nov 6, 2005. Photo: as Jean Harlow in The Aviator.]
Nicole Kidman said in an interview in 2000, “I still regress into that shyness. So I don’t like walking into a crowded restaurant by myself; I don’t like going to a party by myself.”
Kim Basinger has been quoted: “As a child, I was very shy. Painfully, excruciatingly shy. I hid a lot in my room. I was so terrified to read out loud in school that I had to have my mother ask my reading teacher not to call on me in class.”
An ingrained temperament?
Will it affect those of us who are shy all our lives? What causes it, and can we modulate it if we want to?
A Psychology Today article [Confidence: Stepping Out, by Erika Casriel, April 2007] says:
“Most shy people would be surprised to learn that 40 percent of all young people today describe themselves that way”and the rate continues to creep up by about 1 percent every year.
“Researchers attribute the rise in self-identified shyness to reduced face-to-face communication and an impatience with the typically slow pace of building social relationships.
“Shyness can also be inherited: In a study by Jerome Kagan at Harvard University, about 20 percent of infants reacted to stimuli like new toys by squirming and whimpering. Many of these infants developed into children who were more fearful than others – if their parents didn’t expose them gradually to new and disquieting situations, through which the fear response was extinguished.
“In other words, even for babies that may have been genetically predisposed to shyness, gentle learning overrides genetics.”
A variant gene
There is some new research, according to the article, showing that “some who are shy have a variant gene involved in the flow of serotonin, making them especially reactive to stress – which may explain why, before a big event, some people respond to their increasing alertness with anxiety, while others stay cool.
“All this suggests that shyness may be a temperament that’s unlikely to change. But even if shyness has a genetic component, and shy people never see their social anxiety slip to zero, there are proven strategies to help anyone interact successfully.”
But, the article warns, “Trying to tune out anxious thoughts may make us more self-conscious; fetishizing the confidence of a George Clooney or an Oprah Winfrey, ironically, makes us less likely to attain it.
“But by taking small risks, accumulating a pattern of successes, and taking credit when we do something right, anyone can become dramatically more confident in the most daunting social situations.”
Bernardo Carducci, director of Indiana University Southeast’s Shyness Research Institute points out that we may “assume that confident people were born that way.”
The article notes, “We compare ourselves to the most popular person in the room – or on TV – rather than to people who are similar to us. When we see a celebrity like George Clooney on talk shows – suave and funny, flirting easily with the audience – we feel inadequate.
“But we forget that he’s done this hundreds of times and has an army of handlers to groom and prep him. When we watch The Tonight Show and conclude that icons of charisma are born, not made, we are not only wrong – we sabotage our chances of achieving our social potential.
“The reality is that most socially confident people deliberately learn specific skills, like displaying friendly body language, understanding the predictable format of conversations with new people, and focusing on the topic rather than on how one is being perceived.”
Clea DuVall has referred to herself as “an only child and I’m just a real loner kind of person, and yeah, kinda dark. But I’m happy. Not sad. I’m just shy and nervous.” [imdb.com]
A number of actors quoted on my various sites say that being on stage or on camera has helped them feel less shy, perhaps through using just those strategies.
Theater companies and film sets are often described as “families”, and it can probably help a shy actor to be working long hours with more extroverted “family members” and to role-play confident characters, with self-assured dialogue and body language.
Taye Diggs is a theatre, film and television actor, producer and choreographer.
In my interview with him [some years ago], he commented:
“I have been acting for as long as I’ve been shy.
“I wouldn’t say my insecurities and shyness have lessened just because of expressing myself through acting, but what has a role in my becoming more confident is the kind of false sense of adoration you get from the business… Everyone always telling you how great you are…
“For the average cat, that might have a bad effect, but for me, because I was so insecure, it gives me a reason to be a little more confident.”
Most of us will not be actors – but we can role-play or use other techniques that many actors have found helpful, like putting ourselves into social situations that are out of our normal comfort zone, or where we can gain more acknowledgment from others.
What we call shyness may be primarily introversion and a part of our personality, not something that needs ‘fixing.’
But for some people, shyness may be a matter of performance anxiety or social phobia or some other mental health issue that would be helped by counseling or even temporary medication. Get more information and help if you think that fits for you.
My video: “Creative People and Shyness”
See more videos by Douglas Eby.
Psychologist Elaine Aron – on her site The Highly Sensitive Person – has a self-test for high sensitivity, which includes a number of items that many talented actors and performers might agree with such as:
* I have a rich,complex inner life.
* My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.
* I am conscientious.
* I startle easily.
* I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.
* I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes.
* When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.
A number of these characteristics seem to be common for many of us who are sensitive – but they are also qualities that can be real assets for actors and other artists.
In a post on her Psychology Today blog, Aron writes:
“If you read some descriptions of introversion, they can sound very much like high sensitivity: Both introverts and HSPs reflect deeply, like meaningful conversations, and need lots of down time. Thus it is not surprising that 70% of HSPs are introverts. But that means 30% are extraverts—why is that? Clearing up the introversion-sensitivity distinction is something I am trying to do all the time…”
Also see her article: Personality and Temperament: The Highly Sensitive Person Who Is Also A High Sensation Seeker.
Another article: An Insider View of the Extravert High Sensation Seeking HSP By Jacquelyn Strickland.
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See more in my article Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts – quotes by and about Alanis Morissette, Kate Mara, Chris Cooper, J.K. Rowling, Tom Ford, Tory Burch and many other well-known creative people.
Highly Sensitive site
Also see article: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?
Book by Jerome Kagan, psychology professor emeritus at Harvard: The Long Shadow of Temperament
Book by Bernardo J. Carducci Ph.D., Susan Golant: Shyness: A Bold New Approach