Overcoming shyness and social phobia
Shyness, (sometimes inaccurately called 'social phobia'), affects most people at some time in their life. Young people in particular find overcoming shyness difficult as they improve their social skills. And for some, shyness seems to persist into adult life, almost as if it has become a 'habit'.
Shyness has its roots in self consciousness and usually dissipates as people mature and become more experienced. However, for some it can 'stick', and then action is required.
Although most people think in terms of 'overcoming shyness',
it is more likely that you will become comfortable in social situations
by learning the strategies of self confidence along with social skills.
Then, shyness is no longer the issue, as social nerves will melt away
as a new 'habit' takes their place.
Shyness versus social phobia
It is my personal opinion that social phobia is too often diagnosed where people are simply experiencing natural shyness. It is perfectly natural to be a little timid in a situation where you don't yet know the 'rules', or what to do. In fact, most people experience some degree of nerves when, say going to meet friends, especially if it is somewhere they haven't been before, or someone new will be there.
We have to be very careful not to assume that there is something wrong with this. Social nerves are natural, as long as they don't get out of hand. Focusing on them and making them into a 'big thing' will only make matters worse.
When learning about social situations, young people need the chance to find their own way, without being labeled with 'social phobia'. This is not to say that social phobia does not exist; I know it does because I have worked with people suffering from it. However, in the vast majority of cases, the solution is social skills training, and perhaps relaxation and rehearsal, rather than drugs.
If a person can maintain a degree of calmness in a situation, then they are much more likely to be able to learn about how the situation works. However, if they are highly anxious and internally focused, both their emotional state and focus of attention will make it more difficult to pick up on subtle social cues.
The other key point about overcoming shyness is that most of socialising is an unconscious process. That doesn't mean you should be asleep when you're doing it (tell that to people I speak to at parties ;-), it simply means that much of human communication is non-verbal. That is, 'it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it'.
If you become highly anxious, this will tend to focus your conscious mind on your immediate environment, getting in the way of those unconscious processes.
Tips for overcoming shyness
Check out the tips in the article on self consciousness, particularly the ones to do with where you focus your attention.
- Practise becoming fascinated by other people. Ask them about themselves, and concentrate when they answer you. Remember what they tell you about themselves so you can talk about it later, or on another occasion.
- Great socialisers make other people feel comfortable and interesting. How do they do that? By being really, genuinely interested in other people. If you are talking to someone and you feel boring or inferior, ask why that is. Is it really all your fault?
- Practise using fewer 'personal pronouns' when you talk about things. Sentences beginning with 'I' are not only a turn-off for the listener, they also keep the focus of attention on you, which increases shyness. (Note: Of course, part of friendship is giving away things about yourself, but only when you feel it is appropriate to do so.)
- Remember that the way to overcome shyness is to focus elsewhere. Like on imagining what it will be like to really enjoy the social event, on how it will feel to be full of energy, or to be having a great conversation with someone.