Coping with Shyness
Helpful facts that young people want to know
DO YOU find it hard to start conversations especially with strangers? Are you slow in making new acquaintances? Do you feel hesitant about joining in group activities? Then you evidently are faced with the problem of shyness.
Shyness can be appealing. At least it is in little children—small tots of tender years who look at you with a wide-eyed gaze or hide their faces at even a small show of attention. Even with these, however, do we not enjoy seeing them overcome timidity and begin to take confidence in us, even display some childlike exuberance?
You are no longer a small child. And as we grow older, people rightly expect something more of us. As the apostle Paul put it: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Cor. 13:11) True, a certain degree of shyness can at times be appealing even in grown-ups. It is akin to modesty, a humble attitude toward yourself, and modesty always has appeal, no matter what one’s age.
But the restraining effect of shyness goes beyond that of modesty. And if it goes too far it can seriously hinder you from getting all you could out of life. It can be like a rope or chain that hobbles you, restricting your freedom of movement. It can slow down your progress to full manhood or womanhood, in effect making you lose precious time in your developing years. It can make even a simple thing, like eating a meal in front of others, become an unpleasant task.
But why are some persons shy or timid and others not? How can shyness be overcome or at least controlled so that it does not cut into your joy of living?
First, realize that being normal does not mean you have to be a talkative, supergregarious person. We can all be thankful that some people are naturally quieter than others and that some are not afraid of being alone for periods of time, doing serious studying, thinking or merely meditating. Such ones may not make as many contributions to a conversation as others do. But what they say may be of good quality and worth. (Compare Proverbs 17:27, 28.) There is a difference, though, in being naturally quiet or serene and being painfully shy, bashful or backward. What causes these latter traits?
CAUSES OF SHYNESS
It is due to an attitude of mind, one that may itself be of varied causes. Background may contribute. A person brought up in the city may feel more at ease around people than one brought up on a farm or in a sparsely populated area. Perhaps physical appearance is involved. When growing up we often pass through awkward stages of development. We may have complexion problems, or parts of us may seem out of proportion with the rest of our body or face. We may be teased about this, or about our shortness or tallness or chubbiness or skinniness. Or we may have a speech problem, lisping or stammering.
Even our parents may unintentionally play a part. Though loving us, they may expect more of us than they really should as to grades in school, athletic abilities, and so forth. Our failing to measure up to their high expectations may cause us to ‘go into a shell.’ If they frequently or severely criticize our slips in grammar or manners in front of others, this may affect us more than they may realize. Or if our questions are set aside as ‘foolish’ we may lose heart as to the value of communication.—Col. 3:21.
COPING WITH THE PROBLEM
But worrying about the past cause will not change anything, will it? What counts is what you can do now to cope with the problem. Really, it is mainly a matter of taking a balanced view toward people and not being overly concerned about their opinion of you. True, some people are unkind and critical and look down on others. But not everyone is that way. Why let the unkind ones rob you of the enjoyment that fellowship with the others can bring? If we let a few bad experiences overly affect us we could become like those Israelites who lost their courage to the point where even ‘the sound of a leaf blowing about would chase them away.’ (Lev. 26:36) Happiness cannot come without overcoming some problems.
Maybe your face or figure is not just what you wish it were. But many persons with attractive faces and bodies are failures in life. (2 Sam. 14:25; 15:5, 6; 18:9, 14; Prov. 31:30) What really counts is what you are inside, in “the secret person of the heart.” This is what God is interested in, seeing not “what appears to the eyes; but . . . what the heart is.” (1 Pet. 3:4; 1 Sam. 16:7; Ps. 51:6) People who are worth having as friends will estimate you in the same way, according to the principles you live by, what you have in your heart and mind. Zacchaeus was very short, Paul evidently had poor eyesight, Elisha was bald, but all these earned the respect of God and righteous men by what they did and were inside.—Luke 19:1-10; Gal. 4:15; 6:11; 2 Ki. 2:23, 24.
Moses had a speech problem that made him hesitant about speaking publicly. Yet, with time he evidently overcame this. (Ex. 4:10; compare Deuteronomy 31:30; 32:1, 2) Lisping and stuttering can be overcome or measurably improved if you will make the effort. Stuttering has no physical cause; it comes from a mental block that brings tension or confusion of thought. A helpful therapy is reading out loud at a slow pace. Then speak in the same way. Just as you are more likely to stumble when running than when walking, so with speaking. Keep speech in low gear until the stuttering finally fades away. Then you can gradually pick up speed. When speaking in public, remember that hardly anyone takes pleasure in your experiencing discomfort. They want you to succeed. After all, it is to their advantage that you do. So rather than look down on you, most people will be ‘rooting for you.’
Lisping may or may not have a physical cause. But remember that in childhood (or when learning a new language) the organs of speech—tongue, lips, throat—all have to learn how to pronounce each sound. They learn by exercise, making the same motions over and over again. To correct or lessen lisping, do pronunciation exercises, slowly putting speech organs (especially the tongue) through the motions necessary for the correct sound. In conversation, when words come up having difficult sounds, slow down. Determined and patient effort will bring improvement.
Learn not to take yourself too seriously, even to be able to laugh at yourself on occasion. One young man who had prominent ears would smilingly tell others that when he was born his parents were not sure whether he would walk or fly. Your own humor can relax you. Remember, too, that not all teasing is necessarily malicious; it may show affection. Thus the German proverb, “Was sich liebt, das neckt sich,” means, “The one loved is teased.”
MAKING A START
The big thing is to make a start. You can never learn to swim if you are not willing to get wet. And you cannot overcome shyness unless you are willing to make the effort to break free by initiating conversations, making new acquaintances, sharing with others in doing things. Realize that everyone at times will feel somewhat uncomfortable or uncertain with certain persons. But do not make a mountain out of a molehill. Starting a conversation can be as simple as saying, “I don’t believe I’ve met you; what is your name?” From there you can inquire as to where the person is from, what he or she is now doing, how things are going at work or school, perhaps ask about future plans. If you show interest in others, they will show interest in you. And especially if you express appreciation for the good you see in others you will find many friends.—Luke 6:38.
That is the key to success in conquering the problem. Think of others, how to benefit them, and you will not be self-conscious. As Paul counseled Christians in Corinth, we often need to “widen out” in our affection and concern for others. (2 Cor. 6:11-13) Love should motivate us to do this, to make the effort rather than let fear of embarrassment control us. Think of the way that Jesus Christ was ridiculed and mocked without cause. Yet he showed real love and interest in persons of all kinds.—1 Pet. 2:21-24.
The apostle Paul went to Corinth in “weakness and in fear and with much trembling,” evidently concerned as to being able to serve the Corinthians well and to overcome wrong attitudes among them. Though some opposers looked down on his appearance and speech, he did not let their twisted viewpoint hold him back from serving God’s interests and those of his fellowman. (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 10:10) His young fellow worker Timothy may have been somewhat retiring by nature. (2 Tim. 1:6, 7) But this did not keep him from taking on difficult assignments.—1 Tim. 1:3, 4; 4:12, 13.
Ingrained shyness can make us become “loners” with a hermit-like attitude. Proverbs 18:1 warns: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” For good judgment in life we need to keep in touch with reality through association and conversation. Our minds and hearts need the stimulation and refreshing effect that such fellowship can bring. (Rom. 14:7) Otherwise our minds and hearts can become like rooms with closed windows and drawn curtains, getting stagnant, musty. True, reading can bring in some outside thought but it cannot completely replace fellowship with living persons.
Let love move you to make a start, today, to break free from shyness. And then day by day you will see your life grow richer, more interesting, more rewarding—to yourself and to those in whom you show interest.