Anxiety

Psychological Help For Shyness

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It’s not easy being shy in a big anonymous social world. From the shy person’s perspective there’s an invisible but very real barrier to fast and easy human connection, a barrier the outgoing among us don’t see or at least have no problem breaking through. And the bitter reality is that shyness is usually interpreted by those same outgoing people, the people who don’t feel restrained at all in new social situations and therefore have a hard time empathizing with those who do feel restrained, as standoffish or even outright rude. We don’t have access to the inner worlds of people who are feeling shy, only to their external behavior, and what we see is closed off body language and the purposeful refusal to engage.

So there’s a lot of emotional and psychological pain caused by shyness. First there’s the painful existential anxiety produced by the new, unknown social situation. Then there’s the guilt and shame from feeling abnormal. Finally there’s the hurt feelings and sense of injustice caused from being unfairly labeled as rude or antisocial when the truth is that being able to connect effortlessly is a deeply held wish.

If you’re shy, we know what your family and close friends know about you, which is that under the right conditions where you do feel completely at ease with your surroundings and the people in them you’re a confident, happy, gregarious person. So it’s not like that outgoing nature that you wish you could access isn’t inside of you. It is, it’s simply that the felt existential anxiety cued off by new unknown situations with unknown people is blocking you from accessing and expressing your true personality, your authentic thoughts and feelings, your authentic opinions and beliefs, your easy smiles and direct eye contact, all those elements that, taken together, would cause others who don’t know you very well to code you as ‘outgoing’ rather than ‘shy’ after meeting you.

Therefore probably the most important movement that can occur is to stop labeling yourself as a shy person and to start labeling yourself as an outgoing person whose outgoing nature is currently being stifled by existential anxiety. Without that anxiety, which is exactly what you’re like when you find yourself in familiar and comfortable surroundings, you’d have no problem opening up, being yourself, and taking some risks. You’d be the spontaneous, funny person who the intimates in your life know you as, the person they get a kick out of being around.

Like we said, the people who don’t know you very well don’t have access to your inner world but only to your external behavior, which means that by modifying your external behavior despite that felt inner sense of existential anxiety new individuals in your life won’t experience you as a shy person even though you might be feeling that way.

The key is to purposefully raise conscious awareness in any and all new social situations so that you can first note and name the existential anxiety creeping in and then purposefully override the compulsive body language that flows from this anxiety. Make an effort to make and hold eye contact, to keep your back straight, to not cross your arms, to keep your shoulders back and your head up – in short to maintain a confident but relaxed body attitude. This relaxed body language will bleed into your thoughts and feelings and probably reduce some of that anxiety all on its own but even if it doesn’t it doesn’t really matter. Most people love talking, they love being the center of attention, which means you don’t really need to do all that much to have them leave the first encounter with a positive impression of you as a fun, outgoing person. All you really need to do is be aware of your anxiety, work on your relaxed body language in the moment, ask some open ended questions to get people talking, and have the courage, despite the anxiety, to throw one or two of your own comments in there during group conversation rather than staying clammed up the whole time.

All of this already comes naturally to you as long as you feel really comfortable in your surroundings This means your overall goal has simply got to be to start getting more comfortable with discomfort! That all starts with noticing and naming existential anxiety as soon as it arrives in new situations and reminding yourself that it’s your anxiety blocking you from being the confident outgoing person you already are.

Greetings I'm Michael, the owner of Evolution Counseling and the author of all the articles on this site. I got my master's degree from Seattle University in community mental heath counseling and have committed myself to advancing my knowledge of psychology and to evolving my own philosophical system ever since. In addition to the content on this site I offer online coaching using Skype. If you'd like to learn more about it click on the online coaching tab or if you think you'd like to set up a session send me an email at evolve@evolutioncounseling.com.

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