Beating shyness | Sunday Observer

Beating shyness

The word ‘shyness’ denotes many shades of meaning. In the first place, shy people are nervous and embarrassed about meeting and speaking to other people, especially, those they do not know intimately. Very often, we meet shy people, mostly women. If somebody is not shy about doing something, it means they are willing to do it or get involved with something. Politicians and actors are not publicity-shy. Some girls are camera-shy. Those who come to cities from rural areas try to overcome their shyness in meeting people. And there are shy animals which get frightened easily and are unwilling to come near people. For instance, deer are shy creatures.

There are many words to indicate shyness. When someone is ‘bashful’, they are not willing to say much. ‘Self-conscious’ people are worried and embarrassed about what they look like or what other people might think of them. ‘Timid’ people are not brave or confident. Those who are ‘reserved’ do not like to express their ideas and emotions or talk about their problems. If you are an ‘introvert,’ you think a lot about your own interests and problems. You may also not like to be with other people. Some people are ‘withdrawn’ from society. They are quiet, not wanting to talk to other people, especially, because they are unhappy. You might meet people who are ‘antisocial.’ They also do not like to meet people and talk to them. ‘Retiring’ people do not want to be with others. Remember, all these people are shy creatures!

Shyness, in whatever form it comes, is a common problem that is manageable today. You do not have to live with it as there are many ways to get over this mental state. Shyness is sometimes mistakenly regarded as a childhood stage that people outgrow, but it is widespread. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychologist, a co-director of the Shyness Institute and the author of ‘Shyness: What It is, What to do about it’ has surveyed more than 10,000 people during the 1970s and ‘80s and found that approximately 40% of them described themselves as shy. Bernardo Carducci, another psychologist, places the figure at 48%. According to Zimbardo, an additional 15% are ‘situationally’ shy, experiencing shyness in certain stressful circumstances such as, speaking in public.

No cure

Do we have any ‘cure’ for shyness? Psychologists say ‘No’. However, research shows that shy people can overcome their problem to prevent their shyness taking a toll on their happiness. Meanwhile, psychologists have come up with certain ways to whittle down shyness in people. One of the pieces of advice given by them is to maintain a journal to find out the root cause of your shyness. This is a kind of therapy for the sufferer. The journal will help you to know more about yourself than you think. A woman who suffered from severe shyness about dating wrote down everything about her fears.

In her entries in the journal she later found a recurring theme. She was afraid that a man might like her, but she might not like him. At the same time, she did not know how to begin their relationship. When she came to know her real situation, dating became less stressful. According to Jonathan Cheek, the author of ‘Conquering Shyness: A Personalised Approach’, two-thirds of shy people can identify specific events in their lives that contributed to their shyness. Once the root causes are identified, you can deal with your shyness in a constructive way.

Another way to get over shyness is to create a character to rehearse your own scenes. One woman assumed the role in a play and later wrote in her journal, ‘It wasn’t me on the stage. It was a character.’ This brings us to another interesting point. Even actors on stage or before the camera can be shy people in their private lives. For instance, popular entertainers such as Johnny Carson and David Letterman are shy people. Even Toastmasters who take part in debates temporarily become ‘unshy’ people.

‘Social reconnaissance’

Shy people are expected to do their homework to get over their problem. In psychological parlance this is known as ‘social reconnaissance.’ If you are planning to attend a party, find out who will be there and their interests beforehand. By doing so, you can be prepared to discuss something which they would like. On such occasions, you will not feel shy any more.

Shy people should know something about body language. According to psychologists, shy people send out signals of coolness or withdrawal, often without realising it. They constantly think they are scared of other people. Unfortunately, other people do not get the message. They would interpret it as aloofness and stay away from you. This will make you insecure. Psychologist Arthur Wassmer uses a one-word reminder to list all the body language signals that project warmth and likeability: SOFTEN. ‘S’ stands for ‘Smile,’ ‘O’ for ‘Open posture’, ‘F’ for ‘Forward lean’, ‘T’ for ‘Touch’ or friendly physical contact, ‘E’ for ‘Eye contact’, and ‘N’ for ‘Nod’ affirming that you are listening and understanding.

Most shy people think others will laugh at them for what they say. There is no clear evidence for such fears. Always think that their laughing at you will not affect you at all. By taking such small steps anyone can get over shyness. If shy people work at it, most of them will be able to cope with their problem. It is a battle they can win easily. Even if you feel shy inside, forge ahead anyway, and connect with others. By doing so, you will not stand on the sidelines of life.

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