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Is it possible to learn how to not be shy? 9 ways to overcome it

July 6, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is shyness, exactly?

3 common causes of shyness

Distinguishing between shyness and anxiety

9 ways to overcome shyness

Moving forward

Picture this: You're in a room full of people, and everyone seems to be socializing and having a great time except for you. You're standing off to the side, alone. There are many opportunities at this social event to meet people and make small talk, but you can’t bring yourself to strike up a conversation. 

Sound familiar? 

It can be annoying when people tell you how not to be shy. They think that to overcome shyness, you need to put yourself out there. But how? It's not easy for everyone to carry a conversation with people they don’t know. Some people's social skills don’t come as naturally as others, and that's okay. 

Luckily, there are ways to learn more about why certain situations make you feel shy — and how to overcome them.

 

What is shyness, exactly?

Shyness causes you to keep others at a distance and avoid social situations. It can make you feel self-conscious or insecure during social interactions with others. You might become dizzy, sweaty, feel your stomach do somersaults, stumble over your words, or all of the above. 

Shyness can have an impact on all parts of your life. It could sneak in and be present at work, in your personal life, and anywhere in between. It might impact your self-esteem or your self-confidence

Shy people have trouble making new friends. Plus, feeling shy can stop people from public speaking and having a busy social life. 

Because social interactions are essential, shyness tarnishes that part of life away from people. It can cause people to feel isolated and lonely if they can’t interact enough.

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3 common causes of shyness

Shyness has multiple causes. What can cause shyness for some people may not be for others. 

Here are three potential factors that can cause shyness:

1. Inherited genes

If you have shy family members, it could be a genetic or environmental influence — or both. But these personality traits aren’t set in stone. Being a shy child doesn't mean that you’ll be a shy adult.

2. Environmental influences

The environment in which you grew up has a lot of impact on you. It can have a hold on you for many years to come.

Having stringent parents who outlined everything you could — and couldn't — do as a child, can make it hard to step outside your comfort zone as an adult. Or, if you grew up in an unsafe environment, you could be scared to put yourself out there in social settings.

3. Traumatic experiences

Traumatic experiences from childhood can stay with you into adulthood. For instance, being bullied as a kid could cause your shyness to develop. Or, if you were ridiculed and teased for your hobbies or passions as a young person, you may be hesitant to express them now.

Living through a change in your family dynamic — from divorce or death — can also lead to shyness. 

No matter why you're shy, a BetterUp coach can help you understand the reasons behind your shyness and how you can overcome them. Our individual coaching options will guide you at your own pace to move past your shyness.

This will help you start feeling better about your social interactions to meet your goals.

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Distinguishing between shyness and anxiety

It's essential to identify what exactly you're trying to overcome. Shyness, social anxiety, and introversion are often confused with one another. At first, you might think you have social anxiety when in fact you’re shy since social anxiety and shyness can often resemble one another.

While they share similarities and may overlap, or someone may experience all three, they’re quite different.

A social anxiety disorder is a mental health issue, while introversion and shyness aren’t.

People who have social anxiety can be introverts, but it stems from a fear of rejection, criticism from others, and self-criticism. People may withdraw from social settings and keep more to themselves as shy people do. Social anxiety can cause people to have more negative self-talk and harm their well-being. 

Anxiety can prevent people from enjoying a social life and overwhelm them when they meet people to the point that they can't do those things. Shyness can make people apprehensive, but it doesn't fill them with the same stress that anxiety does.

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Social anxiety disorder is a mental health issue and might need help from professional therapists. In contrast, shyness is something that you can work to overcome yourself. 

People tend to add introversion to shyness and anxiety, too. Of course, they can be traits of a shy person or someone with social anxiety, but that isn’t always the case. Not all introverts are shy. 

Introverts may not have problems with socializing because it depends on their mood. They'll be comfortable in the right social setting. Other times, they may choose to hang back and withdraw from social events because they prefer some time alone.

9 ways to overcome shyness

Your feelings of shyness don't need to stick with you permanently. Practicing these nine strategies can help you overcome your shyness. Plus, putting these tactics in place will boost your confidence in social interactions.

1. Start small

Stepping too far out of your comfort zone can be overwhelming, so don't hop straight into public speaking. Instead, set small goals to get you out of your shell. Start by talking to a family member or making small talk with a colleague. These things can help build confidence and calm your nerves.

2. Explore what you're good at

If your shyness is getting in the way of your success, then you could be missing out on new opportunities in life. When you always play it safe and never pursue your strengths, you'll stunt your personal growth.

Exploring your strengths will help you diminish any self-doubt and make you more confident with trying new things.

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3. Stop thinking that everyone is looking at you

People aren't paying attention to every move you make. Your shyness may try to convince you that everyone notices your mistakes, but it's not true.

You don't have a spotlight on you in a crowd at a social event. Don't think that your social skills are being watched all the time.

4. Don't self-sabotage or avoid social situations

We can be our own worst enemies. Be mindful of your self-talk in social situations when you're trying to be less shy. You deserve to overcome shyness and build confidence. It's important not to let your inner critic tell you otherwise so that it can lead you to overcome your shyness.

When you’re shy, it’s tempting to avoid scary situations. But, when we don’t socialize, we put ourselves at risk of depression and social isolation. Make an effort to see people.

5. Welcome setbacks

Having a setback of any kind isn't the end of your journey. One bad social interaction doesn't mean that you're incapable of one day becoming more comfortable in social settings.

It's easy to be disappointed in yourself, but remember that nobody can be perfect right away.

6. Name it

What does your shyness do to you in social settings? Does your body language change? Do you struggle to make eye contact with people? Identifying when you start to feel shy can help you learn from it in the future.

7. Understand why you’re shy

If you know why you’re shy in social situations, you can look for ways to break the cycle. For example, it might be due to a lack of confidence or a bad experience that looms larger in your memory than it needs to.

Maybe someone in your past made a big deal about your reserve and you feel it as a source of shame or embarrassment. Maybe it became part of how you think about yourself. Or, maybe you'll discover that you really do prefer to be yourself with 1-2 good friends rather than surrounded by acquaintances and strangers.

If you feel like there is persistent self-doubt, low sense of self-worth, or anxiety that is driving your shyness, consider working with a therapist or coach, particularly if shyness is interfering with your personal and professional satisfaction.  It isn't crucial to identify where your shyness stems from, but it does help to identify and challenge any negative inner voice that might be making the situation worse.

8. Surround yourself with supportive people 

When those around you are not judgmental of your shyness, you'll feel better about yourself. You may even feel empowered to step outside your comfort zone when you have supportive people cheering you on.

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9. Seek therapy

Therapists are trained medical professionals, and they may be exactly what you need. If you’re struggling to overcome your shyness, a therapist can help you:

  • Identify its cause
  • Reframe negative thoughts that keep you from socializing
  • Manage physical symptoms that come from social anxiety
  • Develop strategies to navigate social situations

Moving forward

With these tips in mind, you can learn how not to be shy. Don’t forget: being shy isn’t a bad thing. You don’t need to change who you are to succeed. But if you want to strengthen your social skills and relieve some anxiety, you can.

At BetterUp, we love to see people reach their goals. Learn more about individual coaching today. We’ll help you develop strategies to overcome your shyness and start tackling social situations with confidence.

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Published July 6, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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