What is the difference between shyness and social anxiety? Is shyness a problem? Read on to learn more.
We have all felt shy at some point, even if it was many years ago. The standard definition of shyness basically involves feeling uncomfortable in the presence of others.
But is shyness a problem? Sometimes it can be seen as endearing, but other times it can impede our ability to get things done. For example, if you are shy enough that you need to ask others to do things on your behalf, then shyness is getting in your way. But what can we do about it?
Can you become less shy?
Shyness is often referred to as a “trait,” meaning that it is a permanent aspect of our character. Even the dictionary says that shyness connotes “a constitutional shrinking from contact or close association with others.” But we don’t have to see it as constitutional. Shyness can be changed. Therefore it makes sense to think of shyness as a temporary state rather than a stable trait.
In extreme form, shyness can turn in to social anxiety disorder, a clinical diagnosis. Children and adolescents who are shy can be at greater risk to develop this problem as they get older. Whether the problem is just shyness or it has become social anxiety disorder, there are things you can do to become more comfortable interacting with others.
Shyness and social fitness
The Social Fitness Model, as described by Lynne Henderson, Ph.D., describes how we can reduce shyness. Dr. Henderson says that “As with physical exercise, there are many ways to exercise socially.” Shyness is partially the result of years of habit; cognitive and behavioral habits to be specific. For example, if we think “he/she will yell at me” whenever we need to talk to our boss, we may develop a self-reinforcing habit of avoiding him or her. This happens in a sequence of stages: first we have the thought about how our boss will react, then we have a bit of anxiety about it, then we decide to avoid him or her, and finally we experience relief from the anxiety. This type of pattern is common, but as Dr. Henderson suggests we can practice, or “exercise,” doing things differently.
Cognitive-behavioral treatment of social anxiety involves exactly that: practicing doing things that may feel uncomfortable at first. Over several repetitions, these social situations become increasingly comfortable. This type of exercise is called “exposure,” and is an important component of how social anxiety can be treated, often without the use of medication.
Therapy for social anxiety also asks us to examine the assumptions we often make about how others see us. We also make assumptions about how others will react to our saying or doing something. “Mind reading” is the name for this type of thinking, and we can learn to engage in it less often.
Shyness and social anxiety don’t have to define the rest of your life. If you’re ready to make a change, reach out to learn more about cognitive-behavioral treatment.
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