Shyness is a common trait among children and adults from all walks of life. Characterised by feelings of self-consciousness, self-criticism, and a reluctance to enter social situations, shyness has a negative impact on many aspects of a person’s life, including their relationships and career.
Even though it can feel crippling to some people, shyness is not a fixed state and you can take steps to overcome it.
If you struggle with shyness, you might find yourself entering a cycle of self-criticism before you’re even conscious of it. Practice noticing the thoughts and feelings that come up when you think about entering into a social situation. Notice what your internal dialogue is saying and the judgements you are making about yourself.
As you notice, remember that these self-judgements are opinions, not facts. Just because you are thinking them doesn’t mean they are true. Practice distancing yourself from your anxiety and self-judgements using the phrase “I notice…” when describing how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.
Take some of the uncertainty out of each interaction by setting an intention for each conversation you enter. This might be an intention to really listen, an intention to find out more about someone, an intention to ask someone about particular topic, or anything else that is relevant to the situation.
A characteristic of shyness is self-preoccupation, which can create a vicious cycle: the more preoccupied we are with ourselves, the less likely we are to listen to others in the conversation, and the more likely they are to have a negative experience of us.
Focusing on others helps you distance yourself from self-judgement and be more present in the conversation.
If you’ve avoided social situations for a while, you might worry that you’ve forgotten your social skills.
Watching how other people express themselves, converse, and socialise can provide you with a helpful template for your own interactions. Like focusing on other people in the conversation, studying other people’s social skills also prevents you focusing too much on your own feelings of self-consciousness.
As anxiety-provoking as the prospect might feel, the most effective step to overcoming shyness is to practice.
Although your first instinct might be to avoid social situations altogether, deliberately seeking out interactions with other people on a regular basis will help normalise social situations. The more you can enter interactions and social gatherings and leave in one piece, the more you will learn to trust yourself. Over time, the sense of fulfilment you get from these situations will replace the sense of fear you feel right now.
Remember that your first few practice attempts will feel hard. You won’t overcome your shyness overnight and it might be tempting to quit along the way. If you can stick with it, however, it will become easier over time.
Combat the self-criticism you experience by exercising your self-compassion muscle instead. As soon as you become aware of your inner critic, practice finding ways to empathise with yourself and your situation.
The more you can practice self-compassion, the more natural it will feel to exercise self-compassion when you’re feeling anxious and self-conscious. This helps stop the self-criticism spiral and prevents you from becoming focused on your own shortcomings instead of focusing on the interaction. It also makes you a better conversation parter, as when you can extend more compassion to others, they will have a more positive experience of you.
If you’re worried that you’re not going to know what to say to someone, then prepare for the conversation in advance. Brainstorm a list of suitable topics you can ask the other person or people about and talk about yourself.
If you’ve been struggling with shyness for a while, you might not have a huge support network, however support is very important.
Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a colleague, or a professional, finding someone who will offer you compassion and support as you overcome your shyness will make a positive difference to your experience.
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