how do you overcome shyness?
October 15, 2004 6:44 AM   Subscribe

How do you overcome extreme shyness?
posted by adampsyche to Human Relations (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The way I did it was by joining a group based around an activity (in my case, a hiking club) and after doing activities for a couple of years I gradually worked my way up into a leadership position.

It worked because in the beginning I was doing something I enjoyed and I could still be somewhat shy. I could hike and not talk, or talk when spoken to. Eventually I came out of my shell as I got more and more confident that I knew what I was doing. When I became the trip leader, people respected that and it boosted my confidence. Eventually I'd make a lot of good friends and meet my wife.

Over a period of maybe six years I went from being a post-high school basketcase / social outcast to a confident and popular member of the group.

The hardest part was making the initial phone call to sign up for the first activity. It was like calling a girl for a date. I actually hung up a couple of times before I was able to speak.

Good luck. It's probably the #1 thing i've managed to overcome in my life and it's helped me every day since.
posted by bondcliff at 6:53 AM on October 15, 2004

Booze. And when booze is not an appropriate solution, bullheaded popeyed determination.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:57 AM on October 15, 2004

Carefully muffled.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:04 AM on October 15, 2004

I've known assertiveness courses to work for some people. Look around to see if any colleges run them near you.
As bondcliff said, getting in to social groups can be useful, initially a lot will depend on how welcoming these groups are though. Some can be great with new people, some can be arseholes and you risk feeling like an outsider. If things don't work out at one group, don't think that's necessarily a reflection on yourself.
posted by biffa at 7:13 AM on October 15, 2004

The best way to tackle shyness is to keep throwing yourself into social situations with various people, and eventually you will get more comfortable with the dynamics of societal interaction. Also remember that big groups might actually be better to initiate yourself because there is less of a focus on you as an individual, as opposed to a more intimate meeting where you are required to interact.

I've found that my own introvert/extrovert quotient is impacted by my physical presentation: If I'm put together and polished, then I’m much more outgoing. If I feel dumpy, frazzled, or messy, I clam up like a wallflower. Here’s a tip, too: When in social situations and you are feeling shy, ask people about themselves, so that the spotlight is kept off you.
posted by naxosaxur at 7:59 AM on October 15, 2004

find the most self-absorbed person you know and start going to lunch with him or her, regularly. a lot of people i know overcame their shyness by finally internalizing the notion that pretty much everyone you talk to is more concerned about the impression he/she is making on you than the impression you are making on her/him. not that people won't remember the impression you make but that enough of their energy is diverted to worrying about their own social awkwardness that unless yours is extreme it won't really be noticed.

if you spend a lot of time with an extremely self-absorbed person (the sort who never ever listens because she's too busy with what she plans to say next, the sort who might actually say "enough about me, what do you think about me"), you become a little more comfortable with the truth that people just aren't observing and judging you that sharply. seems to be a twist on the "imagine the audience naked" advice for public speaking: it neutralizes the threat that social interaction seems to be.

on the other hand, you can just get over it. really, just suck it up and say hello to people in elevators. that works for some people too. they talk to enough strangers by sheer force of will that eventually, they're not painfully shy anymore, just a little reserved. i switched schools every year from second to ninth grade, and by the seventh i was a basket case from fear of my peers and newfound shyness. i got over it because i just had no choice. it was either force myself to interact--despite what felt like crippling fear--or never have another friend.

(and what naxosaur said about keeping yourself feeling pulled together)
posted by crush-onastick at 8:04 AM on October 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

At some point extreme shyness crosses the line from personality trait to mental illness. Social anxiety is recognized as an illness and often responds to medication, usually one of the SSRIs like Prozac, Zoloft, etc., or therapy. If the shyness is incapacitating, or based on irrational ideas ("people hate me"), or doesn't respond to people's suggestions or self-help approaches then consider talking to a pro. My own experience is that my shyness was actually a symptom of chronic/recurrrent depression and the shyness disappears when the depression does.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2004

The best way to tackle shyness is to keep throwing yourself into social situations with various people

I've found Burning Man a good experience in this regard. It's pretty much an entire week of socializing with new people. But there are no family/professional pressures mixed in, it's just fun time. And most everyone is pretty friendly and having a good time. It's helped bring me out of my shell. Of course, if the general environment puts you off, then you're not going to relax out there. YMMV.
posted by scarabic at 8:12 AM on October 15, 2004

Find ways that work with your underlying personality - shyness aside. If you're a shy, structured person, approaches like bondcliff suggested are perfect - leverage something you'd be inclined to do, shyness aside. Overcoming the shyness is a bonus on top of the inherent satisfaction of the activity. Two things that I found helpful: One, don't laugh - Dale Carnegie course. Very very structured so if you just surrender yourself to the process the sheer number of talks you will give will give you a sort of 'muscle memory' of being able to step forward socially when you need to. Another unexpected experience for me was taking a swing dancing class. I was already attached to my now-wife but let me tell you - I recommend it to anyone looking for some painless social interaction with members of the opposite sex. Again, the structured setting helps immensely. You don't have to ask anyone to dance - by simply being in the class you are going to dance with everyone - and they with you. No pressue, surprising amount of fun, lots of potential for developing outside friendships using a common interest. Personally, I don't really like to dance but even I had fun in those classes. I guess my advice is to look for environments where the interactions are somewhat managed for you over an extended period of time. This gives you an opportunity to practice stepping forward at your own pace, as bondcliff did.
posted by cairnish at 8:18 AM on October 15, 2004

I realise it's not everybody's thing, but acting helped me come out of my shell. It's kind of like taking someone scared of heights and making them skydive. I don't do it anymore, but it was the shove I needed. I'm still shy, especially when dealing with situations and types of people I'm not used to or prepared for, but I've come a long way (when I was a kid I'd get my little sister to go ask for extra ketchup at the fast food joint, because I was too terrified to do so myself).

I also agree with the suggestions of finding social groups that require a lot of interaction, and in conversations asking people questions about themselves. It's a great way to avoid those Awkward Moments that we dread so much.
posted by picea at 8:30 AM on October 15, 2004

HA! Good one Stavros. Made me laugh.

I would think you need to ask yourself, "self, why am I shy?"

List the reason(s) out and then read the list. Even repost it here and let us see it. Identify those reasons, and you will be on your way to finding a way to cross each one off the list.

Also, what are the scenarios that bring out the shyness? Public speaking? Opposite sex? Police lineup?

PS: Is shyness a word? I don't think so
posted by a3matrix at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2004

Think again.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:41 AM on October 15, 2004

also realize that almost everyone is really shy, deep down, and wants to be accepted and liked, and also that everyone is insecure about stuff too.
posted by amberglow at 9:00 AM on October 15, 2004

1. Stop worrying what people are thinking about you and be yourself, only more out loud. Most people either aren't thinking about you or will think something like, "Oh, he's shy," which is accurate and not the end of the world. If people don't like you for you, there's not too much to be gained by talking to them (socially, anyway.)

2. A psychologist might be able to help you faster than you could help yourself.
posted by callmejay at 9:07 AM on October 15, 2004

I'd caution against the pharmaceutical industry-promoted notion that shyness is largely biochemical.

Many talk show hosts are shy people who learned to be good interviewers. That's what I did as a journalist. Moves your frame of consciousness to the other person.
posted by inksyndicate at 9:29 AM on October 15, 2004

get off the computer and talk to people.
posted by dogmatic at 9:38 AM on October 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

shyness can stop you, from doing all things in life you'd like to.

my method was Karaoke, and 3 semesters of Vocal Enrichment--aka, singing in front of a classroom.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:47 AM on October 15, 2004

Also realize that it can take a significant amount of time to change. I used to be in the same class, and worked on it for years by concentrating on the fact I was so shy and trying to change it. it really took me about 6 years, but I've pretty much got over my my uber-shyness. Just don't be distraught if you don't find a magic pill (and I also agree- stay away from the drug pathways, legal or not).
posted by jmd82 at 10:14 AM on October 15, 2004

get off the computer and talk to people.

Actually, for me, getting a computer and going to a chat room helped me to be a little less shy. Now I can at least talk to people who talk to me (grocery store lines, elevators, etc.). Before that I'd just usually turn away. I'm sure many people thought I was stuck up. Shyness is usually the exact opposite. I have an awfully low self-esteem. Although I've even learned to start conversations, my self-esteem is still in the pits.

I'm sure therapy and/or meds would help, but that's a big step and I don't know that I'll ever be ready to take it.

I know this probably isn't helping you, adampsyche, but at least you know you're not alone.
posted by deborah at 10:28 AM on October 15, 2004

find the most self-absorbed person you know and start going to lunch with him or her, regularly. a lot of people i know overcame their shyness by finally internalizing the notion that pretty much everyone you talk to is more concerned about the impression he/she is making on you than the impression you are making on her/him.

I think this comment is enlightening because it highlights shyness (mine, at least) comes from an excessive amount of self-awareness and the consequent worry that others have this same awareness and they'll find you wanting. I've discovered a few things that help:

(1) Find some personally satisfying goal/activity and work towards it regularly. And/or eliminate a bad habit. The idea is that this helps you look in the mirror and make good judgements about yourself, which translates into less fear of others judgements when you're doing the hyper-self awareness thing. If you find yourself in a daily situation (such as work) where you constant feel behind or inadequate, you might want to look for something else -- this can also be a pretty detrimental effect.

(2) Make a little bit of a game out of contact with others -- enough so that you're giving yourself points for trying and technique. This gives you something else to focus on other than acceptance or rejection and makes first contacts less dizzying.

(3) But counter that with enough genuine interest in other people that it isn't just a game. In fact, if you can take the hyper-self awareness that you've got and turn it into heightened awareness of others, well... that's been one of the best social states I've found myself in, and suddenly working a room isn't work at all anymore.

Just my thoughts. And in reality, I'm not "over" my shyness... but these are things that have helped me overcome it at times.
posted by weston at 10:32 AM on October 15, 2004

Change shyness a little bit at a time.

Take one small step each day. Set a goal that's a "just out of your comfort range" challenge each day. Say, today I'll say "hi" to a stranger, or a grocery clerk. Don't make the challenge too big, or you'll feel that failure setback that's so demoralizing when you're trying to reach a new goal.

Just keep building on your challenges - maybe build toward some kind of social group, or Dale Carnegie, or Toastmasters group, if that seems too big a stretch at first.

Make sure to give yourself a reward for achieving your goal - this could be anything that is personally rewarding for you, as long as it doesn't tend to reinforce your shyness (e.g., giving yourself a half hour surfing for porn on the internet is probably not the right kind of reward if you're trying to make yourself more social).
posted by jasper411 at 10:32 AM on October 15, 2004

i'm terribly shy too, at least around strangers, and I think it comes from having nothing to talk about.

I really am entirely uninterested in small talk -- not small talk about people's lives, or what they did that day, but small talk which is .. well. Let's just say I don't talk to cashiers or the guy who takes my card at the gym. I mean, I'll usually exchange pleasantries, but that's it.

This, i find, often can make it hard to meet strangers that i'd like to meet because I have no idea what to say to them.

Most new people I meet end up approaching me.

I just thank god I'm so naturally SEXIFIED>, otherwise I'd have no friends at all.
posted by fishfucker at 10:42 AM on October 15, 2004

The SO, who reads AskMe but lacks a login, asked me to add the following:

I say "fake 'til you make it." Maybe it just worked for me, but pretending to be an outgoing person eventually just made me outgoing (and I was indeed a painfully shy wallflower prior to that). It wasn't easy, but I couldn't force myself out of it any other way.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:42 AM on October 15, 2004

I agree with jasper411. I'm kind of shy, but I'm a lot less shy than I used to be. One thing that helped me is that, several times, I resolved to talk to people a little more than I usually would. And eventually, "more than I usually would" grew until I was interacting socially only a little less than most people.

You don't even need to have much to talk about to do this. For starters, you can just say the socially expected "hello"s to people you talk to, or smile and say "good morning" to a passing acquaintance or stranger. At the very least, people will think you're being polite/pleasant.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 11:00 AM on October 15, 2004

Try being yourself around your friends, maybe even being a little overboard. Then try seeing if you can do things with your friends in public, and still try being yourself. I'm still shy in a lot of places and times. However, I'm a teaching assistant. I've got four discussion sections where I have to be the center of class. So, I've found that I flaunt myself and my weirdness. I don't have a choice, they're going to watch me. But if I LOOK confident, if weird, they'll think I'm confident. When you know you don't have a choice, you get used to it.
posted by stoneegg21 at 11:02 AM on October 15, 2004

I'm pretty much in the same place as fishfucker (except for the SEXIFIED bit, of course). I just don't have anything to say to people, or if I do, I say it succinctly, and tend to leave it at that. That being said, I've spent some effort in the last fifteen years or so to just say stupid shit to random people. Sometimes it works, sometimes you just look like an ass. Either way, fine. That, and the reflection technique seems to do the trick for most people, too. Even if you're completely bored, uninterested, or even insulted by whoever you're talking to, try to subtly (or not so subtly) mimic them. If they make big gestures with their hands, try to do the same. If they say, "oh, DUDE!" every other sentence, try to keep up. It might feel stupid - and it kind of is - but it has the dual effect of getting some socialization practice in for yourself, and making the other person more comfortable with you. Unless they catch on - then they'll just think you're a dick.

In other news:

I'd caution against the pharmaceutical industry-promoted notion that shyness is largely biochemical.

I'd be really interested in hearing about what behaviors you believe to be not biochemical. In us humans, with the wet brains, I mean.
posted by majcher at 11:34 AM on October 15, 2004

adampsyche, curiously, my online impression of you is that you are outgoing, so I’m wondering if this askme question is part of your vernacular, or you are just curious about shy people. Regardless, should we test the boundaries of the mefi member shyness quotient by rescheduling the previously cancelled NJ meet-up?
posted by naxosaxur at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2004

I used to be so shy that I couldn't even eat in public. A friend suggested I start with french fries and go from there. It worked.

Also, if there are people you are comfortable with, go and do social things with them there with you. With my mood swings my personality swings from extrovert to introvert and back again-when I am in introvert mode having my dh there helps immeasurably.

Finally, PRETENDING you aren't shy-i.e., acting, also works.

I have gone from practically social phobic when younger to now being able to address large groups with almost perfect ease.
posted by konolia at 11:45 AM on October 15, 2004

Can I join the fishfucker/majcher party? I seriously don't know how to interact with or what to say to most people with whom I don't already have an established relationship, and establishing one takes a fair amount of uncontrived exposure. (Which is why I don't think bondcliff's suggestion, despite being helpful, is a solution, rather than a workaround: I, at lesat, have no trouble conversing with and being personable around people I've been around for at the outermost I'd guess three months--organic, like. But I'm still very reserved and taciturn around people I've just met or am still getting to know.

[unfocused blitherings follow]
I think the extremely open-ended nature of the questions people tend to ask as a means of eliciting small talk is partly to blame, at least in my case. It's impossible to tell from an over-general question what the questioner might actually be interested in hearing about; more specific questions can yield not only longer but more interesting and informative responses. An extreme example: a friend and I were at the Green Mill a few months ago, and we ran into a friend of his who asked me, "what are you up to?" or "what's new?" or something like that (and I got the impression he it was an actual question, not like "how are you?"). I know how to respond to that when someone I know asks it of me, because I have some idea what actual questions lie under it, but not when a complete stranger does. You have to know why someone's asking a question in order to answer it. Also, context. (Probably why bondcliff's experience worked: built-in context. Conversation within a group convened for a specific purpose will naturally have to do with that purpose and context will arise for other subjects in the process, organically, like.)

I suspect that people actually do have specific questions whose answers they'd like to know, but ask general questions out of some misguided belief that that will enable them to get to know each other better. Bosh. Discussing one or two specific things and branching out from there is much better (says I, who wouldn't really know) than beginning with the general.

Personally, I think people meeting each other for the first time should first tell each other a joke of their own invention, and then argue about the relation between spats and baldness.
posted by kenko at 12:06 PM on October 15, 2004

Go to yard sales. Making nice with strangers is very easy in that context.
posted by y2karl at 1:07 PM on October 15, 2004

I used to be extremely shy. It really was making me miserable. I saw a psychologist for about a year, first one-on-one, then in a group setting. After years of trying every trick, book, and self-help psych-out in the world, this was this single best thing I ever did for myself. I'm not a social butterfly-- that was never going to be in my nature-- but I am indiscribably more comfortable in my own skin and have started to build a social life for myself.

"Cognitive-behavioral therapy" is the buzzword to look for. Basically, you can treat the social phobia like any other phobia (spiders, for example). I can't recommend it enough. Feel free to email me if you want to chat about it more. I'd be happy to share more.
posted by 4easypayments at 5:03 PM on October 15, 2004

HA! Good one Stavros. Made me laugh.

I was serious. I was desperately shy when I was young. Booze and a determination to be social pulled me out of it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:14 PM on October 15, 2004

Pretend that you're more confident than you are. Simple but not easy, although it gets easier with practice.

Every time you meet someone, you're inventing a self for them, to some degree. Try to remember that they would probably prefer to meet someone who is self-assured, because chances are they're not, themselves. One of you has to be the one who makes it easy for the other; be that one.
posted by squirrel at 12:55 AM on October 16, 2004

I'm extremely shy in real life. Go ahead, laugh, you know you want to!

Online I can say anything I want to to people I've never met, for the most part.
Real life however, causes my heart to race and my hands to sweat if I have to talk to people I don't know.

Job hunting sucks.
Once I've gotten a job, I'm okay, because I've gotten over the hurdle of 'selling myself', and I've had to talk to 4 or 5 of the people that work there in order to GET the job.

To overcome it?
I have to take a deep breath, remind myself of my unique traits that make me me, wipe my sweaty palms and get out of the car.

Most people don't even know that I'm a shy person. They have no idea what it takes for me to say hello, much less strike up a conversation, or to continue one they may have started.

That being said, I cover it up by being boisterous, ready for fun, acting 1/4 of my age (that would 12x4, you do the rest of the math), or just hiding in my room.

Since I can't hide in my room 24/7/365, I get to be the 'life of the party' as it were, when put in situations where I have to meet new people.

Being 'my age' (you did the math), single, female and living in lower Alabama, are not conducive to an actual social life for me, so I only have to worry about the next job interview at this point.
posted by kamylyon at 1:00 AM on October 16, 2004

it's incurable.
posted by mcsweetie at 4:25 AM on October 16, 2004

No, there isn't a 'cure' for shyness, however it can be overcome/beaten back with determination and incentive.

I'm a shy person born into a family of 10 siblings. That's where I learned boisterous.
7 of them are younger than me. That's where I learned to be ready for fun.
Most of them have children, some of whom have children. That's where I learned to not act my age. Lots of babysitting.

Not everyone has that advantage (she said, with tongue-in-cheek) since large families are not the norm.
posted by kamylyon at 5:26 AM on October 16, 2004

I'd caution against the pharmaceutical industry-promoted notion that shyness is largely biochemical.

Although many people do become more gregarious when taking an SSRI antidepressant. I did.

However, I would advise becoming comfortable with yourself and who you are, including the shyness. The shyness is because you are not comfortable with who you are and are afraid others will judge you as harshly as you do yourself. Just put yourself in social situations, don't say anything if you don't feel like it, and time and experience will teach you that you can involve yourself, if you want to. I also found online experience to help. (Silence can have its advantages. After one dinner with one friend and two strangers at which I said about two words, I later was told by my friends that both of the strangers later gushed about how smart I was. When I'd said almost nothing!)

But it is just as important to become comfortable with the possibility that you never be as outgoing as other people. You may never feel completely comfortable wading into the midst of a horde of strangers. That doesn't mean you won't be able to do it, just that you may never be second nature to you. It certainly is not to me. It is important to accept that it's just how you are, at a pretty fundamental level, and to be okay with it. Society will expect you to make small talk constantly, but up to a certain point, society can stuff it. I mean, being anything but polite to a police officer is dumb. Make the effort. However, it rarely matters if your bank teller thinks you're a little aloof. If it causes a problem, well, ATMs don't make small talk, and many customers, not just introverts, prefer them.

I personally have a quirk -- I like to go to familiar, convenient places (like restaurants, stores, etc.), but the instant someone starts recognizing me and getting personal, I stop going. It creeps me out to think that people think they have a relationship with me just because I transact some business with them occasionally. Fortunately, modern commerce is fairly anonymous and impersonal; either the establishment is large enough that I never see the same staff often enough to make a connection, or, in the case of a smaller store, there are lots of similar establishments (e.g. convenience stores) available to spread my business around so I don't become a blip on anyone's radar. I recognize this behavior as somewhat antisocial, but I don't really feel the urge to change it. It's part of who I am, it doesn't really hurt anyone, and it is not really dysfunctional. There's even an upside: I get lots of variety and am constantly discovering new places, some of which become favorites. So what I'm saying is, examine the behavior you dislike and decide whether you want to change it for your own reasons, or because someone else wants you to change it, or simply because it's not the norm. Learning to live with a certain amount of flak for the way you behave is easier than trying to live to please other people.
posted by kindall at 2:46 AM on October 17, 2004

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