Many people don’t know the basics about shyness. Some think it’s just something that most people grow out of with time.
For most people, shyness is learned at some point later in their life.. But for some, shyness starts in infancy, with about 10 to 15% of newborns born “inhibited” (about as many are born “bold”).
How many shy people are there? Survey results vary, but conclude that somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of all adults report being shy, or identify more as someone who is shy. Shyness can be a component of being an introvert, but not all shy people are introverts.
Shyness can have extreme negative consequences that go beyond not having friends or getting dates. It can affect your health in a variety of ways, your career choice and the amount of money you make, and even the general quality of your everyday life. People sometimes underestimate the negative impact of this personality characteristic.
Shy people are usually introverts, but there are also shy extroverts. These people are privately shy but publicly outgoing and comprise an interesting group. They have the social skills but also the social anxiety of shyness in situations where they do not feel the safety of being in their “power spot,” in control, with one-way interactions where all is scripted, with no freedom of exchange, or intimacy.
Many surprising people who are shy extroverts are politicians, talk show hosts, actors, journalists, comedians, and college professors. Some people who’ve identified themselves as being shy include: interviewer Barbara Walters, talk-show host Johnny Carson, singer Gloria Estefan, actress Carol Burnett, actor James Gandalfini of Sopranos fame, president Jimmy Carter, and many others. Actors Johnny Depp, Kristen Stewart, and Jessica Alba also claim they are shy individuals.
The highest levels of shyness occur in adolescents, with higher levels in girls rather than boys. Reasons for this gender difference include: bodily changes perceived as awkward or ugly; a rise in sexual feelings and arousal; changes in a girl’s body shape reacted to by males in confusing ways; and a new focus on self and privacy.
Learn more: 7 Ways to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety
Technology and affluence may increase the level of shyness in our culture, explained in terms of greater social isolation, less practice in face-to-face conversations, and avoidance of awkward, unfamiliar, and spontaneous interactions.
The negative effects of shyness can be effectively overcome, reduced, and minimized by a variety of treatments. Many of these strategies can be learned on one’s own, through reading articles and books about overcoming shyness. One of the key components to being less shy is through practicing different techniques that can help a person feel more confident and outgoing in their demeanor.
Shyness when taken to an extreme in social situations and accompanied by feelings of anxiety may lead to social anxiety disorder.
Major cultural differences in shyness exist between Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans in our society and Jews and Japanese/Taiwanese in their countries, a difference of about 30% greater in the Asian populations. In a study of shyness among 18-21 year-olds in eight countries, researchers found high levels of shyness in every country studied.
These research results support the idea that shyness is found in all cultures. However, the highest levels found were among the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Asian-Hawaiians, with Jewish Americans and Israelis at the low end of the continuum.
Learn more: Beating Feelings of Shyness
Thanks to Brian Cox, PsyD for comments on this article.