Barbara Markway Ph.D.

Shyness Is Nice


To Tell, or Not To Tell? (About Your Social Anxiety)

We're loved because of our vulnerabilities, not despite them.

Posted Apr 01, 2012

If you're someone who is shy, quiet, and/or naturally introverted, you may wonder how much to directly share with people about yourself.  In one of my most popular posts, I interviewed Brittany from The Shyness Project. Until our interview was published, she hadn't told many of her friends about her struggles, or about her blog documenting her year-long project to face her fears. She was naturally apprehensive about how people would react. She'd met new friends in her first year of college, and had already become much more outgoing. What would they think?  

In my work with clients, whether it was depression, anxiety or some other perceived vulnerability, the question "To tell, or not to tell?" almost always arose.

As with any decision, there are pros and cons, and these will vary with the individuals and the situations involved. In general, though, here are some guidelines.

First of all, consider your relationship with the person you might want to confide in. Do you have a close relationship? Is it generally supportive? How has this person reacted when you've shared other things about yourself? Has this person shared personal things about him or herself? Do you think sharing this information will have a positive effect on your relationship? Of course, you don't know the answers to all of these questions ahead of time. If you did, the decision would be a whole lot easier. But do your best to think through what you hope will happen as a result of telling someone about your struggles with shyness and social anxiety.           

Next, consider the context of the relationship. Is this person a family member or a colleague at work? That can make a big difference in knowing whether or not to share personal information, and if so, how much detail to disclose.

From the experiences we've heard, telling someone with whom you are close, such as a spouse, a parent, or a close friend, can take a huge load off your shoulders. You may feel less shame, and you may also be able to get the support you need in your recovery efforts. After all, people can't help if they don't know about the problem. Also, people may understand you better, and they may make fewer assumptions about your behavior. For example, many people who are shy are sometimes viewed as being aloof or unfriendly. This is hardly the case, but without the knowledge of what you're going through, you can see why others might think this.

Depending  on who you're telling, you'll want to vary your approach. If you're telling your spouse or a close family member, you can probably go into more detail than if you're telling a friend at work. If you want to confide in someone at work, you might simply say, "I'm not very good at meeting new people." or, "Sometimes I have trouble speaking up in groups." Even if the person doesn't understand the full extent of what you're saying, that's OK. You're simply testing the waters, gauging the other person's receptivity and response.

It's always an option to join an anxiety support group to get practice sharing information about yourself in a minimally threatening arena.  (See this post about support groups.)          

Keep in mind, even people who look completely confident and self-assured on the outside still have their struggles - it's part of being human. But because of the isolation and avoidance associated with shyness and social anxiety, too often we don't realize this. When we take the risk to reach out to others, to share our vulnerabilities, we learn that we're not alone. We also learn that we love and are loved not in spite of our imperfections, but because of them.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Brittany received an outpouring of love and support. 

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I also write a blog on self-compassion