Many 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.
Being highly sensitive – as many artists are – can interact with shyness and introversion.
Also see article: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?
‘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.
“It was so embarrassing,” Wilson recalled… “I’m there. 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.
In my interview with actor Taye Diggs [some years ago], he said, “I have been acting for as long as I’ve been shy.”
But, he added, “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.
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