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Old 03-17-2004, 04:13 PM
Spram da man is offline
Join Date: Mar 2004
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The Straight Dope on shyness.


I know everyone is shy to a point, but what about those of us who are too shy.

By too shy I mean the people who get so nervous when talking to other people that we just dont do it (oops, did I spill the beans. I'm very very shy).

So why shyness? What is shyness and what causes it? How can I overcome/cure it?

I took paxil but all it did was make me sweat a lot and lowered my libido for a month. I know you guys are some of the smartest people on the web (I think?) and can come up with answers. Any help?
Old 03-17-2004, 04:20 PM
kezami is offline
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Posts: 288
Shyness that continues into adulthood can be very debilitating and is usually called 'Social Phobia or Social Anxiety'. It can be treated quite successfully with anti-depressants such as Zoloft (my fave).
Old 03-17-2004, 04:52 PM
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dolphinboy is offline
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You may want to talk to a trained theapist about it. I was painfully shy as a child and adolescent (and so is my daughter which leads me to believe that there may be an inherited component) and as an adult I started seeing a psychologist after my divorce and he was able to give me social exercises that really helped me out.

It wasn't really that difficult to overcome, and I was able to gradually become more comfortable in situations with strange people I didn't know. I still don't have that many close friends, and don't make friends easily since I don't approach strange people all that often... but I can now handle parties where I only know one other person!

I would try that before I started taking meds... but IANAD!
Old 03-17-2004, 04:53 PM
Kizarvexius is offline
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Location: Austin, TX
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Shyness (in its extreme form) is the deep-seated belief that you are inferior to the people around you, and that calling attention to yourself will only reinforce this belief. Shy people often do not see themselves objectively, and are unable to make realistic evaluations of their own traits as compared to others. Since they have little sense of self-worth, they rely on the opinions of others for validation -- ergo the things they fear most are the disapproval and rejection of those they look up to.

As to what causes it, it's not always easy to say. Some cases of extreme shyness are the result of a traumatic (or neglected) childhood. Others seem to stem from chemical imbalances in the brain. Other than that, you're on your own until a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist shows up.

I struggled with fairly extreme shyness throughout most of my adolescense. I've largely overcome it and have what I think is a healthy self-image. I still have an almost pathological fear of offending or angering people, though. Not a desirable trait when you have to supervise a bunch of college kids, let me tell you. I've overcome much of my shyness through two pursuits. First, teaching classes as part of my old job. Secondly, performing on stage. Having a loving and supporting family helps as well.
Old 03-17-2004, 06:04 PM
cromulent is offline
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Location: NYC
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Originally Posted by kezami
It can be treated quite successfully with anti-depressants such as Zoloft (my fave).
It can also be treated with sweet, sweet Lexapro. *drools*

Seriously, simply because one prescription didn't work is no reason to give up on all of 'em. I also second what other posters said about therapy.

Some people can recognize negative thinking and overwhelming self-consciousness and deal with it on their own, without the aid of medications. I wasn't able to (I could certainly recognize when I was obsessing over things more than was healthy, I just wasn't able to prevent myself from doing that).

Certain therapies work by introducing you to, and then helping you deal with, given situations (giving speeches in front of people, or talking to new people, etc.) I haven't tried that for a number of reasons ...ok, just one reason, lack of cash I'm a cash-strapped college student. Cognitive behavioral therapy does sound fairly interesting, though.

At any rate, I wish you the best of luck.
Old 03-17-2004, 08:09 PM
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Measure for Measure is offline
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I don't know whether this helps

I used to be afraid of heights.

Then I took rock-climbing in college. Which I wasn't especially fond of.

Afterwards, I was less afraid of heights than I used to be.

I'd recommend that you grab a trusted friend, go to a party or gathering where you don't anyone, and force yourself to socialize. Repeat.

The advantage of working with people whom you don't know, is that you don't have to worry about appearing foolish: after all, they don't know you, right? As for your partner, choose one who will cut you some slack.
Old 03-17-2004, 08:52 PM
Sarah23 is offline
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Posts: 78
I'm quite sure I suffer from social anxiety as I have been "shy" all of my life. I have found that "overcoming the fear by facing it" doesn't really help. It only makes me used to (and less bothered by) the social anxiety, but it never goes away. Medications have helped some, but not enough that I would want to take them long term. I'm still working on getting over the things I suspect are behind it...I expect that when that happens the shyness will diminish some, but not altogether.
Old 03-17-2004, 11:17 PM
bbeaty is offline
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Location: Seattle WA USA
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Originally Posted by Spram da man
So why shyness? What is shyness and what causes it? How can I overcome/cure it?
I was painfully shy up through college. Now I'm not. I have lots of explanations, but nothing unmistakably correct.

One of my favorites is the Eastern/Jungian "swiss army knife" description of human personalities. Suppose that all human beings have "multiple personality disorder," but the fragments are held together by a strong misconception of being a single "I." If you try to do things to weaken your self-image rather than strengthen it (pursue egoless states rather than stoking your self-importance), then the separate personality fragments can more easily act as independent tools when required. You can be seized by an architype when circumstances require it.

I look back on my own history and see that I was not a "shy person," since I wasn't shy when working on projects, or while reading, exploring outdoors, singing while alone, writing, sleeping, etc. I had a variety of personalities. Storytellers. Intense focused artists. Life-of party types and intellectuals. Yet I was always dominated by a "shy person" personality during actual parties, etc., and all of the other versions of myself were out of the picture and forgotten. Something always pulled that "shy" tool out of the swiss army knife. Something about self defense, but it's not clear.

How did I get over this? I can't put my finger on it, but it happened after years of brutally truthful introspection, of forcing myself to go to useless parties, of forcing myself into public speaking situations, etc. I gave up the idea that popular people were a**holes, and stopped swearing to never become one of them. I totally accepted being a loner type, and gave up all hope that I'd ever meet friends/lovers at parties. Very freeing, no more concealed neediness and dashed hopes. Sometimes I would screw with partygoers' minds. Sometimes events were even fun.

I started being outwardly honest, freely admitting that I was a nerdy wimp who reads way too much and has no girlfriend or any hope of getting one; no longer trying to desperately maintain false facades to keep people from finding out. I also gave up the idea that I was superior. No longer "special" or unique, and I started assuming that everyone in large groups of people was exactly like me, like cells in an organism (although some of them could bring out better tools.) Also I developed an expanding array of "pet topics" which I could hold forth on for hours once someone got me started.

Of all these, which was the cure? Can't tell. But I suspect it was the part about not lying to myself anymore; of confronting uncomfortable ideas and shredding illusions that I'd long been trying to shore up.

In hindsight I think my "shyness" might also be labeled "depression," and in slowly defeating it I was somehow changing brain-chemistry to where I wasn't trapped in one narrow "I" or personality, but occasionally had access to a whole array of them, plus the large creativity hidden between them, and I migrated away from "depressed" and towards the "manic" end of the spectrum just enough to be normal.

More recently I spent stunnigly huge amounts of time for several years hanging out on newsgroups, getting into longwinded discussions, even sparring with nasty flamer types. This definitely had an effect.

Have you ever considered using, um., artificial aids? If a stranger comes up and starts talking to me, I can reach into my coat pocket and grab... rare earth supermagnets. Tiny exlosive pellets. A quarter which was compressed to half normal size by a titanic magnetic field. LED mini-light that lets you see the capillary bed inside your eyeball. Two laser pointers for simulating some orbital mechanics or a game of "Pong" on the ceiling. A fifty power microscope to explore civilizations growing under fingernails. Etc. Etc. It all started off as stuff I messed with when alone and bored. But eventually I was saying to strangers: "Hey, wanna see something REALLY COOL?"
Old 03-18-2004, 12:03 AM
AskNott is offline
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Check out Dr. Philip Zimbardo. He has done a lot of work in the shyness field. I read a book by him that helped me a lot. I used to be such a mouse. Now I'm a pussycat.
Old 03-18-2004, 05:17 AM
scm1001 is offline
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Im suprised that no one has mentioned the best medication for shyness. A couple of tequila slammers. Works for me everytime.

Actually I am fairly shy too, though like one of the previous posters I found taht teaching and acting helped enormously .

I suspect that shyness is evolutionary in its origin. Essentially, in ancient times or in our animal ancestors, shyness can be a real lifesaver. E.g being shy of snakes, heights, predators, or other people (enemies) can save your life. On the other hand, being a social animal we need to cooperate, find mates, raise our children. So the brain has these two competing traits to try and reconcile. In some people, one trait wins out. It is not that outgoing people are going to be always more successful in evolutionary terms which is why shyness still is common.
Old 03-18-2004, 05:22 AM
OM Waterfall is offline
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If you can't get over it, use it to your advantage. Follow the old maxim "If you have much to say, say little, if you have little to say, say nothing."
In other words, instead of attemptng to say something at every point in the conversation, just relax until you have something worth saying. I say this because I am guessing you don't really feel comfortable speaking out, so the less often the better. Also, once people realise that what you say is worth listening to, they will pay more attention and therefore you will get more confident.
The other important thing is to look like you're relaxed even if you aren't. The difference between an outcast and a socialite is one stands around awkwardly, while the other is just "chilling out".
Follow this advice and soon you will be mingling with high society. Good luck!
Old 03-18-2004, 10:15 AM
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Old 03-18-2004, 11:51 AM
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Thudlow Boink is offline
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I recommend this book by Bernardo Carducci.
Old 03-18-2004, 01:01 PM
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I am not a psychologist so everything I'm about to say is from my own experience and is simply IMHO. You have to decide for yourself what's right for you.

Part of the problem for me was that I was awkward about my awkwardness; if that makes any sense. My attempts to hide my social awkwardness simply contributed to it. It becomes a vicious circle.

What I've found is that you have to get out and mingle. This is easiest if you can find groups of people that share one or more of your interests. That way you have things that you can discuss and you can develop your social skills in a less threatening atmosphere.

You might want to try to meet other people who suffer from the same problems. Have you tried setting up a get together with other dopers in your area? I think you'll find that a large percentage (possibly a majority) of dopers have, or had, problems with shyness. Otherwise we'd be out socializing instead of posting to a message board! You'll be able to empathize with each other and you'll have two things in common to discuss right from the start : shyness and this message board. I met with some locals recently and nerdiness was one of the main topics of discussion!

Another thing you could try is to go to and search for any local groups that share your interests. They currently have, for example, a number of political meetups happening across the country every month, so if you have any strong political beliefs you can meet with like-minded people and not have to worry about defending your beliefs. They also have hobby meetups, book meetups, etc.

If you're into something like Star Trek, go to a convention. It's not my thing but it seems to work for some people.

Basically, you need to find an environment where you don't feel the need to defend or hide who you are, then use that environment to develop your social skills so that you can eventually handle other settings.
Old 03-18-2004, 02:29 PM
CrankyAsAnOldMan is offline
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Location: Ann Arbor, MI
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You might enjoy some of the previous threads on shyness, although I think they've been more of the IMHO and MPSIMS variety. Some of us have revealed how intriguing we find your type. You might be pleased to know you're in so much good company, and to know that some of us outgoing types find you terribly attractive.
Old 03-18-2004, 03:48 PM
Spram da man is offline
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 6
Originally Posted by Measure for Measure
I'd recommend that you grab a trusted friend, go to a party or gathering where you don't anyone, and force yourself to socialize. Repeat.
This is where I get depressed. I havent had a friend since 1997.
Old 03-22-2004, 02:15 AM
Extrovertive is offline
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Posts: 59
Very good topic! This topic really relates to me as I have a social phobia as well! I'll post more on this soon, and I gather up my individual problems.

Let me tell you one thing. Being Asian, most people mistreat my social phobia as a form of language or cultural barrier. Because of this fact, my social phobia/anxiety has been untreated since high school, and I'm not a junior in college. People think I'm a recent Asian immigrant in America because I'm too shy and lack proper social skills; they mistake it for cultural barrier despite the fact the I've being raise in America all my life!


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