What is shyness?

Updated: 2 March 2015

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Usually, shyness is a psychological defense mechanism. We are shy, because we are afraid of a negative outcome. We rather avoid doing something than risking failure. Shyness may also be the result of a learning deficit. Some people grew up as social outsiders and could not practice certain social skills. But sometimes, shyness can also hide secret arrogance and an attitude of superiority.

In most cases fear and low self-esteem are at the heart of shyness. You may be afraid to say something stupid, to behave in an unusual manner, or to get rejected. That is why I give you checklists for how to lose fears and how to strengthen self-confidence.

Shy people were often born into families which did not provide the right environment for learning social skills. This deficit, which can be overcome to some extent by systematic behavioral training, is deeply ingrained in their character. If you are socially handicapped (like me) you will never become a "party animal", a "drinking buddy" or a "real team player", but you can learn a few essential techniques to make your life easier.

Shyness is culture-specific. In the United States shyness is usually seen as a serious handicap. TV shows, teachers, psychologists and management trainers are blasting everyone with the message that "social intelligence" and "social skills" are extremely important. In fact, humans are social animals. But some of the most creative and most intelligent people in history have been loners or social outcasts. The widely praised social skills are often superficial and only cover up shallowness in human relations. Countries in Northern Europe have totally different standards concerning appropriate social behavior and necessary social skills. In this part of the world shy people are often considered thoughtful and reflective, and they may be more respected than social gasbags and blabbers who chat-up everyone.
Don't feel bad if you like to be alone by yourself. But you have to avoid being stigmatized or ridiculed. You need to learn and practice a few social skills to make your life easier.
 
 

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Further reading

Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS-SR)

Encyclopedia of Mental Health: Shyness (Palo Alto Shyness Clinic)

 

Copyright 2014, 2015 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.

Updated: 3 February 2015