Are You Shy?


Are you shy? What are the psychological and interpersonal causes of this uncomfortable condition? In many instances shyness is a consequence of past interpersonal experience that was a bit difficult for the person to tolerate. The aftereffects of this “overload” are obvious now in the way in which the individual is trying to reduce the impact of interpersonal and/or emotional stressors.

I mentioned both “sources,” other people and one’s own emotions, because shyness is essentially an effort to manage both at the same time. Let me be clear, shyness is the defensive behavior that the child or adult has developed to reduce the possibility of further discomfort, stress, or trauma.

In the case of a shy adult, the damage to his or her life is obvious in the loss of opportunities to engage comfortably with others and feel OK about being in one’s own skin. To work your way back from this sometimes painful, often uncomfortable, state of mind, the first step is to identify what happen in your past relationship life that forced you into hiding, so to speak?

Knowing the answer to this question is not going to cure you, but the knowledge will help you get started and come in handy in the long run. The next step is to start practicing beating back the “fears” and getting some successes under your belt. Taking the “risks” involved in managing your emotional states a little differently is important. Instead of hiding, which shyness essentially is, you are going to challenge that behavior and decide to do the opposite.

Baby steps, bigger steps, big steps, gigantic steps whatever you can tolerate. The idea is to experience your emotions in ways that will help you feel like you have a right to have them and to tell people about them when you choose. This is definitely a practice that pays big dividends in the form of greater and greater feelings of freedom. Stay with it. The goal is to expand your feeling of comfort handling the feelings that would have sent you packing at an earlier time back into the shyness closet of false security.

The last step in your rehab experience is going to be dealing with the judgments and potential criticalness of others. Sorry, you can’t avoid being exposed to this if you want to be out and about. It’s a human thing, and some people are stuck on critical, meaning that’s the way they deal with the world around them. You have to grow a thicker skin. Like a mental callus, you start thickening the more you risk the interpersonal exposure.

The trick is to draw that boundary between you and the critical person. Let me say it plainly, what another person feels about you is more about him or her than you. Imagine really knowing that about people who are out to hurt you with words. Their words can only hurt you if you believe they can. Let me say that again for you nonbelievers, their words can hurt you only if you believe they can. If you don’t they won’t.

The other day a paranoid psychotic angry man ran up on me in a subway car. I guess he picked me to interact with in a verbally aggressive way. My first reaction was defensive anger, my second reaction was the word “SICK” moving across my mind. I looked down and thought of giving him the message that I just wasn’t interested in being in his subway movie, if you know what I mean. He moved on to another passenger. The point is, I wasn’t about to own this guy’s paranoid psychotic anger.

You don’t have to own what another person wants to give you unless you want it. Practice this and over time shyness abates. Be patient if it doesn’t happen over night. Shyness took a while to form, shyness may take a while to leave. It always goes faster if we have something effective in reducing fear to work on.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

Leave a Comment