Shyness and Eggplants

I know somebody who, because of a scary episode of a cartoon she watched as a kid, is afraid of eggplants.

Let’s do a thought experiment: Imagine you’re afraid of eggplants. Not phobic to the point where you cry and pass out, but they make you very uncomfortable. And eggplants are ultra popular. There are fast food places based around the eggplant. It’s eaten several times a week, it’s served in desserts, and in general being around eggplants is just something you have to deal with.

So you control your fear to the point that, while you’re a bit nervous around eggplants, it’s not noticeably embarrassing.

Then, one day, somebody notices you not eating any eggplant. He asks you why, and you tell him you’re not really into eggplant (you’re obviously not actually going to come out and say you’re afraid of them!). He’s just amazed by this. He find your discomfort around the eggplant endlessly amusing. He brings it up casually in conversation to see you turn red, makes a point to eat eggplant sandwiches in front of you, and gossips about your distaste for the eggplant. And everybody else, instead of telling him to knock it off, finds it amusing too.

Oh sure, they never go TOO far and try to make you really freak out, but making you uncomfortable is really funny to them, and they genuinely see nothing wrong with it.  To them it’s harmless fun at your expense. And you, meanwhile, try and smile and laugh with the rest of them, all the while secretly not finding any of it amusing at all since you’re having a hard enough time overcoming your fear of the eggplant without all of this nonsense.

And now you know what it’s like for shy people when people try and make us blush or act flustered. It’s not funny to us. Speaking for myself only now, I’m having a hard enough time as it is overcoming my clearly irrational fear. When people say something to me with the intention of making me get embarrassed or not know what to say that’s the equivalent of telling a person who’s afraid of blood how you got that scar on your arm. It’s not funny, it’s rude. You’re going out of your way to force somebody to confront their fears so you can laugh at them.

And shyness is an especially annoying fear because, like in the fictional eggplant world, you simply can’t get away from talking with people. One way or another you’ll have to do it. It’s not something you can avoid, like fear of heights. So it makes my life noticeably worse, which is why I’m struggling to overcome it.

I’m not asking for special treatment, just normal treatment. Don’t throw my fears in front of my face. You’re not being funny, you’re being a dick, however trivial the whole thing may seem to you.

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5 Responses to Shyness and Eggplants

  1. Crude says:

    People with shyness or social anxiety get the worst end of the stick, because the very thing which is a problem for them practically ensures they won’t speak out to anyone who needs to hear it.

  2. Ilíon says:

    I’m not shy — I swear, I’m not — but I am very reserved. And apparently, I blush (though people also seem to think I’m blushing when I an certain I’m not). Anyway, ever since I left home for college, I’ve had to deal with people laughing because I’m blushing (or because they imagine I am), and trying to make me blush, and taking offense because I’m “quiet” (That’s right, I just don’t like you!), or trying to “help me out of my shell”. So I think I understand what you experience, other than the fear part.

    At the same time, I think it gets better with practice. These days, in my old age, I can generally engage in the pointless small-talk that consumes so much of the lives of others.

    • Yeah, the reason I know it’s an irrational fear is because if I’m friends with somebody, or if I know what I’m going to say in advance, I have absolutely no problem talking with people. In fact, I don’t shut up around my friends (consider that a flaw too if you want to, I guess), and I’m a very good public speaker. It’s only a problem with people I’m not close friends with, because the more I get to know somebody the more comfortable I become.

      It’s not a really extreme phobia, just a general feeling of not knowing what you’re supposed to say next, and then you’re stuck with people watching you…

      • Ilíon says:

        “It’s not a really extreme phobia, just a general feeling of not knowing what you’re supposed to say next, and then you’re stuck with people watching you…”

        Might that be a hint that it’s not so much shyness as (extreme) self-consciousness?

      • Oh, it’s very interconnected. I think they’re not only NOT mutually exclusive faults, but in fact are almost always deeply intertwined.

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