It may simply be a moment of feeling socially awkward or may extend to a full-blown social phobia, but that uncomfortable moment when you feel the spotlight is on you, is shyness. Not everyone views themselves as feeling shy and this is reasonable. In some people it happens so infrequently as to easily be forgotten or pushed aside. Still, nearly half the adult population admits to situations and circumstances that make them feel shy.
So what exactly is shyness? When a person feels shy they are experiencing both a preoccupation and an acute sense of self-consciousness about the situation they are in. This is invariably coupled with a negative-self appraisal about their ability to meet expectations. Some people feel that shyness is another way of describing introversion, but there are several differences. For example, introverts do not have the same concerns or fears about social interactions that a shy person has. Neither do they have issues about authority figures or being in situations that require them to make small-talk, or even extensive presentations.
Shy people characteristically want to be more social but something in them stops it happening. They may have a special friend or even a small group of close friends who tend to go to the same places and do roughly the same things. Introverts, by contrast, simply prefer solitary activities. They are often perfectly at ease with situations that require them to interact socially with small or sometimes quite large groups, but given the choice will retreat to their own interests and activities. Many of my academic colleagues would easily fall into this category.
There is no evidence that points to people being born shy. The underpinning mechanism is far more likely to relate to issues of self-belief and sometimes a lack of social skills. High levels of anxiety will not make things easier for the shy person, but many find that once they have warmed to a situation, they do just fine. For this reason pills are not especially useful. No pill can make a person more effective in a social situation, although a pill that reduces the anxiety that inhibits social interactions, might be worth considering.
Shyness affects people in very different ways. For some, a new encounter or situation is managed by taking a deep breath and stepping in. More typically, the shy person has developed a comfort zone around themselves, and they feel reluctant to step outside of this. They may yearn to speak to the interesting-looking person in the same room, but they can't take the next step that allows them to do this. Up to a point all of this is fine but it restricts the person from new experiences, meeting new people, and might affect their decision to go for a new job or for promotion.
Shyness isn't all about negatives. In fact in some situations it can be regarded as endearing or cute. When shyness prevents a person getting what they want from life, that's when it becomes an issue. Part of the trick in overcoming shyness is to understand that most people are far more interested in themselves than they are in you. Knowing this may give you the permission and confidence to loosen up a little and think about things a little differently. A starting point might be to think about your positives and to work on these. Set yourself simple but achievable goals that you can easily repeat and then extend. For example, something along the lines of saying "good morning" to one or two people you would normally pass by. If they don't answer, it doesn't matter, maybe they're shy? What you can do is give yourself some credit for trying. Extending "good morning" then becomes easier. Say it to more people, and then maybe add a comment about the weather, or ask a question that requires more than a yes or no answer. The key is practice. The more you practice the easier it becomes to break into new situations and become more comfortable with small-talk.
If things start to look up, that's great, keep working on it. If the whole thing just seems like a burden waiting to rest on your shoulders, it may be worth seeking help from a psychologist. A psychologist will work with you in order to explore your personal issues and difficulties and they will help you develop ways to become more effective in your everyday life.
Published On: February 09, 2009