Young People Ask . . .
What Can I Do About My Shyness?
THE young man was tall and handsome. In fact, it was said that there was no one else as handsome. Yet he was painfully shy. When paid a compliment, he considered himself too insignificant for it. Upon being privately appointed to a position of authority, he kept the incident to himself and didn’t even tell his family. And when he was to be presented publicly in this office, he hid. Even when some jealously spoke insultingly of him, “he continued like one grown speechless.”
Shy—yes; but he overcame his shyness, and the problem was not mentioned again. Do you also have the problem of shyness? Would you, too, like to overcome it?
As shown in our previous issue, you may have learned to be shy from your past experiences with people. Perhaps you have become overly self-conscious, or you may have allowed negative thoughts and expectations to control your actions. Shyness may have become a deeply rooted way of life for you. So first you must really want to change and believe that change is possible.
Overcoming shyness will take time and effort. You will have to think and behave differently. Don’t worry about whether the other person is evaluating you. He is probably too busy thinking of himself and what he will say and do. Think positively. No one is perfect; we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. Even persons who look very attractive usually have flaws that they have minimized or covered up. So work on building up your own self-esteem.
Learn from your past mistakes, but don’t carry them with you. Remember, there are different ways of looking at things, different likes and dislikes. People don’t always agree. A difference of opinion does not mean a rejection of you as a person. No one succeeds at everything. We all have some failures, but these can help us to establish realistic goals for ourselves. And don’t just accept all the labels others may put on you. Their evaluation may be wrong.
Neither should we evaluate others incorrectly—a common cause of withdrawing and acting shyly. One young man who suffered greatly from shyness, but later overcame it, said this: “I discovered two things about myself; and once I understood them I was able to overcome being shy. First, I was too self-centered. I was thinking too much about myself, worrying about what people thought of what I said. Second, I was assigning bad motives to the other persons—not trusting them and thinking they were going to look down on me. I was misjudging them as well as myself.”
What helped change this young man’s attitude? He attended the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He continued: “I heard a talk there that really helped me. The talk was about love. The speaker pointed out that love is outgoing; that if you have love you think the best of people, not the worst. So I learned to quit assigning bad motives to people. Instead, I assigned good motives to them. I told myself: ‘They’re going to be understanding, they’re going to be kind, they’re going to be considerate.’ That really changed my outlook to the point where I began to trust people. I felt that I could talk to them now, that they would not look down on me. I realized that some might misjudge me, but I now felt that that was their problem.”
But what positive steps did he take to overcome his shyness? “I also learned the need to start showing love in an active way—to extend myself more to others,” he explained. “I tried it first on younger ones. Later I began visiting others in their homes. I learned to be sensitive to their needs, to think in terms of helping them and making them feel comfortable when with me.”
This young man came to realize the truthfulness of Jesus’ counsel at Luke 6:37, 38: “Stop judging, and you will by no means be judged; and stop condemning, and you will by no means be condemned. Keep on releasing, and you will be released. Practice giving, and people will give to you. . . . For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”
Making a Start
Learning to adjust your thinking is one thing, but using what you have learned when dealing with other persons is another. Nevertheless, a start must be made. Effort must be made to reach out and share yourself with others.
Learn to be sociable—to say “hello” and start a conversation.* It can be as simple as a comment on the weather, an observation on the situation around you, a question or a compliment. To keep the conversation going, show interest and listen! This will usually give you the clue for your next statement or question. Don’t be discouraged if you have difficulty starting a conversation or two. The person to whom you are speaking may be shier than you are!
Also important in overcoming shyness are your bearing and the way you dress. These things have a lot to do with the image you project to others and how you feel about yourself. Try to look as good as possible but don’t overdress. Just dress comfortably and make sure that your clothes are clean and pressed. Feeling that you are looking your best will minimize apprehension in this regard and enable you to concentrate on the conversation at hand.
Your bearing can also make you feel more confident. Stand straight—yet be at ease. Keep an open posture; don’t cross your arms and legs or fold your hands. Look pleasant and smile. Maintain friendly eye contact and nod or verbally acknowledge what the other person says.
These suggestions may not come easy for you, especially at first. There will be times when you will feel discouraged and will want to withdraw again. But remember: You have only 50 percent of the responsibility. The other half is up to the other person. If you blunder in speech, don’t feel condemned. If others laugh, learn to laugh with them. Saying “That didn’t come out right” will help you to relax and continue with the conversation. And there are some things that will help you cope with the stress and anxiety: Preparation and practice.
Did you know that many famous people—world leaders, sports and entertainment celebrities—consider themselves to be shy? How is it, then, that they face so many people and speak to them? They have learned to control their shyness—to relax and concentrate on the task at hand. They have practiced until they feel comfortable at what they are doing and in the knowledge that they can do it. So, whenever you know where you will be and what situation you will face, come as prepared as possible. Practice beforehand what you will say. Imagine the entire scene and run through it in your mind. Speech problems can also be overcome or minimized by practice. It will take time, just as it does to acquire any other set of new skills. But as you see the positive results you will be further encouraged to succeed.
Not to be overlooked is the help that God can give. The young man mentioned at the start was none other than Saul, the first king of the ancient nation of Israel. (1 Samuel, chapters 9 and 10) He was shy, but when the time came for action “the spirit of God became operative upon Saul” and he led the people to victory.—1 Samuel, chapter 11.
Thinking of aiding others helps you to get the focus off yourself. What a fine thing it is to help others to learn about God and his promised righteous new system of things! This inspires confidence, as you carry good news and represent the highest Authority in the universe.
Love for others will motivate us to action. And if we are faithfully serving God, he will bless us and help us overcome our shyness by means of his spirit, even as he helped the young man Saul.
See the article “‘But What Do I Say?’ Developing the Art of Conversation” in Awake! of January 22, 1982.
[Box on page 15]
You can overcome shyness by:
● Wanting to change and believing that change is possible
● Replacing negative thoughts with positive action
● Setting realistic and meaningful goals for yourself
● Knowing how to relax and cope with anxiety
● Rehearsing a situation beforehand
● Gaining confidence by progressively successful experiences
● Remembering that differences of opinion exist and that others err too
● Practicing to increase skills and learn new ones
● Reaching out to show love and to help others
● Dressing properly and acting confidently
● Relying on the help that God gives
[Picture on page 14]
Learn to be sociable, smile, greet others and carry on a conversation