Be Careful of the Story You Tell Yourself Because It Will Become Your Identity story becomes identity

Growing up, I was a shy kid. Or at least that’s what I was told. I actually can’t remember when I first heard the word “shy” and thought of myself that way, but it seemed to just always be who I was. My best guess is that some elementary school teacher told my parents that I was shy because I wasn’t connecting with the other kids or spent a lot of time alone. Wherever it came from, it stuck.

In school, I never felt like I fit in. I spent a lot of time alone and didn’t develop any meaningful friendships until later in life. Even as an adult, I thought of myself as shy and struggled making connections with others.

Being shy was a big part of who I was. But maybe it wasn’t. As I got older, I started to realize that I wasn’t shy. This was just a label that had been put on me when I was very young, and I carried it with me into adulthood.

Really, being “shy” was just a story I told myself. It didn’t make it the truth.

I’m an Introvert, Not Shy

So what does “shy” mean? If you look up the word in a thesaurus, you find synonyms like timid, sheepish, nervous, and insecure. A few years ago, if you asked me if those words described me, I would probably have said a reluctant yes. But I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who saw other qualities in me that challenged this, which has led me to question my beliefs about myself.

Through this reflection, I’ve realized I’m not shy, I’m an introvert — which has an entirely different meaning. Those are two different things. This may not seem like a big deal, because they’re just words. But the meaning that I held with the word shy influenced how I viewed myself, and ultimately how I interacted with the world.

That label held me back in many ways. I thought I wasn’t able to form connections with people, so I didn’t try. I thought I was awkward, so I tried to blend in and go unnoticed instead of being myself. Now, not only do I have a better understanding of myself, I feel like I’ve been freed in so many ways.

Being an introvert, I like alone time and time to recharge and reflect. Social situations can certainly be draining for me, but I’m actually very capable of being social, and sometimes I even enjoy it. More important, making meaningful connections with others is something that has become very important to me. Questioning those barriers I put up for myself over the years, I’ve been able to pursue those connections, and it has been truly life changing.

This switch in thinking has allowed me to see possibilities and actually act on them. I’m able to be more social when I need and want to be, and generally just feel so much more comfortable with who I am.

How to Change Your Story

How do you recognize the stories you tell yourself, and if they are getting in your way? Start by thinking through who you are. Write it down. What are your qualities? What do you struggle with? Take time with this, perhaps even coming back to it a few days later. Ask others how they perceive you. What do they say you’re good at? Recognize the things in your story that make you uncomfortable, things you don’t like to admit but feel are true.

Are those things you want to change? Focus on really understanding those aspects of your narrative. Think through where they came from. What was the root cause? Imagine what life would be like if these weren’t part of your narrative. What would be different?

Challenge the story. Do something different. Think about small actions you can take that will start creating a different story. This is a process and takes persistence, so stick with it. It will be worth it, I promise!

I believe being an introvert is a gift. We are reflective, observant, and thoughtful, among many other qualities. However, it’s important for us to recognize any baggage labels may have, and how that may influence our self-narratives.

Labels aren’t necessarily good or bad. Their meaning to you is what has the power to influence your life. Take some time to reflect on the stories you tell yourself. Recognize how beliefs you have about yourself might hold you back. Only by challenging those beliefs will you grow. 

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