If you’re shy, you know the discomfort such bashfulness can bring. When you must step out of the shadows and speak up, you may experience a racing heart, dry mouth, and butterflies in the stomach. What others seem to take for granted can become a miserable experience for you.
All sorts of social situations can trigger a bout of self-conscious shyness. Some people find themselves not speaking up for themselves at work. Others find it makes them anxious to introduce themselves to others at a bar or the gym. Or they avoid social situations all together, becoming isolated at home. And more people fear public speaking engagements than fear snakes or spiders.
All of us find ourselves a little shy at times, especially if we’re introverted by nature. But when the problem starts to really interfere with the enjoyment of day-to-day life, therapists talk about the problem as social anxiety. Well-meaning friends may tell us to get over it, buck up and “just do it” when faced with a situation that causes us embarrassment. Sometimes that works, but often it’s too simple an answer. If we’re not prepared, we may put ourselves in a situation where we’re overwhelmed with anxiety, only to find that all our self-doubts rise up like dragons and overwhelm us.
For shy people, the problem is often a high level of self-consciousness – particularly around negative thoughts. We act like everyone is looking at us. Or the chatter in our heads becomes a flood of negativity. “No one would be interested in what I have to say.” “If I introduce myself to him, I’ll probably forget his name right away.” “What’s the point of starting up a conversation with him when I’ll just look stupid?” These critical voices are like a Greek chorus of discouragement in our heads. The anxiety they provoke may be so great that we’ll even lie to friends to avoid accepting social invitations where we feel we’ll fail ourselves.
Another trap is over-scrutinizing our own words, thoughts and behaviors. If we fear embarrassment we may end up waiting until the perfect moment when we’ll know just what to do or say…then we watch opportunity after opportunity simply slip away as we sit in the background, analyzing. The right moment never comes. We’re paralyzed.
Some single people find themselves especially shy in social situations that are the opening gambits in the intimacy game. They long for a relationship but fear they are clueless about how to find a guy and start the process.
In the 21st century we’re finding that there’s a pill for just about everything, and shyness is no exception. It’s true that some social anxiety can be helped by the selective use of medication, especially if the anxiety has become debilitating. But many of those medications cause other troubles, including the host of problems that are dismissed as “possible sexual side effects” in the ads for them on television. For most people the answer to shyness isn’t an antidepressant. The answer is gaining greater self-knowledge and mastering new skills to become more comfortable in social situations.
For some single people, the rush to date might best be put on hold for a little while so they can master some of the social skills that make friendships and other intimate relationships more rewarding.
Next time (part 2) we’ll look at how to master some of the skills needed to master meaningful relationships.
Remember, you’re more than your problem with shyness. When you learn to let your real self out you will find you can enjoy life in new ways.
( part two - tomorrow )
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.