You probably stumble upon this article because you are a shy person. Or, probably it’s about a shy child, a close friend or relative, someone you really care about.
Nevertheless, most shy people wish they can be more confident. When talking in public or even just socially mingling at a party can be a nightmare—and even cause us to be physically sick—, we all want a working solution.
Thus, you probably have questions like these in mind:
- Is being shy bad, Is it actually a bad thing?
- Is it perfectly normal to be shy? Or is it actually some kind of disorder, or even, handicap?
- Should we just accept shyness as “This is me!” and embrace it? Or should we try to change it?
In this article, we’ll try to answer those questions—and more—together, one by one.
As an introvert who is also struggling with shyness (the two are really different, as we’ll learn) in my teenage years, however, I think my initial answer is:
Anything Within You That You Can’t Control, In Essence, Is Bad
There’s certainly a lot of things outside our lives we can’t control. We can’t control who’s the next president in 2020 will be, and we can’t even control how people should perceive ourselves.
However, we should be able to control things within us. When impulses or desires are uncontrollable, for example, we call them addictions—and they are bad—. Loving our spouse certainly is a good thing, but when we can’t control our jealousy, it’s also bad.
Starting to get the gists?
Controlled shyness can be useful in some cases. Shy children that run away when approached by strangers, might save them from potential crimes. Our shyness the first time we meet our new boss or future in-laws, can help us to some extent in practicing etiquette and mannerism.
However, when, uncontrollable shyness—also called, social phobia— attacks in settings where we shouldn’t be, for example, getting an anxiety attack when we are presented with a once-in-a-lifetime elevator pitch opportunity, is certainly bad!
Controllable, or as people call it, mild shyness doesn’t really change people live their lives, and as discussed, can be useful in certain settings.
However, I used to struggle with uncontrollable shyness. Probably you—and certainly a lot of people—, are also struggling with the same thing.
Uncontrollable shyness is, in a nutshell, a condition where we are not truly happy and comfortable with ourselves. It can stop us from living the life we actually deserve, creating situations like:
- Didn’t have many friends, can’t make connections with the sexual interests.
- Public speaking is a nightmare, and can often cause physical sickness like dizziness, stomach ache, and even us vomiting. I couldn’t speak up in class or go to a job interview.
- I never build up the courage to get the things I want. That crush I always liked, that once-in-a-lifetime audition, let someone actually reads my novel, and so on.
Uncontrollable shyness is BAD, and it’s NEVER useful to maintain this uncontrollable shyness. However,it’s important to also understand the other aspects of this question, and below, we’ll try to discuss all of them clearly.
The Objective Definition of Shyness
Let’s not answer all of these questions with assumptions.
As we’ve demonstrated above, there is a major conceptual difference between controllable and uncontrollable of shyness—which is often called social fear, social phobia, or social anxiety—.
In fact, when you ask three different people about the definition of shyness, you might get three completely different definitions.
So, let’s first address the elephant in the room: what Is shyness?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), shyness is the tendency to feel tense, anxious/worried, or awkward during social interaction.
APA acknowledges that most people feel shy occasionally or when we face a truly embarrassing situation. But in some people, shyness can be so intense—uncontrollable, or according to APA, painful shyness
— that can even cause physical symptoms like upset stomach, rapid heart pounding, sweating profusely, and blushing.
People with painful shyness tend to withdraw from social interactions mainly because the said person has a negative feeling about themselves and so are worried about how others will view them.
Shyness Is a Tendency, Not Personality Trait: Shyness VS Introvert
It’s a very common misconception to mix shyness with introversion (For more information about introvert read this article: Is Being Introverted Bad) No, introverted people aren’t always shy, and on the other hand, a lot of extroverted, really outgoing people suffer from painful, uncontrollable shyness.
The late Freddie Mercury, for example, is larger than life, flamboyant personality on stage and at his parties, but actually is a very shy man in private.
Bill Gates, on the other hand, is often seen as a quiet, introvert man, but he’s never shy in delivering public speaking and seems to be not bothered about what people thought about him.
Are you an introvert? Are you just shy? Are you both or neither? Learn about the major differences. (Read the article Difference Between Introvert And Extrovert )
Since shyness is a tendency—and sometimes—, a bad habit. Trying to improve our shyness has nothing to do with self-acceptance.
Shyness VS Social Anxiety: Can You Control Your Shyness
Above, we have briefly discussed how we often mix shyness with the more serious social phobia or, in its proper medical term, social anxiety disorder.
The main difference between shyness and social phobia is the intensity of the symptoms:
- Very intense fear about how others perceive him/herself
- An extreme level of avoidance to social settings
- Severe impairment of functions in this person’s life (i.e. inability to talk to strangers at all in
However, it’s not wise to dismiss social phobia simply as extreme shyness, because it’s not. Close to 75%
of social phobia sufferers don’t receive treatment immediately and on average, must wait 14 years before
they receive their first treatment.
The good news, however, is that more than 70% of social phobia cases can be treated successfully with treatment.
So, if you are still confused about whether you are just a shy person or suffering from a social anxiety disorder, visit your local mental health care professional. The sooner you are diagnosed and treated, the sooner you can overcome social phobia and get the life you deserved.
Shyness Is Just Who I Am, Why Must I Change?
Let’s think about this statement for a moment. Is shyness really who we are?
When is the last time you see a rich, cool kid being really shy at school? Pretty rare, right?
On the other hand, remember that shy kid from school that suddenly opened a successful startup after
college? How often do we see, in such cases, that the same person is no longer shy—at least, not as shy—?
We’ve heard many success stories of how introverted, shy entrepreneurs or celebrities learned to speak up.
Overcoming shyness is definitely possible, and in fact, shyness tend to disappear as our social status also improved.
But I Don’t Want To Be That Self-Centered Person
Here is the important mindset to have: the opposite of shyness is not being self-centered. The opposite of a shy person is not a dominant, manipulative person.
We can all agree that these are also bad, if not worse than shyness.
However, the opposite of shyness is confidence.
You can certainly be a humble, kind, and generous person while also being a confident, assertive person.
There’s nothing wrong with (objectively) being comfortable with yourself
Shy People Are Often Sad People
It’s no secret that many shy people feel unsatisfied with their life, and especially their social life.
I think we can all agree that we all hate being lonely and without friends. I think we can all agree that being very nervous when we have to speak in front of people is very annoying.
After all, would you be reading this if you really liked and want to embrace being shy? I think the answer is no.
Shyness is certainly something we can learn to change, and even if it’s a social phobia or social anxiety, it’s never too late to treat your condition.
Self-Acceptance By Learning Not To Be Shy
Above, we have established that a major symptom of shyness is being uncomfortable with ourselves or our current conditions.
Let’s think about it for a moment.
Self-acceptance, by definition, is accepting and being comfortable about yourself. So, isn’t self-acceptance about shyness kind of contradicting itself? If you want to be really self-accepting about your shyness, you must be:
- Not ashamed when you have little friends and whether you’ve never have a girlfriend in the past.
- You accept the way you look, and not constantly check and worried about your appearance.
The core issue of shyness is that the person can’t practice healthy self-acceptance, not the other way around.
Remember, there is a huge difference between self-acceptance and laziness to improve.
Unconditional self-acceptance is very important and healthy, but “fake” self-acceptance is not a valid excuse not to improve ourselves to be a better, happier person.
It’s very important to understand that shyness is just a tendency, a bad habit, or even, a construct and not a natural personality trait. We can always improve our shyness to be a better and healthier person. Shyness is bad, but you are not your shyness.
There are, however, cases where the person is not actually suffering from normal shyness, but a more serious, social anxiety disorder. In such cases, it’s important to get help from a health professional as soon as possible. It’s definitely a curable condition, and the sooner you get treated, the sooner you’ll be happier.