Sometimes, it really hits home for Jordan Raskopoulos that, if opposites attract, likes can repel.
"Often it's someone I've known for a long time. And because we're both socially anxious it'll take a while before we break through and then both say "oooooh, you're actually not a jerk... you're like me"
By "like me" the Axis of Awesome member means being something she has coined as "shy/loud."
The oxymoronic personality trait
By rights, it should be an oxymoron, but Raskopoulos used her talk at TEDx Sydney to define it, in all its paradoxical nuances: "I don't get stage fright so my anxiety disorder seems odd. But I'm only confident on stage. Off it, I'm a timid, mumbly wreck."
This can lead to misconceptions. It might seem difficult to believe someone who claims they're socially anxious when you see their relaxed on-stage confidence.
Raskopoulos debunked such misconceptions in her talk: "I don't answer emails or the phone and I struggle with deadlines. But shy/louds like me produce high quality work because of our high fear of failure."
Then there's the personality presumptions: "That I'm lazy, arrogant, rude, aloof, lazy, unreliable. I actually care so much that I'm often stunned into silence."
Improvising to cope
It's something that immediately resonated for IT Manager Vance Jones, 28. "One-on-one situations cause me to over-analyse; I focus on the person's reactions to what I'm saying and think too much about how I'm coming across."
After being "painfully shy and barely talking" at school, Jones got so drunk one evening to calm the nerves associated with his social anxiety that he lost all his friends and went looking for them. "I don't remember it but, apparently, I walked across a bridge and straight into an oncoming car. I suffered a severe head injury and was in a coma for two weeks and in hospital for three months."
The accident strengthened his resolve to deal with his social anxiety and he took up an unlikely hobby to help him cope: improvisational stand up comedy at Brisbane's Big Fork Theatre. "In improv, you don't know what's next. You get taught a process of listening for keywords and responding. This has really helped me in social situations. For example, if you told me "I got this dress today", I'd pick up on the keywords 'dress' and 'today'. I'd then respond by making a joke like 'damn, I was going to buy that dress!' No matter what people say now in one-on-one or small group situations, I can now think of options for responses."
Not the same as an introverted extrovert
CEO of the Workplace Mental Health Institute Pedro Diaz draws on his experience as a mental health social worker to clear up common misconceptions about why shy/loud people aren't introverted extroverts: "It's related but not quite the same. Extroversion and introversion refer to where you draw energy from. An introvert draws energy from being alone to recharge. The extrovert draws energy from being with others, and finds the social interaction stimulating."
The shy/loud personality trait is less about energy and more about anxiety: "Shy/loud people tend to feel deflated after their interaction, with many feeling they've behaved wrongly or badly. There can be a lot of negative self-talk, which contributes to the anxiety or emotional exhaustion."
Raskopoulos agrees: "Mental health is nuanced and complicated - I don't know if it's fair to reduce this to broad personality descriptors."
But why love the stage?
The dynamic of speaking one-on-one, or in smaller groups such as networking events, can feel really intense for shy/louds.
Ben Neumann, 36, is Company Director of Liquid Infusion and relates to the shy stage-love: "Put me in front of a stage of 1000 people and I'm in my element. I become my alter ego. Put me in a group of two or three people and I close up and become silent."
The stage is somewhere he can escape himself and the rules and etiquette are much clearer: "When on stage I'm wearing a mask. I have a captive audience and a clear message – they have to listen to me. In a smaller group of five, there are actually more dynamics at play – who speaks, when, what to say – it's far more confusing for me."
It leads the shy/louds like Vance Jones to hold back and bite their tongue: "If I got to the footy with friends, I'll be quiet because they know the game better than me and I don't want to say something silly. I try to avoid people having a 'how can you think that?' type of reaction."
Think you could be shy/loud? Here are three tips
1.Vance Jones says: "Accept anxiety – it's the body's reaction to protect you, but you don't always need protection. If you feel anxious about something, ask yourself: is it preventing you from enjoying yourself?
2.Ben Neumann says: "Be proud of who you are – you don't need to apologise for how you naturally are. Being quiet in social situation doesn't exclude you from public speaking and visa versa.
3.Finally, Jordan Raskopoulos said: "Understand you're not alone, that there are folks who are just like you, and that there are professionals who can help you."