( continued from yesterday )
Self-doubt and self-criticism are at the root of much shyness. We have mistaken beliefs (“Everyone’s looking at me!”) that hold is back.These beliefs keep us from having the sort of meaningful, intimate relationships we want. A good first step is to notice the self-talk going on all the time between your ears. Recognize negative voices that give you critical, defeatist messages. Once you start to recognize them you’re no longer on autopilot. A thought is not the same thing as a reality....
You can begin to assert some control. A good place to start is simply by labeling the thought, perhaps saying to yourself, “That’s just a thought.” Avoid arguing with the voice in your head. And certainly don’t compound the problem by yelling at yourself! “I’m an idiot for having such negative thoughts!” is really just another negative thought.
Try paying special attention to thoughts that include words like always, never, should, etc. These are rarely true and often just cause us more anxiety. And look for other ridiculous thoughts. Everyone is not always looking at you, for instance.
Changing patterns requires patience and practice. Don’t criticize yourself. See if you can work up some self-encouragement instead.
Improving your social skills may start with looking at how you physically present yourself. We’re not talking “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” makeovers here; we’re talking about your posture, how you physically hold yourself. Many shy people try to take up as little physical space as possible, almost as if trying to make themselves disappear. Look at how you stand in front of a full-length mirror. Look at your posture. Like Mom said, stand up straight. Lift your chin a bit. Smile a little. Can you look relaxed and alert at the same time? Do you look approachable?
Try speaking to an imaginary person – maybe someone you’d meet at the gym or at a party. Role-play introducing yourself. How’s the tone of your voice? Do you naturally speak very softly? Trying increasing your volume a bit, which will help you sound more confident. As you look in the mirror, are you looking yourself in the eye? An open, friendly gaze and a firm handshake create a positive impression. If looking someone in the eye is uncomfortable for you, practice in front of a mirror or with a friend.
If saying hello is a problem for many shy people, sometimes it can be just as hard to say “No.” People who have a problem with assertiveness often acquiesce to requests and demands; they may avoid situations where people are likely to make such requests, and that just adds to the sense of social isolation. (Ask yourself if you’ve ever given in to a telemarketer when you didn’t want to do so. If the answer is yes, you could probably learn to be more assertive!) You can learn to say “no” and mean it. Be polite but firm; look the person in the eye if it’s a face-to-face encounter. Repeat you’re no again with even greater firmness if necessary. You may feel uncomfortable for a moment – many people do, because we’ve been taught to be “nice” – but you’ll feel more self-confidence after speaking forthrightly.
Next time in Part 3, we’ll look at how to meet people, make friends and make conversation.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.