From Shy to Sociable

Shyness is a real and often painful problem, but there are some things you can do to feel more comfortable and confident around other people.

--image by Kinshuk Sunil on Flickr

–image by Kinshuk Sunil on Flickr

Almost half of all the people in the United States are awkward and unsure in social situations. More than 10 percent suffer from painful shyness along with loneliness, anxiety and depression. In fact, shyness is so widespread that only about five percent of all people are not now and never have been shy.

Shyness begins in infancy, sometimes becomes worse in childhood, and may in adults become a kind of phobia. It can be a real problem, and it is not subject to a quick fix. However, there are some things you can do to become more sociable.

Why is Someone Shy?

Where does shyness come from? Why this gloomy preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, feelings and reactions?

There appears to be what social scientists call a “strong genetic predisposition” to shyness.  Babies with this predisposition become overly stimulated in situations that more sociable babies respond to positively. The sociable baby smiles and coos when tickled, and everyone is delighted and plays with this baby. Meanwhile, the shy baby fusses and frets, and people are put off and leave this baby alone more often.

Shy babies grow into children who may still become over stimulated by social interaction, at which point they enter school and are exposed to more stimulation than many sociable children can cope with. If in addition to this they have chaotic home lives, are dominated by someone in authority or are unduly criticized by someone, these children may become adults who lack the ability to take care of themselves in social situations.

As adults, these people avoid social encounters and are preoccupied with their own thoughts and feelings. They have internalized the neglect or criticism they endured and are ashamed of themselves for being socially inept. They have internalized the domination they were forced to submit to and are convinced they will be inadequate in any love relationship or group setting. As time goes on, they have more and more difficult lives.

Can a Shy Person Become a Sociable Person?

If you are painfully shy, you will probably never turn into the life of the party. However, you can become more outgoing and more confident. There are a couple of ways to think about shyness that may help:

  • Amost everyone at the party either has sweaty palms or knows what that is like. Some people just hide their shyness better than others.
  • Everybody’s worrying: “Am I too …?” “Will I be able to …?” “What will I do if …?” Everybody is paying so much attention to themselves that there is little chance of their noticing your foibles. So, there is some freedom to make mistakes.

Here are some things to do that may help:

  • Learn communication patterns. What sorts of things do people say to each other? How do they say these things? How and when do they respond to each other? Listen for these patterns in supermarkets and restaurants and anyplace people gather. Responses are particularly important. Since most people like talking about themselves more than listening, just asking questions and responding appropriately when a question is answered will work well.
  • Take a class in painting or yoga or bicycle repair. Join an exercise or stamp-collecting club. Be around other people in a setting in which nobody has to interact much with anybody else. Get comfortable in a situation that is less threatening than a party, and take things slow.
  • Before any social situation, practice asking questions and responding appropriately.
  • At a party, admit to being shy. Being a shy guy or shy girl may elicit some sympathy and may even be a turn-on to someone who is a candidate for a closer relationship.
  • Seek out sociable people and tag along. They’ll do all the talking.
  • And finally, take a deep breath, slowly, and let it out. Relax. Remember that everybody feels awkward from time to time.

To Summarize: It will be OK 

No matter how awkward and shy you are, even to the point of phobia, it helps to realize that many, many people share this problem. It is a problem with no easy fix. However, if you learn some social skills—particularly how to ask questions—you can become more outgoing and confident. And if you still feel awkward, well,… everybody feels awkward now and then.  It will be OK.

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