Shyness?

Originally Published: March 19, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 14, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I'm a graduate student who is still trying to cope with shyness. I have extreme difficulty talking to people — even to people I see and work with everyday. I know making friends takes time and patience, but I seem to be at a loss as to how to develop acquaintances too. I've always been antisocial, but I never wanted to be. Who does, right? But I just don't know how not to be.

I'm studying a profession that requires a lot of personal communication; so, it's making me nervous and depressed whenever I can't overcome my introvertedness. But it's not my career that worries me the most. I sense my emotional well-being deteriorating every time I feel myself lost around others. Is there anything I can do to overcome shyness? I've been reading articles about the antidepressant drug Prozac and its success on passive people — should I consider it? Or are there places I can go for therapy? Thanks.

-Want to break out of the shell!

Dear Want to break out of the shell!,

You are not alone in feeling shy — although it may feel that way sometimes. Shyness is a difficult concept to define, but rest assured, millions of people experience it all around the world. Shyness seems to be a form of social anxiety, where a person may experience a range of feelings from mild anxiety in the presence of others to a pronounced anxiety disorder. For shy people, it is anxiety producing to have to interact with others at all, and at the same time, the loneliness of limited relationships can be profoundly painful.

One way to describe shy individuals is that they are absorbed in themselves, worried about the effect they have on others and about how others feel about them. They become so absorbed in their own discomfort and feelings of inadequacy that they cannot focus on or feel toward others. This cycle further isolates shy people from the mainstream of warm, giving relationships, and exacerbates their loneliness and shyness.

The word "shy" can be used loosely in everyday conversation, and it's important to remember that people who may seem shy don't always have social problems. Everyone can be shy in certain situations they find uncomfortable. Also, some people are naturally quieter than others and prefer to interact with small groups of people. Shyness isn't necessarily a problem, but it sounds as though it's become a problem for you. Regardless of whether you're loud or quiet, outgoing or reserved, you deserve to feel good about yourself.

Since shyness is now being recognized as a real social problem, there is considerable research being conducted toward identifying ways to help shy people. Shyness clinics incorporate methods of treatment ranging from building social and cognitive skills, to assertiveness training, techniques to reduce anxiety, and systematic desensitization. You may always be a little shy, but with professional help, you can learn behavior that will benefit your professional and personal life.

Plenty of resources are available to help you get there. Rather than using Prozac as a first step, you might first try your school or local counseling service. If you are at Columbia, you can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC) for an appointment to speak with a mental health professional.

You've taken a big step by asking this question. Keep in mind that therapy could be a helpful option; and that if you're not sure how to start the conversation, your counselor will be able to begin the process. Lots of luck!

Alice

July 1, 2008

21378

To the reader:

I am the same way. I have always been this way. I was at my worst in high school. Now that I am in college, I am still shy, but I am more willing to socialize. I often find...

To the reader:

I am the same way. I have always been this way. I was at my worst in high school. Now that I am in college, I am still shy, but I am more willing to socialize. I often find myself socializing more with people who know my friends. Or if I am with a friend and I am with their friends.

When I was more shy than I am now, people never talked to me. I have recognized that people often mistake shyness for arrogance and in my experience, people viewed me as being "stuck up" or "cocky." People don't realize that in order to engage in conversation with a shy person that they have to say something first! Don't let people make you feel like an outcast, its not your fault.

I would suggest going to class and start complaining about the class or an assignment. This usually sparks conversation. Typically after a few classes you can talk to people about anything not just class material. Don't be discouraged, you will find friends.

One more thing, the start of every semester is a new opportunity to find friends. Also you probably will develop what we call at my college "major friends": people who share your major that you have tons of classes with. If you see someone, say something like, "Aren't you in my (blank) class?" Also if you see someone a lot and they see you a lot, say, "hello" or do the "nod" even if you don't know them or give people a small smile. I have done this many times and have gotten a few friends out of it. Hope this helps.

February 5, 2007

21187

Dear Want to break out of the shell!,

I'm a shy and anxiety-riddled person. I couldn't even buy things on my own because going up to the checkout counter made me too nervous.

...

Dear Want to break out of the shell!,

I'm a shy and anxiety-riddled person. I couldn't even buy things on my own because going up to the checkout counter made me too nervous.

However, I'm actually much better about things like this now. (I still have my anxious moments, but they're nowhere near as bad as they were before.) In all honesty, the thing that helped me the most was just repeatedly doing whatever it was that made me shy and nervous, no matter how anxious it made me. Instead of having someone around to help me if I chickened out, I went in the store alone more and more and smiled at the cashier. I remembered to be polite, and it all made me feel much more confident in myself.

Whenever I feel nervous, I think, "These people don't know me, so even if I make a fool of myself, it's okay." You don't need such strong medication to make things like this go away. You learn some things by just doing them, and this is one of those things.

May 28, 2004

20737
Alice,

Boy, this was spot on. Alice certainly knows shyness. I have come a good distance in overcoming my shyness, but there's still a long way to go. I still have a ton of trouble forming...

Alice,

Boy, this was spot on. Alice certainly knows shyness. I have come a good distance in overcoming my shyness, but there's still a long way to go. I still have a ton of trouble forming friendships — never mind romantic relationships.

Someday, someday...