Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Perspective on "Shyness"

Where it comes from
and how to reduce it

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/shy. tm

Updated 01-28-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of articles on Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 - 3, and prepare you for Lesson 5 (evolve a high-nurturance family) and Lesson 6 (effective parenting).

      This article offers perspective on "shyness," and practical suggestions on how to reduce it to normal levels. It assumes you're familiar with:

  • the intro to this nonprofit Website, and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4

  • Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) and what it means to be a GWC

  • sample Bill of Personal Rights

  Perspective on "Shyness"

      Do you know anyone who is notably shy? Try saying your definition of "shyness" out loud, as tho to a young person. Would anyone describe you as "shy"? If you were asked to explain what causes shyness in some adults and kids but not others, what would you say? Do you think people can intentionally reduce shyness?

      Shyness is a convenient label for feeling anxious and insecure about other people's perceived attitudes and/or behaviors. See if you agree with these ideas:

      Shy kids and adults...

  • fear that they'll be scorned, disliked, and/or rejected by others because of their appearance, language, beliefs, or behaviors; and/or that...

  • they'll scorn and dislike themselves in some situations ("I never know what to say to ____.")

  • they haven't developed a stable sense of personal identity yet, and they may...

  • lack clear boundaries between themselves and other people, and typical shy people...

  • scare themselves by assuming what other people may think or say about them, and they...

  • base their self-worth on other people's opinions, rather than their own talents and abilities, and shy people...

  • may deny or be unaware of these traits, or feel guilty and ashamed of them ("I'm shy because I'm so shy!")

  Does this profile seem realistic to you? What can cause these traits?

      A major factor is whether the person was shamed as a young child for (a) their appearance ("Look - Dumbo's here!") and/or (b) some personal qualities like intelligence, sensitivity, timidity, or clumsiness. Family adults play a key role in helping a young child develop self-acceptance, confidence, and healthy pride. When adult caregivers are psychologically wounded or distracted themselves, these priceless assets are stunted or blocked.

      The primary block is a neglected child's automatically developing personality subselves like a Shamed Child ("I'm no good and unlovable!"), a shrill Inner Critic, ("You're so stupid / ugly / geeky / ..."), a stern Perfectionist ("I have to act and behave perfectly!"), a hyper Catastrophizer ("I will never have any friends!"), and an anxious People Pleaser ("If I do what you want, maybe you'll like me!"}.

      Even "well adjusted" kids can become shy with peers as they develop physically and experience new sexual awareness, urges, thoughts, and fantasies. Once again, parental sensitivity to these normal changes, and appropriate coaching and affirmation, can help reduce or avoid excessive gender insecurity.

      Bottom line - whatever the causes of excessive shyness for a particular person, the primary challenges are (a) wanting to develop self-confidence, (b) reducing psychological wounds (Lesson 1 here), and (c) developing communication and social skills (Lessons 2 and 4).  Restated - the problem is not "shyness," it's a disabled true Self and lack of key knowledge, experience, and encouragement. This Web site provides the knowledge.

      The good news: once admitted, these challenges can be intentionally mastered over time. The bad news: mastery takes awareness, patience, courage, knowledge, some skilled help, and a high-nurturance environment. Excessively-shy children may have to leave a low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") home before they can master these challenges, unless their caregivers intentionally reduce their own wounds and unawareness.


      Let's consider two questions: (a) if you are significantly shy, how can you reduce that? and (b) can you help someone else do this?

Reduce Your Shyness

      This two-part YouTube video offers suggestions for increasing your self-respect:

      You've already started reducing your shyness by reading this article. The next step is to decide whether your shyness is "significant" or "normal." Answer these honestly: T(rue), F(alse), or ? ("I'm not sure").

I (vs. other people) believe I am "too shy."  (T  F  ?)

I avoid meeting new people too often, and am feeling isolated and lonely (T  F  ?)

I'm oversensitive to what other people think of me  (T  F  ?)

I need to develop more self confidence as a person / male / female / friend.  (T  F  ?)

I'm often uncomfortable about telling others what I feel and need.  (T  F  ?)

I'm very embarrassed about how shy I am  (T  F  ?)

If I honestly reveal who I am to other people, they won't like me.  (T  F  ?)

      If you answered True to most or all these statements, I'd say your shyness is "significant" (worthy of change). Ultimately, only you can decide. If you choose "change," what can you do?

  • Intentionally shift your thinking from "I'm too shy" to "I'm wounded and unaware."

  • Choose a long-range view (e.g. the next 5-10 years) and the open mind of a student

  • Do the "assignments" in Lesson 1 here. Doing so honestly and patiently will free your true Self (capital "S") to harmonize and retrain the subselves that cause your shyness. As you do this over some weeks or months also...

  • Follow the steps in Lesson 2  to grow effective thinking and communication skills. This will help you harmonize your subselves and know what to do (be confident) in any social situation. After major progress on these two projects, begin working to...

  • Improve your relationship skills over time by trying the options in Lesson 4.  Give special attention to affirming your personal rights, and earning your self respect

  • Experiment with these powerful options for improving your self confidence.

       Notice your reaction to these suggestions. If you're thinking something like...

"I'm too busy to do these lessons."

"This will never work."

"I can't change."

"I don't have the patience."

"People will think (something critical)."

"My shyness is not all that bad (so I don't need to take these steps)"

... then a protective false self is probably trying to stop you from changing. For a quick test to see if this is so, study this comparison and return. How do you feel about false selves possibly controlling your life?

      If you aren't motivated to act on these lessons now, you can do so later. Some people must hit true personal bottom before they solidly commit to reducing their wounds and unawareness. Option - scan  these Lessons first, then decide if you want to study and act on them.

      What if you want to...

Help Someone Else Reduce Their Shyness

      When someone you care about seems to be "too shy" and/or complains about that, it can be tempting to "help" (advise) them. Because of the psychological roots of shyness (above), logical advice like "Be more confident!" and "Just be more open!" will increase the person's guilt and anxiety. Offering help to someone who hasn't asked for it is disrespectful, and may evoke resentment and resistance. Lose-lose.

      With over-shy kids, avoid seeing the child as the problem. The real problem is probably a low-nurturance (dysfunctional) family and wounded, unaware caregivers. The worst thing you can do is chide, scold, scorn, or criticize a shy child for their timidity. The best things are to treat the child with genuine (vs. dutiful) respect, and to demonstrate (vs. say) that you enjoy time with them. Part of this is learning how to talk effectively with kids. Option - give the child's caregivers a copy of this article, and avoid rescuing them or the child.

      With over-shy adults, identify specifically how their shyness affects you, and whether you wish to do something about it. If you do, get clear on why - to vent, inform, learn, problem-solve, confront, cause action, or something else? 

  • make sure your true Self is in charge, and that you have a genuine mutual-respect attitude. If not, you have a bigger problem to work on - false-self dominance.

  • ask respectfully if s/he's open to constructive feedback. Be prepared for ambivalence. If you get a believable "Yes," choose from options like these, depending on your goals...

    • review these ageless wisdoms.

    • "(Name), I experience you as very shy." (venting)

    • "When I observe you being so shy, I feel _________." (informing)

    • "Would you be interested in reducing your shyness?" (problem-solving) If you get hesitation or "No," respect that. If you get a "Yes," consider referring them to this article or giving them a copy. Avoid lecturing or preaching ("You need to ____ because _____.") 

    • Be open to discussing the [wounds + unawareness] cycle - specially if the other person is a (grand)parent, aunt, or uncle. The cycle is the real problem!

  • Whatever feedback you offer, let go of expecting the other person to change. Be clear - shyness is their problem to resolve, not yours. You're in charge of adapting to this person's attitudes and behaviors and honoring your own values and integrity.

      Pause and reflect - what are you aware of now? If there are shy people in your life, can you imagine reacting to them with some version of these options? If you feel "too shy," are you ready to reduce that trait? If not, which protective subselves are blocking you?


      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This article (a) explores the common trait of "shyness," (b) proposes where it comes from, and (c) offers suggestions for relating well to over-shy kids and adults. The article proposes that excessive shyness is a symptom of psychological wounds + unawareness. Both can be intentionally reduced, once understood and admitted!

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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