What Is Shyness?

Shyness and feeling shy is common to many people at some point or another. Being shy describes feelings of insecurity in new or unfamiliar social situations. This includes emotional feelings such as anxiety, lack of confidence, nervousness, or feelings of discomfort. It can also include physical reactions such as blushing, quavering voice, being shaky, or sweating.

Those who are shy often feel these feelings in response to a new or unfamiliar situation. Shyness is not to be confused with being introverted or quiet. Being shy has more to do with a tendency to hesitate or avoid unfamiliar situations, rather than preferring to spend time alone. 

Who Is Shy?

Everyone suffers from shyness at some point in their lifetime. Shyness is particularly common in children as they learn to explore and become independent from their parents. However, for most people, shyness is intermittent and prompted by specific events. For some though, shyness is a dominant part of their social interaction with others. 

Shyness is similar to other disorders in that it can be experienced in a range - from mild to severe. For example, someone meeting someone new may feel "butterflies" in their stomach, whereas someone else may feel overwhelmingly anxious. How shy a person is depends on their reaction to new situations and how shy they consider themselves to be.

Why Are Some People Shy?

Whether a person is shy or not is largely determined by one of two things.

1) Genetics indicate our traits, including personality traits. Some research indicates that approximately 20% of people who are shy, have a genetic disposition to shyness.

2) Life Experience is the other contributor to shyness. For those who are bullied, teased, unprepared, have a negative experience, they may develop insecurity and a lack of confidence in new or uncomfortable situations. This may lead to a person being shy, or may be coupled with a genetic predisposition to be shy.

Read more about bullying.

Others who may be shy are those who:

Have a weak sense of self: When we go through changes, such as puberty, or times of identity change, such as high school or college, there are times that we may believe we are not interesting or special. This can prompt shyness as others seem "cooler," aloof, or better in some way.

Are preoccupied with themselves: This ties in to the idea that people who are shy are often more aware of what others are saying and doing because they are hyper-aware of what they themselves are saying or doing. Feeling in the spotlight at all times can heighten a person's preoccupation with themselves.

Labels: Labels are incredibly important to how we and others view each other. If you label yourself as a "shy person," you and others will begin to see you as shy, and you will begin to conform with the socially-held expectation of shyness.

Situations That Often Prompt Shyness:

While the situations that prompt feelings of shyness vary greatly, there are some general situations that impact most people who are shy.

  • Meeting new people
  • Trying a new activity (dance, sports)
  • Starting a new school
  • Starting a new job
  • Unstructured social interactions
  • Joining a new group

What Does Shyness Look Like?

There are many ways in which a person may demonstrate feelings of shyness. They vary from person to person and depend on whether a person experiences shyness mildly, moderately, or severely. Some common demonstrations include:

  • Hesitation before entering new situations
  • Preference for familiar situations
  • Needing to "warm up" in to social interactions

Other symptoms of shyness can include:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shaky voice
  • Feeling anxious
  • Nauseated
  • Sweating
  • Stumbling over words
  • Avoiding situations or people
  • Flushing or blushing
  • Avoiding eye contact

It should be noted that shyness is different than conditions such as avoidant personality, where a person avoids social interaction driven by feelings of social inadequacy and insecurity. Being shy is a discomfort of new situations.

How To Manage Shyness:

Those who are shy often wish they could reduce their shyness. However, not everything about being shy is negative. For example, often those who are shy tend to listen to others and are more insightful about others. They may also be interested in others because they themselves are more sensitive to how they feel and again may understand themselves and others better.

There are many things to consider about overcoming your shyness.

  • Be patient with yourself: It is not easy to overcome shyness. Recognize where you're at.
  • Practice!: It takes a lot of practice to become comfortable in new situations, even for those who are not shy. Keep at it time and time again.
  • Expose yourself to new situations: People who are shy tend to hesitate or avoid new situations, preferring what is comfortable and known. Be sure to expose yourself to new situations regularly.
  • Find ways to manage feelings of anxiety: Most of the discomfort induced by shyness is physical. Practice focusing on your breathing and on what is familiar to reduce the feeling of being out of control.
  • Take it one small step at a time: Don't expect to jump in to vanishing your shyness right away. It is a slow and steady process of small steps. 
  • Recognize each victory: Celebrate when you do well, whether it is going somewhere new or a bigger step such as talking to someone new.
  • There will be setbacks: And that's okay! It takes practice. The more you do it, the more you will get the hang of it.
  • Sometimes its awkward: Sometimes we all feel awkward. Don't let that keep you from doing what you want to be doing.
  • Find your strengths: We all have them, and you can find confidence in your strengths. Find what you're good at and what you love to do and allow it to bolster your confidence.
  • It's okay to be different: We don't all have to conform to social expectations, and frankly to do so can be tiring and wearing on our self-esteem. Be who you are and be proud of that.

Most people are able to bring their shyness to a manageable level. However, for some it can be devastating and hard to conquer. If you suffer from shyness that prevents you from leaving your house, causes you to become socially isolated, or is impacting your life in a serious way, there are some treatments that may help you.

Therapy is a great way to talk about your feelings, your anxiety, and to develop coping strategies and techniques for managing your shyness. A therapist can help walk you through common social interactions and faux pas.

Medication may assist with reducing the feelings of anxiety or depression that sometimes accompany shyness or social anxiety or isolation.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Anxiety

Social Anxiety

Avoidant Personality

Additional Resources About Shyness:

Kidshealth.org - This website contains a detailed description of shyness. Everyone is impacted by shyness at some level. This site contains information about how to manage shyness.

Think Simple Now - This website offers coping strategies for managing and overcoming shyness.

Shakeyourshyness.com - This website, offered by Dr. Renee Gilbert offers coping strategies and tips for managing shyness in general, parenting a shy child, shyness and business, shyness and school, and other resources.