The next time you're invited to a party but afraid to go,
try approaching this: shyness may affect up to 40 percent of
the population, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence.
People can overcome their shyness with preparation followed
by slowly engaging themselves in new social situations, according
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that one of the world's
foremost experts in shyness, Bernardo Carducci, has battled
with shyness himself.
"I had lots of friends, but I had no dates," Carducci,
the director of the Indiana University Southeast Shyness Research
Institute, said of his youth. Shyness is "something that
I work at."
Recipes for shyness
Carducci says that despite beliefs to the contrary, shyness
is not completely hardwired.
This is because shyness requires a sense of self—which
develops only after about 18 months of age. It involves feelings
of excessive self-consciousness, negative self-evaluation and
negative self-preoccupation, he explained.
"Shy people operate as if thy have a mirror in front
of them all the time," he told LiveScience.
Genes do, however, seem to play a role. About 15 percent of
babies are born with what is called an "inhibited temperament"—meaning
that they react stressfully to new experiences. They might cower
at the sound of a bursting balloon, for instance.
And if one identical twin is shy, the other also is likely
to be shy, said Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley
College in Massachusetts.
"This does not mean that shyness is predetermined by
inheritance, or that it cannot be overcome," Cheek said,
"but simply that some people are born more susceptible
to becoming shy than are others."
A shy disposition
In a nutshell, shy people want to be outgoing and friendly,
but can't seem to figure out how to do it, Carducci said.
They are also slow to "warm up" in new social situations,
partly because they are so self-conscious.
"They'll go to a social function, but if they're
not comfortable within 10 minutes, they'll turn and they'll
run," Carducci said.
Finally, shy people tend to have what Carducci calls a "limited
comfort zone." They may be social and have friends,
but they tend to do the same things over and over again with
the same small circle of people, rather than exposing themselves
to new social situations.
Carducci points out, however, that shyness is not related
People can be confident in certain aspects of their lives—they
may be able to give presentations in front of hundreds of people—but
the thought of making small talk with a stranger might make
them extremely anxious.
Don't be shy of a cure
There are a number of approaches to overcoming their shyness.
One is through relaxation training. People might try imagining
themselves in different social situations while taking slow,
deep breaths to keep calm, said Cheek, the Wellesley psychologist.
They can also work to slowly expand their comfort zone, Carducci
He suggested volunteering as a good way to do this. "When
you volunteer, [people] don't really care your level of
skill; they're just after your time, so there's no critical
self-evaluation," he explained.
It's also important to overcome shyness one step at a
time, according to both psychologists.
For instance, "if a shy man wants to ask a woman he sees
at work out on a date, his first goal might be to have a brief
conversation with her about some work-related topic," Cheek
Before doing so, he should practice the conversation with
a friend or a counselor, Cheek said. Then the second time the
shy guy speaks to the woman, he could talk about something a
bit more personal, until eventually, he feels comfortable asking
her out on a date.
People should also realize that "they need not take all
the responsibility for any failure they might encounter,"
Cheek said. "Sometimes another person is unresponsive for
reasons that have nothing to do with the shy person."