Shyness is a feeling of discomfort or inhibition in social situations and it is quite common. But how can you overcome shyness and be less shy around others?
If you are one of the many people who describe themselves as shy, socializing can be a nerve-racking experience. While many, including shy people themselves, consider shyness to be a negative trait, being the silent type does have its upsides.
“Shy people tend to be thoughtful, sensitive, and very considerate,” says Lynne Henderson, PhD, director of the Shyness Clinic at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alta, California. She believes shyness is not necessarily a condition that needs to be fixed.
Shyness is a feeling of discomfort or inhibition in social situations. It is not an illness or a social anxiety disorder. In fact, it is quite common. Three out of five people admit to feeling shy at least sometimes.
Shyness Versus Introversion
While shyness and introversion may often appear to be the same thing, they are distinctly different. Research shows that introverts prefer solitary activities and choose to avoid social situations, while shy people are afraid of social encounters. The majority of the shy are introverted, but shy extroverts also exist. These people perform well in social settings, but their shyness emerges in more intimate get-togethers.
Nature or Nurture?
Is shyness an inherited personality trait or do people become shy because of their circumstances? Experts say it’s a bit of both.
“No one is born shy,” says Dr. Henderson. “But you can be born sensitive or slower to warm up to people.”
A genetic predisposition toward introversion leads to fewer social activities and, over time, a tendency toward shyness. Many children who are shy overcome its inhibitions as adults, but some people become shy in adulthood, possibly as a result of critical or harsh parents and teachers, experiences of rejection, and fear of failure in social settings.
When Shyness Needs a Solution
According to Dr. Henderson, shyness only needs resolving if people start avoiding situations they enjoy and the discomfort becomes severe. Shy people are often highly self-conscious and tend to think negatively about themselves. In addition, they often blame themselves and fear others’ negative impression of them. As a result, they worry, feel shame, depression, and anxiety, and develop low self-esteem.
On the Rise
E-mail, cell phones, and other techno gadgets have all helped to increase social isolation and reduce the amount of time people spend sharing face-to-face interactions with other people. With fewer opportunities to practise social skills, people are becoming increasingly ill at ease in real social situations.
“I think it’s our culture that needs to change,” says Dr. Henderson.
Can We Overcome Shyness?
Parents can help their children learn to overcome shyness when faced with new situations by being supportive and including the child through eye contact. Teach him or her to think of how the other person might be feeling. That point of view often takes the stress off the child.
Shyness doesn’t have to be debilitating. Embrace your sensitive side, whether that means enjoying a one-on-one conversation or going to a party. In either case, you just might have something to say that others are waiting to hear.
How Can Shy People Help Themselves?
Set specific goals–Decide that you will speak up at least once during a meeting.
Use rewards–Tell yourself that, if you speak up, you’ll buy that new CD.
Prepare ahead of time–Think of stories you’d like to share with others.
Practise–Developing social skills is just like sports training. You have to learn the skills and practise regularly.
Assume the other person is shy, too–Think of how the other person might be feeling and focus on them rather than on yourself.
Eliminate negative thoughts–If you think that you are inadequate, ask yourself questions such as, How do I know that? Am I sure? Tell yourself what you’d say to a good friend.