Why Am I So Shy?
“EVERYONE tells me how great-looking I am,” wrote a young woman to 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 . . . 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.”
One survey showed that 80 percent of those questioned had been shy at some time in their life, and 40 percent currently considered themselves to be shy. Indeed, shyness has been common with mankind from earliest times. The Bible tells us that Moses shyly declined to act as God’s spokesman before the nation of Israel. (Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10, 13) It appears, too, that the Christian disciple Timothy was shy and diffident about speaking up and properly exercising his authority.—1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 1:6-8.
What Shyness Is
Shyness is feeling uneasy around people—strangers, those in authority, persons of the opposite sex, or even your peers. It is extreme self-consciousness that affects its victims in a variety of ways. Some get embarrassed; with eyes downcast and heart pounding, they find themselves unable to speak. Others lose their composure and begin to chatter continuously. Yet others find it hard to speak up and voice their opinions or preferences.
Actually, though, 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 further benefit in appearing discreet and unassuming, in not being overbearing and overly aggressive. A shy person is often valued as a good listener. But when shyness restricts and inhibits us from realizing our full potential and harmfully affects our relationships, work, and feelings, it is time to do something about it!
A good start is understanding the problem. (Proverbs 1:5) Shyness does not describe what you are; it describes your behavior, your reaction to situations, the pattern you have learned and reinforced through experiences with others. 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. You expect things to turn out badly, and they often do—because you tense up and act in harmony with your beliefs.
How Shyness Affects Your Life
By withdrawing, not speaking up, or being so preoccupied with self that you don’t pay attention to others, you may leave the impression that you are stuck-up, unfriendly, bored, or even uncaring or ignorant. 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.
In essence, you have locked yourself behind the walls of the prison of shyness and have thrown away the key. You let opportunities pass you by. You accept items or situations you really don’t want—all because you are afraid to speak up and express your opinion. You lose out on the joys of meeting people and making new friends or of doing things that would enhance your life. But others lose out too. They never get to know the real you.
With time and effort, behavior can be changed. First of all, stop worrying about whether the other person is evaluating you. He is probably too busy thinking of himself and what he will say and do. And if that person childishly pokes fun at you, understand that he has the problem. “He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense.” (Proverbs 11:12, Revised Standard Version) Those who are worth having as friends will judge not by outward appearances but by the kind of person you are.
Also, try to think positively. No one is perfect; all of us have our strengths and our weaknesses. Remember, there are different ways of looking at things, different likes and dislikes. A difference of opinion does not mean a rejection of you as a person.
Learn also to judge others fairly. One formerly shy young man says: “I discovered two things about myself . . . 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.”
The young man attended a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I heard a talk there that really helped me,” he recalls. ‘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. I told myself: “They’re going to be understanding, they’re going to be kind, they’re going to be considerate.” I began to trust people. I realized that some might misjudge me, but I now felt that that was their problem.’
“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.” Thus he learned 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. . . . 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
So learn to be sociable—to say hello and start a conversation. It can be as simple as a comment on the weather. 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.
Dress comfortably, but 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. Stand straight—yet be at ease. Look pleasant and smile. Maintain friendly eye contact and nod or verbally acknowledge what the other person says.
When facing a tough situation, such as a speech in front of others or a job interview, come as prepared as possible. Practice beforehand what you will say. 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. Saul, the first king of the ancient nation of Israel, was painfully shy at first. (1 Samuel, chapters 9 and 10) 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.
Today Christian youths have the responsibility to help others learn about God and his promised new world of righteousness. (Matthew 24:14) Carrying this good news and representing the highest Authority in the universe is sure to inspire self-confidence and to help one get the focus off oneself. You can be sure, then, that if you faithfully serve God, he will bless you and help you overcome your shyness.
Questions for Discussion
◻ Just what is shyness, and how does a shy person behave in the presence of others? Is this true of you to some extent?
◻ Why does a shy person lose confidence when he is around others?
◻ How can shyness cause a person to suffer loss?
◻ What are some ways of overcoming shyness? Have any of these suggestions worked for you?
[Blurb on page 121]
The shy person misses out on friendships and opportunities
[Box on page 124]
You can overcome shyness by
Wanting to change and believing that change is really 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 tastefully and acting with confidence
Relying on the help that God gives
Being involved with Christian meetings and in sharing your faith with others
[Pictures on page 123]
The shy person imagines that others think little of him
[Picture on page 125]
Learn to be sociable—to smile, greet others, and carry on a conversation