Young People Ask . . .
Why Am I So Shy?
“I’M 21, blond hair, blue eyes, 5-foot-9 and 135 pounds, and everyone tells me how great-looking I am,” wrote the young woman in a letter appearing in a newspaper column. Yet she went on to state: “I have a problem talking to people. If I look someone in the eyes while speaking, my face turns red and I get all choked up inside—especially if I’m talking to a man. If I’m paid some sort of compliment, I can feel my face turn red and I have to look the other way. When I’m with a group of people talking, I never say anything because my voice is so soft, no one ever hears me anyway. At work I have heard several comments on how ‘stuck up’ I am because I don’t talk to anybody. . . . I’m not stuck up, I’m just shy.”
Do you feel this way? Does your pulse race when you are in the company of strangers or persons in authority? Can you feel your face flush when you are paid a compliment? Does your heart pound when you’re facing a group of people? Unable to speak, do you start perspiring noticeably?
If so, you’re not alone. One survey showed that 80 percent of those questioned had been shy some time in their life, and 40 percent currently considered themselves to be shy. That means that roughly half the people you meet feel the same way you do, at least to some degree.
The problem of shyness has been common with mankind from earliest times. The Bible records that Moses shyly declined to act as God’s spokesman before the nation of Israel, using every possible excuse he could think of to get out of the assignment. (Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10, 13) It appears, too, that the Christian disciple Timothy was shy and diffident about speaking up and asserting his authority.—1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 1:6-8.
So take heart! You are not unusual and something can be done to help you. But what exactly is shyness?
What Shyness Is
Shyness is feeling uneasy around people—especially those who are new to you or with whom you do not feel secure. These could be strangers, those in authority, persons of the opposite sex or even your peers. Shyness is extreme self-consciousness when one is around others. It is your reaction to the way you think about yourself.
Shyness affects people in different ways. Some react like the young woman mentioned above. They get embarrassed, their pulse quickens, they get butterflies in their stomach. With eyes downcast and heart pounding, they find themselves unable to speak. Or, they talk so softly that they can hardly be heard. They would like to run away. Others quickly get flustered. Losing their composure, they begin to chatter continuously, their pitch rising in nervousness. They may end up saying and doing things they wish they hadn’t. Yet others find it hard to assert themselves—to speak up and voice their opinions or preferences.
For some, shyness is a constant thing. Others feel shy only in certain situations. But however they are affected, most shy persons would like to be able to do something about it. Would you?
A good start is understanding the problem. “A man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 1:5) Shyness describes behavior, reaction to a situation. It is what you do, not what you are. It has to do with how you think about yourself, your own self-esteem. It is a pattern of behavior that you have learned to accept and follow from your experience with people in the past. But what is learned can also be unlearned.
Shyness is not ingrained. You have accepted the label of being shy. It has been reinforced through your experiences with others. Thus you have learned to behave in harmony with the belief that you are shy. So shyness is merely acting out the thoughts or beliefs you have of being different, odd or inferior to other persons. You think others are making negative judgments of you, that they don’t like you. You think others are better or more normal than you. You think things will go all wrong if you try to relate to other people. Then you behave as if all these beliefs were actually true. You expect things to turn out badly, and they often do—because you tense up and act in harmony with your beliefs.
To appreciate this, consider what usually goes on in the mind. In the presence of others, you start to think inwardly, wondering what they think of you, how to control their impressions. You think negatively about yourself—how unpleasant it is, how you can get out of the situation. Unsure of yourself, you speak softly, if at all. You shun eye contact and avoid taking action—all of this because you are very self-conscious. You lack confidence in yourself; you think yourself inferior.
But that does not mean you are inferior, or that others think you are. Perhaps when you were younger, your schoolmates picked on you and made fun of some point about your physical appearance or personality. Children do that. But now you are facing the adult world. Values change; you will be looked at differently. And if any adults still act childish, understand that they have the problem. The Bible puts it this way: “He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, Revised Standard Version) True, people can make wrong estimates of you. But those who are worth having as friends will not judge by outward appearances. Rather, they will judge by what you stand for, what is in your heart and mind.
How Shyness Affects Your Life
A shy person usually defeats himself. By withdrawing, not speaking up, or being so preoccupied with self that you don’t pay strict attention to others, you may leave the impression that you are stuck-up, unfriendly or bored—or even that you are uncaring or ignorant. Shyness can make it difficult for you to think clearly and communicate effectively. When your thoughts are on yourself, it is hard to concentrate on the discussion at hand. So you pay less attention to the information you are receiving. Then what you fear most happens—you appear foolish. Your reaction is to keep silent and withdraw. In essence, you lock yourself behind the walls of the prison of shyness and throw away the key. The other person doesn’t get to see the real you. He gets the wrong opinion of you and your capabilities.
If you are very shy, you likely will lose out by not taking hold of the opportunities that come your way, not to mention the depression and anxiety it may cause you. You may accept items or situations you really don’t want—all because you were afraid to speak up and express your opinion. You also lose out on the joys of meeting and making new friends or doing some things that will enhance your life. By failing to communicate and demonstrate your abilities, you may lose out on opportunities for advancement at your job. But others lose out also. They don’t get to know you and therefore miss out on the things they could enjoy by closer association with you.
However, a fine point to keep in mind is that there are positive aspects to having a measure of shyness. It is akin to modesty and humility, and one of the things God looks for and commends is ‘being modest in walking with him.’ (Micah 6:8) There is benefit in appearing discreet and unassuming, in not being overbearing and overly aggressive. A shy person is often valued as a good listener.
All of us are shy under certain circumstances. But when shyness restricts and inhibits us from realizing our full potential and harmfully affects our health, work and feelings, it is time to take action. So, what can be done to overcome shyness? This will be discussed in the next issue of Awake!
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You have learned to be shy because of:
● Childhood traumas; severe criticism
● Unrealistic expectations of parents
● Being put down and labeled by others (negative experiences)
● Unfamiliar or stressful surroundings
● Anxiety over appearance, speech or performance
● Feelings of inferiority; thinking negatively of self
● Not knowing the “right” social skills
● Easily triggered embarrassment; fear of people
● Fear of taking risks; excessive concern for security
● Overemphasis on competition; pressure to excel
● Feeling everything you say must be interesting, entertaining or profound