Posted by Yohannes Zewde
Can you remember the last time you stepped into a room full of strangers and felt that self-conscious and awkward feeling rush over you? Or that heart thumping moment when you wanted to ask someone on a date, but were too shy to do so? Or wanting to approach someone for business, but was too hesitant to actually do it? That anxiety in the pit of your stomach in social situations? Does it always feel like something is holding you back?
Regardless of whether you are introverted or extraverted, we can all relate to that feeling of shyness at some point in our lives. Socially, we tend to have the misconception that only introverts experience shyness, but that is not true. Shyness has more to do with being uncomfortable with one’s self, especially around other people.
This article is the result of collaboration between Amanda Linehan, an introvert, and Tina Su, an extravert. Together, we wanted to shed some light on the topic of shyness in a collective perspective from both extremes. We will also share the ways that we used to turn shyness into personal empowerment.
The Three Components of Shyness
According to Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci of the Shyness Research Institute, shyness has three components:
Excessive Self-Consciousness – you are overly aware of yourself, particularly in social situations.
Excessive Negative Self-Evaluation – you tend to see yourself negatively.
Excessive Negative Self-Preoccupation – you tend to pay too much attention to all the things you are doing wrong when you are around other people.
Can you relate? When you are experiencing shyness, can you fit your state of mind into one or more of the above categories? We sure can.
Why Do We Experience Shyness?
We all experience shyness differently and on varying degrees. However, root cause can be boiled down to one of the following reasons:
1. Weak Self Image
This is especially true to our experiences in high school. We would believe in the fallacy that our unique qualities were not interesting, cool or worthy of anyone’s admiration.We would try to fit in with everyone else, resulting in us not feeling like ourselves.
Amanda: Looking back I’m not even sure I knew what my unique abilities were, I just knew that everybody else seemed to be a cooler, more interesting person than I was, so I tried to imitate them…poorly.:)
Tina: I thought of myself as cool, because I was loud, and worked very hard at keeping that image. It was of course, a false image that I worked hard to keep. It was exhausting and I was exceedingly self conscious. Even though people didn’t view me as shy, but I felt shy most of the time with a lot of built up anxiety. Turns out, the ‘cool’ kids themselves have weak self images and wanted to fit in with everyone else.
2. Pre-occupation with Self
When we’re around other people, we become extremely sensitive to what we’re doing, as if we’ve been put on center stage. This creates anxiety and makes us question our every move. Our focus centers around ourselves and particularly on “what I was doing wrong”. This can cause a downward spiral.
Amanda: Coupled with a weak self image,I didn’t thinkIwas doing anything right! And this would start a cycle that I couldn’t get out of. What I understand now is that is that most people are not looking at me with the detail thatI was looking at myself.
Tina: I too was very sensitive to my every move around other people. My senses were heightened to the way I talked, walked, laughed, etc. My focus was on how to not screw up in front of other people, and this made me very nervous. What I understand now is that everyone is so caught up with their own insecurities that they hardly notice yours.
When we label ourselves as a shy person, we psychologically feel inclined to live up to those expectations. We may say to ourselves, “I am a shy person, than it must be true that I am shy. This is how I am, and this is the way things are.” When we label something, that thing has the perception of being fixed and therefore we must live up to the expectations of the labeling.
Amanda: I was known by others as a shy person, or a quiet person, and this perception held me captive at times. People expected me to be a certain way and so I was. And knowing that other people regarded me as shy, in addition to my not wanting to be shy, resulted in great anxiety when I was with people. I really wanted to show myself to others when I was around them, but it was easy to simply go along with what others expected from me.
Tina: Deep down, I felt the anxieties from shyness often, yet, when I’m around people, I had to live up to the expectations that I wasn’t shy. My experiences with shyness would manifest in unusual ways, like when I’m ordering food, when I call someone on the phone, or speak to strangers. I would never let that side of myself show, but I do experience it. In those moments, I can hear myself say, ‘I am shy.’
How to Overcome Shyness
We’ve both experienced different variations of shyness, and through practice and increased awareness we have both overcome this. The following are tips that have helped us overcome this uncomfortable feeling.
1. Understand Your Shyness
Seek to understand your unique brand of shyness and how that manifests in your life. Understand what situation triggers this feeling? And what are you concerned with at that point?
2. Turning Self Consciousness into Self Awareness
Recognize that the world is not looking at you. Besides, most people are too busy looking at themselves. Instead of watching yourself as if you are other people, bring your awareness inwards. Armed with your understanding of what makes you shy, seek within yourself and become the observing presence of your thoughts. Self awareness is the first step towards any change or life improvement.
3. Find Your Strengths
We all have unique qualities and different ways of expressing ourselves. It’s important to know and fully accept the things we do well, even if they differ from the norm. If everyone was the same, the world would be a pretty boring place.
Find something you are good at and focus on doing it. An identifiable strength will boost your natural self esteem and your ego, helping you better identify with yourself. It is a short term fix, but will give you the confidence you need to break your self-imposed barrier of fear.
See how your unique strength gives you an advantage. For example, Amanda is a naturally quiet person who prefers to spend time alone. She learned that she listens better than others and notices things that others miss in conversations. She also discovered that her alone time has given her a better understanding of herself.
4. Learn to Like Yourself
Practice appreciating yourself and liking the unique expression that is you. Write a love letter to yourself, do things you enjoy, give gratitude for your body and its effortless functions, spend quality time getting to know yourself, go on a self-date.
5. Not Conforming
Trying to fit in like everyone else is exhausting and not very much fun. Understand that it is okay to be different. In fact, underlying popular kid’s public displays of coolness, they too are experiencing insecurities, self-consciousness, and awkwardness. Accept that you may not be perceived as the most popular social butterfly, and you may not want to be either. At the end of the day, being popular will not make you happy. Accepting your unique qualities can set you free.
6. Focus on Other People
Rather than focusing on your awkwardness in social situations, focus on other people and what they have to say. Become interested in learning about others, and probe them to talk about themselves. You can try pondering the question while interacting: What is it about this person that I like?
7. Releasing Anxiety through Breath
Anxiety and fear can feel overwhelming if you are practicing to become more assertive in order to overcome this fear.
One simple technique to calm this anxiety into manageable bites is taking deep breaths with your eyes closed, while concentrating on just your breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly while clearing out all thoughts.
Another technique is from yoga: counting as you inhale and then as you exhale. Slowly leveling out your inhale and exhale duration. Example, 4 count for in and 4 for out. Once your breaths are leveled, add an extra count during your exhale. This means slowing down your exhale by just a tad as compared to your inhale. Continue for a few minutes until you are comfortable, than add another count to your exhale. You can easily do this in the bathroom, or in a spare room of when you need it.
8. Releasing Anxiety through Movement
One way of viewing anxiety is that it is blocked energy that needs to be released. We can release this energy through physical movement.
Exercises like jogging or walking will help to re-channel some of the blocked energies, but also helps by pulling you out of the situation and shifts your state of mind. This refreshed state of mind will help by adding perspectives to things.
Another effective technique is a simple muscle meditation/exercise. Sit down or lie down. Bring awareness to every part of your body, starting from your toes and moving up your body to the top of your head. At every part of your body, tighten the muscles at the center of awareness for 3-5 seconds, and then relax. Repeat this until you get to the top of your head. Remember to breathe.
Visualizing yourself in the situation as a confident and happy person helps to shape your perception of yourself when you are actually in the situation. Close your eyes, sit back somewhere relaxing, listen to some relaxing music, imagine yourself in a scene or situation and see yourself the way you would like to be. In this scene, how do you feel? What do you hear? Do you smell anything? Are you moving? What do you see? Get all your senses involved to make it real.
Words can carry incredible energy. What we repeatedly tell ourselves, gets heard by our unconscious mind, and it acts accordingly. If we repeatedly tell ourselves that we are incapable, and too shy to do anything, we will become increasingly aware of evidence to back up this ‘fact’, and our actions will always match what we tell ourselves. Similarly, if we repeatedly tell ourselves that we are capable, confident, and wonderful human beings, our unconscious mind will likely surface the awareness that gives evidence to this new ‘fact’. While, we can’t lie to ourselves, positive visualization and affirmation are helpful in placing us along the road of positive thought patterns.
11. Do Not Leave an Uncomfortable Situation
When we leave shy situations, what we are really doing is reinforcing our shyness. Instead, face the situation square in the face. Turn the fearful situation into a place of introspection and personal growth. Become the observer and dig into yourself, answer the questions: why do I feel this way? What caused me to feel this way? Can there be an alternative explanation to what is happening?
12. Accept Rejection
Accept the possibility that we can be rejected and learning to not take it personally. Remember, you are not alone and we all experience rejections. It is part of life and part of the learning process. The key lies in how you handle rejections when they come. It helps to be mentally prepared before they happen:
Never take it personally. It was not your fault. It just wasn’t meant to be. The scenario was not the best fit for you.
Find the lesson – what did you learn? There is a lesson ingrained in every situation. And through these life lessons lies the potential for you to become a better person, a stronger person. Nothing is lost if you can find the lesson. See these as the blessings in disguise.
Move on. Recognize that when you fall into self-pity, you are not moving forward. Nothing will be changed from your self-pity. When you start to recognize this, it becomes clear that only energy is wasted while we feed to our problem-seeking ego. Pick yourself up, dust off the dirt and move on to the next thing. Try again, try again, try again. It will pay off!
13. Relinquish Perfectionism
When we compare ourselves, we tend to compare ourselves with the most popular person in the room or we compare ourselves with celebrities we see on TV. We set excessive expectations by comparing ourselves unreasonably to people unlike ourselves and wonder “why can’t I be that?” We carry with us a vision of another’s perfection and expect ourselves to fit that exact mold. And when we don’t fit, we beat ourselves up for it, wondering why we are such failures. You see, the problem lies in our emphasis on fitting into a vision we have created in our minds, which is not us. Let go of this perfect image, create visions of yourself out of the Being from who you are, naturally; and let that expression flow, naturally.
14. Stop Labeling Yourself
Stop labeling yourself as a shy person. You are you, you are unique, and you are beautiful. Can’t we just leave it at that?
15. Practice Social Skills
Like any other skill, social skills can be cultivated through practice and experience. The more you put yourself out there, the easier it becomes next time. If you have a hard time knowing what to say, you can practice what to say ahead of time.
16. Practice Being in Uncomfortable Situations
Sometimes, it is not the social skills we lack, but rather the lack of self confidence that we may succeed, and a heightened fear that we will fail. Placing yourself in these uncomfortable situations will help to desensitize your fear towards the situation. The more you force yourself to face it, and to experience it completely, you will realize that it is not that bad after all. It may be hard for your ego to accept at first, but quickly you will find that you can just laugh and enjoy it.
17. The Three Questions
During social settings where you may experience nervousness, periodically ask yourself the following three questions. Doing so will distract yourself from more self-destructive thoughts. Make it your mantra:
Am I breathing?
Am I relaxed?
Am I moving with grace?
18. What is Comfortable for You?
Going to bars and clubs isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Understand what feels comfortable for you, and find people, communities and activities which bring out the best in you. You can be just as equally social in settings that you connect with on a personal level, than the popular social settings. You don’t have to be doing what “everyone” else is doing. Besides, everyone else isn’t necessarily happy, despite your perception as such.
19. Focus on the Moment
Becoming mindful of what you’re doing, regardless of what you’re doing, will take focus away from the self. When you are having a conversation, forget about how you look, focus on the words, fall into the words, become absorbed in the words. The tones. The expression. Appreciate it and give gratitude for it.
20. Seek and Record Your Successes
As you overcome this condition we’ve been labeling as shyness, you will have many wins and realizations about yourself. You will gain insights into the truth behind social scenarios. You will start to view yourself differently and come to recognize that you can become comfortable and confident. When these wins and realizations happen, make sure to keep a notebook and write them down. Keeping a journal of your successes will not only boost self confidence, but also shift your focus towards something that can benefit you.