What Is Shyness?

Shyness is a reflection of awkwardness or apprehension that some people feel when approaching or being approached by others. Shyness is a response to fear, and research suggests that although it's related to the neurobiology of the nervous system, it is also strongly influenced by parenting practices and life experiences.

Unlike introverts, who feel energized by time alone, shy people often desperately want to connect with others, but don't know how or can not tolerate the anxiety that comes with human interaction. The shy often experience low self-esteem, fear of rejection, or acute self-consciousness—which can prevent them from developing new relationships if they are perpetually turning inward to monitor their own behavior and perceived shortcomings.

Approximately 40 to 50 percent of American adults consider themselves shy. But the trait varies greatly in populations around the globe. The cultural values that children absorb from their parents and the larger society influence their social tendencies.

For example, in Japanese culture, a parent may receive credit for a child’s success, but a child bears responsibility in the case of failure—circumstances that can foster modesty in children and a subdued approach to social situations. In Israeli culture, a child receives praise when they succeed and even when they don’t, as parents often attribute the failure to an outside cause. These cultural forces may influence the social risks and choices a child makes moving forward.

How to Overcome Shyness

Shy people can successfully address social challenges without altering their sense of identity or trying to be someone they're not. Researchers find that it's often best for people to acknowledge their shyness and try to release themselves from feeling self-conscious.

A number of concrete strategies can help. Instead of avoiding social events, shy people can schedule them in advance and practice their social skills. Another strategy is to reframe one's mindset to expect a positive response rather than to assume a negative reaction is inevitable. Planning a few talking points ahead of time, and then observing the discussion to get one's bearings before contributing can be helpful.

Another skill is acknowledging the possibility that an interaction might go poorly but recognizing that the reasons may be outside of one's control. A conversation partner could be in a bad mood, the topic could be private, or the two people could simply be incompatible. Approaching social experiences in a strong emotional state can also allow people to be more fully engaged in the discussion.


Self-Talk, Social Life

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