By Dr. Eugene Brink
As innocent as shyness sounds, it could be an extremely debilitating and destructive condition that hampers you professionally and harms your personal life.
From baulking at talking to superiors and giving a simple presentation to colleagues, to refusing to network with strangers or to go on a date, shyness could be an impediment to almost everything you need to do in order for you to feel fulfilled.
But if this is you, don’t feel ashamed or alone, says Lolly Daskal, President and CEO of Lead from Within. “Take comfort in knowing you are far from alone – four out of 10 people consider themselves shy,” she says.
Dr. David Shanley, a clinical psychologist specialising in social anxiety and anxiety disorders, says that nearly 17 million Americans will at some point meet the criteria for social phobia. And this in a nation considered to be the prototypical socialites!
The good news is that it can be overcome if enough willpower is evinced. If you are struggling with shyness, try out these simple tips:
- Soften your inner dialogue
Dr. Jennice Vilhauer, author of Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind’s Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life, writes on Psychology Today that shy people are often highly (and unnecessarily) critical of themselves. “Their inner dialogue can be very harsh and include things they would never say to other people. When you judge yourself harshly, you are more likely to assume that others will judge you in the same way. Your inner critic can cause a lot of emotional damage, robbing you of peace of mind and self-esteem.”
She says this inner foe needs to be transformed into an internal ally or voice that acts as an affirming, yet realistic, best friend. “When your inner critic starts to tell you that no one will ever like you, remind yourself that you liking you is what matters most. By learning to talk to yourself in a kinder, gentler way, social situations won’t hold as much power to hurt you because you won’t be punishing yourself.”
Daskal says you should stop being your own worst enemy. “Don’t allow your inner critic to put you down. Instead, analyse the power of that voice so you can defuse it.”
- Act confidently
This could sound awfully clichéd, but just because it is true. “Confidence comes through action, learning, practise, and mastery. Remember when you learned how to ride a bike? It was terrifying at first, but after you just went for it and tried it, you got it, and felt confident. Social confidence works the same way,” says Shanley.
“Feeling anxious is not the problem; avoiding social interactions is the problem. Eliminate avoidance and you will overcome your anxiety.”
- Don’t tell and avoid the label
Daskal says there is no need to advertise your shyness. “Those who are close to you already know, and others may never even have an opportunity to notice. It’s not as visible as you probably think.”
Don’t label yourself as shy – or as anything. “Let yourself be defined as a unique individual, not by a single trait.”
- Engage wisely
According to Daskal, shy people have fewer but deeper relationships and partners and friends should be chosen with the utmost care. At the same time, a healthy distance should be kept from those that tease, taunt and bully others for whatever reason.
- Try new things, even if you are terrified
Wandering outside your comfort zone is never going to be easy, but that is where everything you have always wanted resides. “Part of overcoming shyness is about developing confidence in several areas of your life and not letting anxiety, fear of failure, fear of rejection, or fear of humiliation get in your way. By practising new activities, you are confronting your fear of the unknown and learning to handle that anxiety more effectively,” says Shanley.
He advises that you should learn a new skill, take on a difficult task at work or join a sports team. “Do something to get you out of your comfort zone.”
David Shanley, 25 May 2015, “7 ways to overcome shyness and social anxiety”, https://psychcentral.com/blog/7-ways-to-overcome-shyness-and-social-anxiety/
Jennice Vilhauer, 31 December 2016, “4 ways to overcome shyness”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-forward/201612/4-ways-overcome-shyness.
Lolly Daskal, 15 June 2015, “13 confident ways to overcome your shyness”, https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/13-confident-ways-to-overcome-your-shyness.html