Shyness is one of the most common social problems afflicting millions of people from children to the elderly, yet most shy people feel that they are uniquely shy. The shy child and the shy adult alike believe that only they are suffering the awkwardness, social anxiety, low self esteem, self consciousness, and negative consequences of their shyness. They are not alone, in fact they are in the majority, although it is a silent majority.
How common is shyness?
As many as one out of every two Americans report being currently shy. Many adults report being shy earlier in life but outgrowing it, while others consider themselves to be “situationally shy,” vulnerable to the tensions created by being emerged in situations such as blind dates, cocktail parties, singles bars, or forced to do Kareoke singing. It is the not now shy, not ever shy, person who is the exception to the rule, the rare bird among us. However, shyness seems to be on the increase in our society, perhaps as a consequence of the isolating experiences created by new technologies.
What does it mean to be shy?
Shyness stretches across a wide continuum from reasonable defensiveness and caution in new settings to total isolation and loneliness at the other extreme. The symptoms of shyness may vary for different people, but include these four primary dimensions: physical/physiological (bodily arousal that shows up in palpitations, muscle tension, sweating, blushing); cognitive (negative thoughts about self and relationships to others); affective (negative feeling states, anxiety, fear, distress), and behavioral (lack of social skills, inaction, defensive posture, gaze avoidance, not smiling, avoidance of social contacts and settings, and failure to initiate appropriate response).
What is the bad and good news about shyness?
You need to be concerned about shyness when it begins to interfere with your daily functioning in undesirable ways, inhibits acting in your best interest, keeps you from putting your best foot forward, or seizing opportunities and challenges. Shyness can go beyond not having friends or a happy social life, it can affect your career and your health as well. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to overcome, reduce, or minimize your shyness and to prevent it from imprisoning your children.