Isolator, snob, introvert, stuck-up, or inhibited, words we’ve all heard before. These are some of the labels often used for people suffering from the same affliction: shyness. While shyness may be amusing in very young children, it can be devastating for adolescents and adults. Individuals who suffer from shyness tend to view other people as threatening. Often these people are strangers, authority figures, such as supervisors or bosses, or members of the opposite sex who represent potential intimate encounters.
A familiar experience: you arrive at a party, your hostess is nowhere in sight, not recognizing anyone, fear, and anxiety come over you. A feeling shy people experience all the time.
Shyness can adversely impact every facet of a person’s life because:
• It is difficult to meet new people, often limiting new friendships or making career moves impossible
• Hard to think clearly and communicate effectively
• Negative feelings can lead to anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
• Preoccupation with self and self-consciousness can render a shy person nearly helpless in everyday situations
• Can prevent an individual from voicing opinions and standing up for their rights and beliefs
• Limits positive feedback and confirmation from others
Because shyness shows itself in many different ways, we tend to recognize it in ourselves while discounting it in others. This attitude merely re-enforces the mental handicap of shyness, making personal, business, and even family encounters living nightmares.
Even today, shyness is still something of a fuzzy concept, in part because examples of shy behavior can run the gamut from bashfulness to complete isolation and even suicide. There are,
however, two different types of shy people. The first is the publicly shy person or introvert, the individual whom we think of when we consider shyness. This person tries to avoid all potentially threatening situations. As a result of sidestepping social situations and failing to express themselves, these people are usually viewed as less exciting and intelligent than they likely are.
Shy extroverts, on the other hand, hoard their shyness as a private matter. While shy extroverts experience extreme discomfort in social situations, they have learned to mask their anxiety with a skillful display of social graces. Shy, introverted people need to know that individuals who look entirely comfortable on the outside may be enduring panic on the inside. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Johnny Depp, and Justin Bieber have admitted to being painfully shy.
In some cases, shy extroverts can go to extremes by being loud, aggressive, and even bullying to hide their shyness. These shy extroverts barge into conversations and seek to control other people, all in an attempt to keep frightened at a safe distance.
Can shyness, especially lifelong shyness, be overcome? Usually, the answer is yes. The first step includes increasing social skills, so the actual mechanics of daily encounters are improved. Another way is to enhance self-esteem, either through a support group, professional counseling, or both. Support groups can show that others including some extroverts, suffer from shyness. The group will provide a forum to feel empathy and feel understood. It can turn a threatening experience into a beautiful, interpersonal one. You will learn techniques to improve self-esteem through a better understanding of yourself. Specific exercises will teach you how to deal with your shyness, and offer techniques to cope with the anxieties that are the precursors of shyness. Assertiveness training can be especially useful in helping individuals deal with fears by teaching and practicing different social skills. Learning to initiate a conversation, interject a thought, or end the interchange helps one feel more confident.
Learning how to give and receive compliments can also make life easier for you.
Professional counseling provides techniques for improving self-esteem and learning new techniques to cope with the anxieties, which are the precursors of shyness.
When a shy person learns to function in a variety of situations, effectively with joy and comfort, it is a truly gratifying experience for all.
Dr. Coral Schlosberg Arvon is Director of Arvon and Associates in Counseling in Aventura,
Plantation and Doral, Florida.
www.drcoralarvon.com She can be reached at 305-936-8000