Shyness is a natural reticence to interact with people you don’t know. For those who are shy, it can be very painful and interfere with their social development.
Introverted ? …or Shy?
You may have heard it said that shyness is just introversion. But, this isn’t really true. An introvert may or may not be shy. Introversion is in a person’s makeup causing aloneness to be energizing. Extroversion is a personal state for those who are most energized by interaction with people.
Shyness, though, is another matter. Some shy people really long for social interaction, but are too inhibited to seek it. It’s an offshoot of social anxiety, where there may be fear of rejection, worries about how you’re seen by others, or negative feelings about yourself.
As a symptom of social anxiety, shyness can include the belief that everyone is talking about you negatively, or that you’re just not acceptable to others for unknown reasons. A shy person might say to herself, “If they’d just get to know me, they’d see I’m actually a great person.”
But the shyness can be expressed on the outside by a withdrawn demeanor, or sometimes even a scowl. And those around him may not realize he wants friendship. So a vicious social cycle can form.
Feeling Shy is Universal
Most of us feel a little shy at some point in our lives, but when it happens it’s usually transient due to new surroundings or new social settings. But for some, the withdrawal and anxiety is so intense, it prevents interacting with others in situations where it’s really important.
Add to that the physical symptoms that may show up like deep blushing, profuse perspiration, rapid heartbeat, and upset stomach — and a difficult situation can become unmanageable.
If you or your child experiences intense shyness, do you find yourself in any of these situations? Do you:
- Cancel social events at the last minute?
- Have a small or nonexistent circle of friends?
- Avoid activities that would otherwise have been pleasurable?
- Tend to be passive or pessimistic?
- Have low self-esteem?
- Use the computer excessively to you avoid face to face contact with others?
What Causes Such Social Avoidance and Shyness?
Some people are just born more highly sensitive and emotionally reactive. They show withdrawal and shyness as they grow to be toddlers. If they lack adequate social support, they naturally withdraw.
Sometimes, their nature is at odds with other family members and they don’t feel they fit in.
Other times, shyness is caused by experiences where they feel shamed or traumatized. This can also happen with a move to another school or city where they have to start over building a supportive group of friends. The vulnerability they feel, or teasing by their new acquaintances, can trigger a shyness and anxiety they never felt before.
In addition, abrupt changes in family life, or a sudden change like living with a family member, or divorce, can trigger this loss of confidence and withdrawal.
In both children and adults, negative hurtful interactions or harsh criticism from parents or other family members, or cold family relationships can be damaging and lead to social avoidance, shame, and shyness.
The same is true of school and work where public embarrassment, and highly competitive, critical or hostile environments can cause the same type of damage to a sensitive person.
So What Can You Do About Shyness?
Be kind. Whether to yourself or your loved one, patience and support are the ticket.
Don’t force social situations … the confidence and stamina to face them will come in time with support.
Talk with someone you trust, or ask your loved ones about the events of their day and how it all makes them feel.
Validate for yourself or your child that deep need we all have to belong, and the conflict with the fear of rejection.
Work on thought patterns, criticism of yourself and others, and develop different ways of thinking about these things.
Remind yourself and your loved ones that shyness is something everyone feels at some point. With time, patience, and support it will become manageable.
Over time, you may find you’re ready to set manageable goals for interaction in user-friendly situations.
Spare Yourself or Your Child Excessively Hostile Situations
…until your confidence has improved and you can choose your battles.
You’re a beautiful person, and there’s no shame in your shyness.
Loving yourself as you are can help you combat those inner doubts that make your shyness so painful.
Your sensitivity protects the treasure within you so you can make social decisions that actually enhance your wellbeing.
If social anxiety holds you back from things you want to experience in life, we can help. Innovative Psychiatry provides treatments that break through tradition and accelerate your progress. Call us today to schedule an appointment for evaluation.
To your ever blooming best self,
Lori Calabrese, MD