Shyness is a feeling of fear or discomfort caused by other people, especially in new situations or among strangers. Shyness is an unpleasant fe...

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What Is Shyness?

Shyness is a feeling of fear or discomfort caused by other people, especially in new situations or among strangers. Shyness is an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness—a fear of what other people are thinking. This fear can inhibit a person's ability to do or say what he wants. It can also prevent the formation of healthy relationships.

Shyness is often linked to low self-esteem. In its extreme form, it is considered social anxiety.  

Types of Shyness

Shyness can vary in strength. Many people feel mild feelings of discomfort that are easily overcome. Others feel extreme fear of social situations, and this fear can be debilitating. Inhibition, withdrawal from social activities, anxiety, and depression can result from shyness.

Shyness encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors. It is normal for children to sometimes feel shy in new situations. Perceptions of shyness are also cultural. Some cultures (such as the United States) tend to regard it negatively; others, such as some Asian cultures, tend to regard shyness more positively.

What Are the Causes of Shyness?

About 15 percent of infants are born with a tendency toward shyness (Rubin, et al., 2010). Research has shown biological differences in the brains of shy people. But a propensity for shyness also is influenced by social experiences. It is believed that most shy children develop shyness because of interactions with parents (Rubin, et al., 2010).

Parents who are authoritarian or overprotective can cause their children to be shy. Children who are not allowed to experience things may have trouble developing social skills. A warm, caring approach to rearing children usually results in them being more comfortable around others.

Schools, neighborhoods, communities, and culture all shape a child. Connections a child makes within these networks contribute to his or her development. Children with shy parents may emulate that behavior.

In adults, highly critical work environments and public humiliation can lead to shyness.

What Are the Symptoms of Shyness?

Not all children who play alone happily are shy. Fear and anxiety are elements of shyness.

One of the first signs that a child’s shyness might be a cause for concern is the child’s never wanting to leave a parent's side.

Children who do poorly in their studies or who have a difficult time making friends should be evaluated for shyness. Children who have been victimized by bullying are at risk for developing shyness.

Rejected children who are constantly ridiculed may exhibit aggressive behavior, as an overcompensation for shyness. Neglected children who are unable to care for themselves are at risk as well.

How Is Shyness Diagnosed?

Sometimes shy children do not get diagnosed and treated. Unlike many other emotional disorders, shyness often does not result in a child causing problems. Frequently, there are no tantrums or aggressive behavior to raise red flags and encourage treatment.

Anxiety—which is a condition of extreme shyness—is the most common form of mental illness in children and adolescents (American Psychological Association, 2013).

Therapists can assess a child for shyness by engaging him or her in activities such as charades and board games. They may also use puppets and dolls to get the child to open up.

How Is Shyness Treated?

Overcoming extreme shyness is essential for the development of healthy-self-esteem. Shyness can result in difficulties at school and difficulties forming relationships.

Most shy children outgrow shyness, but one in three become more troubled (Jaret, P., 2005).

Psychotherapy can help children cope with shyness. They can be taught social skills, how to be aware of their shyness, and ways to understand when their shyness is the result of irrational thinking.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can help children and adults cope with shyness.

Group therapy can be helpful in children and adults suffering from shyness. If an adult's shyness becomes so severe he avoids tending to his responsibilities, he should seek help (American Psychological Association, 2013).

In rare instances, medication can provide temporary relief for shyness.

Preventing Shyness

Parents and guardians can prevent children from becoming shy by helping them develop these skills:
  • coping with change
  • managing anger
  • using humor
  • showing compassion
  • being assertive
  • being kind
  • helping others
  • keeping secrets

All of these abilities can help children to be at ease among their peers (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013).

Written by: David Heitz
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: George Krucik, MD, MBA
Published: Dec 3, 2013
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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