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Overcome shyness

Many children and even adults find mixing with people difficult. Dr Jitendra Nagpal suggests ways and means to do away with the anomaly

education Updated: May 26, 2010 09:30 IST
Dr Jitendra Nagpal
Dr Jitendra Nagpal
Hindustan Times

In a world of progressive interpersonal communication some of us are less outgoing and less talkative than others, while others derive solace from solitary activities. This of course is different from those who feel unworthy and are seen that way by people because they do not assert themselves. Interestingly, psychological researches point out that the trait of shyness is high among people. Approximately 40 per cent of teenagers and adults describe themselves as shy and are unable to form fulfilling interfaces with others. Shy people, according to researchers, can be so obsessed with how they look, how they feel and what they are going to say that they may neglect the world around them.

Researchers have found that girls may have special complications when it comes to overcoming shyness. Social stereotypes like rewarding shyness — more like an antitheses to empowerment — are patterns, which need to be challenged and worked through.

We are all probably aware of both introverts and extroverts in life, yet we can often end up forming wrong impressions about both of these types. For example, some introverts can be extremely confident and capable people while some extroverts may not be as confident as they project and often mask their true profiles. For both, life can be quite disgusting and, in extreme cases, can have a negative impact on the ability to form meaningful relationships, even affecting their careers or jobs.

Many people complain that they feel shy because they have low self-esteem. They also find it really difficult to communicate with those they are unfamiliar with. Once again this can lead to an irrational thought process.

Shyness in kids today may be thought of as a variation of temperament. If your child exhibits unusual shyness, fear of strangers and unknown situations, avoidance of eye contact, she probably has a shy temperament.

The feeling of being different is at the core of a shy person’s distress. He is fearful of approaching new surroundings or people and finds it difficult to assert himself in a group, though he likes to watch others. This point of conflict between the child’s fear and his desire to join others offers a chance for understanding childhood better. Here, It’s important to distinguish between shyness and social phobia. Young, shy children often show an interest in observing others along with a hesitancy to speak to or join them. Shy children may refuse to enter a new setting, such as a classroom, without being accompanied by a parent. Experts are making efforts to find a connection between shyness and social anxiety disorders of childhood. Once shy children start feeling bad about being shy, they may enter a downward spiral of becoming less and less confident and having lower self-esteem.

Parents can help counter this problem by telling their kids about the times when they were shy themselves. One way to help children begin to control their fear of certain social situations is to show empathy when they feel afraid to interact with others.

Young ones learn a great deal through observing the behaviour of parents and others. In fact, you can count on a child to do more of what a parent does than what a parent suggests. Families, which have minimal social interaction, never invite anyone over, rarely take phone calls, and hardly speak to strangers may tend to have a shy child or a child with social anxiety disorder. The best way to reduce the impact of the problem is to identify the problem areas and talk about feelings.

Indulging in “active listening” can reduce the problem of shyness to a great extent. It helps shy people become involved with others. This is demonstrated by paying attention, saying things that illustrate understanding, and asking questions that further conversation. Add to this, self-disclosure exercises that include telling how you feel about yourself, sharing your experiences, or even a joke.

Desensitise shyness with positive self-talk. Children can learn that social situations need not be scary.

They can be eased into situations and made more sociable through gradual steps.

Their imagination should be constructively used. They can be taught to relax all their muscles and feel completely in control of their emotion.
Relaxation is an effective antidote for anxiety.

Enroll in supervised play or group-skill training. When shy children engage in group activities, some conversation and interaction occur naturally. However, a sensitive group leader is essential. Parents should be assertive enough to talk to the leader about their child and make suggestions.

Let’s remember that one of the most destructive aspects of shyness is the individual’s belief that s/he has a “shy personality”. Don’t let that happen. Every human being is special.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist at Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’

First Published: May 25, 2010 10:34 IST