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David Baxter

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Are You Just Shy or Do You Have a Social Phobia?
PsyBlog
October 10, 2007

There's a 50% chance that you consider yourself shy. But is this 'just' shyness or is it a mental disorder? Since 1980, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychiatrists in diagnosis has included the categories of 'social phobia' and 'social anxiety disorder'. This suggests that what would previously have been your particular way of being, has become a 'disorder' with a biological cause which needs some medication...

No one would dispute the fact that shyness is on a continuum, but in his new book, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, Christopher Lane argues that the bar has been set way too low:

The problem, Lane argues, is that DSM-defined symptoms of impairment in 1980 included fear of eating alone in restaurants, concern about hand trembling while writing checks, fear of public speaking and avoidance of public restrooms.

By 1987 the DSM had removed the key phrase "a compelling desire to avoid," requiring instead only "marked distress," and signs of that could include concern about saying the wrong thing. "Impairment became something largely in the eye of the beholder, and anticipated embarrassment was enough to meet the diagnostic threshold," says Lane.

"That's a ridiculous way to assess a serious mental disorder, with implications for the way we also view childhood traits and development," Lane adds. "But that didn't stop SAD from becoming what Psychology Today dubbed 'the disorder of the 1990s.'"​
Privately shy
Where, though, are all these shy people hiding and what causes it? Bernardo Carducci, Director of the Shyness Research Institute and Phillip Zimbardo explain:

  • Many people are shy without appearing ill-at-ease. Only a small percentage (15-20%) are visibly shy to the casual observer.
  • Shyness is mostly the result of parenting and life experiences although it does have a small genetic component.
  • Levels of shyness vary across cultures with Israelis being the least shy and those from Japan and Taiwan being the most shy.
  • Levels of shyness in the US have increased by about 10% to the current figure of 50% in the last three decades.
  • Some people are shy extroverts - US talk-show host David Letterman is a good example of someone who has learned to 'act' extroverted.
Costs of shyness
Shy people are at risk of losing out in many situations:

  • Shy children may self-select solitary activities which fail to boost their social skills.
  • Shy children are the easiest targets for bullies at school as they are usually highly reactive.
  • Shyness leads to loneliness. Loneliness isn't good for anyone.
  • Shyness leads to a lack of social support. We all need someone to give us a bit of perspective. Without it we can easily hold onto unrealistic beliefs about ourselves and others.
  • Shy people find it difficult to live in the present in social situations - they will tend to hesitate while they review what are perceived as past failures.
Carducci and Zimbardo only mention one ray of hope for the shy: they make good listeners. It's not much, though, set against this litany of disadvantages.

Overcoming shyness
John Wesley, who explains his shyness is a major weakness, has some useful suggestions about how to overcome shyness:

  • 'It's Not You It's Them' - Realising that the perceived slights from others shouldn't be taken personally.
  • 'Other People Aren't So Different' - Well now you know 50% of people consider themselves shy - that's a lot of people who feel the same as you.
  • 'Realizing Self-Worth' - Get used to sharing your thoughts with others by forcing yourself to speak up.
  • 'The Duty to Contribute' - Shyness can limit your own growth and your ability to contribute.
These are useful suggestions and most of them involve what shyness expert Dr Carducci sees as the central issue (Carducci, 2000). For the shy, he argues, the key is to become more other-directed.

A group identified in the research as the 'successfully shy' recognise their own shyness and take particular steps to combat it. They plan ahead for gaps in the conversation, they arrive early to parties to get the lie of the land, they rehearse conversational opening gambits. They use any trick to move their focus of attention from themselves and their own self-consciousness and outwards to the other people.

Dr Carducci argues that what our society needs is not less shy people but actually more 'successfully shy' people. I couldn't agree more.

Are you shy?
If you consider yourself shy do you agree with the research findings discussed above. If not, what is your experience of shyness? What strategies do you use to combat your shyness?

Reference
Carducci, B. (2000). Shyness: The New Solution. Psychology Today, 33(1), 38-40.
 

HotthenCold

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I agree with the findings above, based on my personal experience. I can usualyl tell the difference between someone who is genuinely outgoing and naturally at ease in social situations and those who appear to have worked on their facade, and it is a lot of people. Not to slag on those people who work on it, that's great if someone learns to overcome the monkey on their back in order to live their life to the fullest.

My personal methods of overcoming shyness are to get excited about life through music, and activities that I love. Basically to connect myself with the sources of positive energy in my life, since when I am connected to those it's actually an offensive prospect to me that I should ever be afraid of what someone will think of me or that I should hold back and be unnoticed. I'm not necessarily bulletproof, but a lust for life has definitely given me strength to overcome shyness, though it is my nature and the fact is sometimes shyness takes over.
 

Mari

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what our society needs is not less shy people but actually more 'successfully shy' people.

Do I have a social phobia? I would refer to myself as super-shy and I keep to myself as much as possible. I have tried every trick but the only thing that works is accepting that I will never be a social butterfly or have a job that requires a lot of personal interaction. My children are all shy and this topic interests me because I do my best to learn in order to help them in any way that I can. :heart: Mari
 

ShyLady

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>>>Shyness leads to loneliness. Loneliness isn't good for anyone.<<<



This one is sure true for me! I have my family though. Yes, I'm shy, sadly.
None of my 3 daughters are shy. My youngest a bit shy, but she'll talk to people she knows well,
unlike me who wont even talk to those I know well but not intimately.
 

whykat

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I tend to think my problem is a social phobia , I stay home and home is 15 miles from the nearest town of less then a 1000 people and 40 miles from the next town , I have a gate on the entrance to my property and a large precentage of the time its closed not locked generally but closed. I'm a native of this local .
I have went as much as 2 and 3 weeks with out speaking to anyone out side of my ole man and my son, very seldom I get bored or sad because i want to go some where and do something, what , hell if I know ? But most the time I'm ok with not dealing with the 'outside' world. I have dailup internet so I go on line and don't have to taLK to anyone on the phone. I have been called a hermit type person and a bit south of left fleid or 'nuts' by some of the folks around here
 

Roy H.

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A group identified in the research as the 'successfully shy' recognise their own shyness and take particular steps to combat it. They plan ahead for gaps in the conversation, they arrive early to parties to get the lie of the land, they rehearse conversational opening gambits. They use any trick to move their focus of attention from themselves and their own self-consciousness and outwards to the other people.

Dr Carducci argues that what our society needs is not less shy people but actually more 'successfully shy' people. I couldn't agree more.

Are you shy?
If you consider yourself shy do you agree with the research findings discussed above. If not, what is your experience of shyness? What strategies do you use to combat your shyness?

Reference
Carducci, B. (2000). Shyness: The New Solution. Psychology Today, 33(1), 38-40.


That [emphasis added] was a big part of my routine when I went to college the last few years. But, it was a struggle, regardless. Those techniques did help, however. I'm not really sure if, in my case, it's social phobia or shyness. My dad is shy, my mom is a tremendously nervous person, which combined, don't make for a strong genetic makeup, IMO. I think it's clearly a problem for me when I see the neighbors outside doing yardwork and I don't leave the house until they are finished. That has to be a sign of some disfunctionality. :(
 

Elizabeth

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I am not as shy as I used to be back at school, I was so quiet and didnt stand up for myself so got bullied all through school. I came out of my shell whilst on NVQ training through work, but my hubby Mark is way more outgoing than me. If we are together and meet someone we know say, he will do most of the talking.

I agree with your findings also
 

Mike902

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I'm shy. It's hard for me to talk about things.
Yet, it is strange. I'm mainly only shy when talking. I'm sure not shy about who sees me undressed, in underwear or even naked, yet I am shy as anythjing talking about my problems.

I hope that makes sense to you, because it really does not to me. I mean, how can I be so shy talking, yet not about how people see me?
 

white page

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My goodness , I feel at home in this thread , Very interesting reading ,
My personal methods of overcoming shyness are to get excited about life through music, and activities that I love. Basically to connect myself with the sources of positive energy in my life, since when I am connected to those it's actually an offensive prospect to me that I should ever be afraid of what someone will think of me or that I should hold back and be unnoticed. I'm not necessarily bulletproof, but a lust for life has definitely given me strength to overcome shyness, though it is my nature and the fact is sometimes shyness takes over.
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I like what you wrote Hotthen Cold,

thanks white page
 
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