Getting Over Shyness

Many people will say their main social problem is shyness. It's a concept that encompasses a bunch of sub-issues. There are several slightly different definitions of it. It varies from person to person too, but in general shyness can include the following:

Components of shyness


Thinking patterns

Physical symptoms


Additionally, shyness can be thought of as a temporary state ("I felt shy at that party") or a more global trait ("I'm a shy person.")

Degrees of shyness

Lots of people will tell you they're shy, but they can mean very different things when they say it. Here's a scale:

Least Shy

Most Shy

Coping with shyness

Shyness is one of those conditions that has been studied enough by this point that mental health professionals have a fairly good handle on how to treat it. That's not to say the ideas below will cure someone overnight. Many of them take time and effort, but they've been shown to be effective with many people.

The points below won't go into exhaustive detail. What they'll do is give a brief overview of the general approaches to overcoming shyness, and link to some other articles that are more thorough.

Figure out how exactly you want to change your shyness

Some people want every trace of their shyness eliminated. Others see their shyness more as a part of their personality and don't necessarily want to totally get rid of it. They may realize they're quiet or inhibited sometimes, but are comfortable with that side of themselves. They may want to be able to handle certain situations better, but have no need to change the fact that, say, they're not total social butterflies at house parties. If you're in the second camp, it can help to take the time to think about what facets of your shyness you want to work on and which ones you're fine to leave as is. It can also be useful to realize and accept that it's okay to remain shy in some ways.

There is no quick, magic solution

As I love to mention all over this site, I wrote an article about how there's no quick, effortless way to fix your social issues. Everything in it totally applies to trying to get over shyness. People especially tend to look for magic bullet solutions for problems that involve anxiety and a fear of rejection, and shyness definitely fits that bill. Facing these things the proper way (i.e., head on) is hard after all.

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Get a handle your insecure thoughts

A ton of advice on shyness falls into this category. Shy people have all kinds of worries and insecurities. These fears are often exaggerated or distorted, but they act as if they're realistic, and this prevents them from getting involved in more social situations. If they can learn how not to get so swayed by these thoughts they can become more comfortable around people.

A few articles on this site go into more detail about how to deal with maladaptive thoughts:

More Detail On Common Worries Shy And Insecure People Have
Challenging Maladaptive Thoughts
Accepting And Rolling with Maladaptive Thoughts

Try to increase your sense of self-worth and confidence

Some approaches are about going after counterproductive thoughts directly. Another angle is to try to boost your sense of self-confidence or self-worth. The idea here is that if someone feels good about themselves, that will help override any negative or insecure thinking they may have.

A fair amount of the shyness advice you'll come across falls into this category. Any time you read something that seems like it's trying to motivate, inspire, or lift you up, I'd say it's following this strategy. For example, an article may tell you how unique and special you are as an individual, shyness and all.

If you haven't seen them already here are some articles I wrote on confidence. I'm not so much into the rah-rah motivational/daily affirmations stuff and instead take a different approach to the topic:

Points To Be Aware Of Before You Try To Build Your Self-Confidence
How To Increase Your Overall Self-Esteem Or Self-Confidence
Increasing Self-Confidence In Particular Social Situations

Expose yourself to the situations that make you shy

This is a core part of any shyness recovery plan. If certain situations make you feel shy, put yourself in them until you're used to them, and you learn how to act more effectively in them. This is a long, sometimes hard, process. Facing your fears is uncomfortable. So is making mistakes and learning from them. Ditto for occasionally getting rejected and learning firsthand that you can handle it.

I go into more detail about the importance of facing your fears here:

Why It's Essential To Face Your Social Fears

Here I explain the best way to do that, by exposing yourself to your fears in a gradual, controlled way:

How To Face Your Social Fears (Gradually)

Defuse the painful social memories that feed your shyness

When someone's feeling nervous or insecure in a situation to a degree that's out of proportion to the actual risk, it's often because undealt with, emotionally charged memories of past upsetting experiences have hijiacked their perspective. For example, they're at a party where they barely know anyone. They may not be fully aware, but it reminds them of a time in high school where they introduced themselves to some new classmates and were told they were being weird and annoying. On one level their mindset gets sucked into the past, and they feel like a fourteen-year-old who never wants to feel rejected like that ever again. They logically know everyone at their co-workers apartment is friendly, but can't help but feel cautious and inhibited.

If you're shy you likely have a bunch of uncomfortable social memories (though they probably aren't as numerous or awful as someone with more severe social anxiety). You can work with them, drain their emotional intensity, and stop them from warping how you see things as an adult. This also isn't a quick project. It can take a while to go through all your old baggage:

Why You Should Process The Upsetting Memories That Fuel Your Social Anxiety And Insecurities
How To Emotionally Process The Upsetting Memories That Fuel Your Social Anxiety And Insecurities

Improve your social skills

This point won't apply to everyone. Some people who are shy have perfectly good social skills. Their problem is that their shyness and anxiety blocks them from using those skills. When they're not feeling too shy they do just fine in conversations.

Others have underdeveloped people skills in addition to their shyness. On top of learning to handle their inhibited/anxious/insecure symptoms, they could also benefit from learning things such as better ways to make small talk or how to mingle at a party. They then need to put in the time to practice and develop those new skills. Though sometimes just knowing how to handle a social situation can make someone feel more confident in tackling it.

Of course, this site is full of advice on all kinds of social skills topics. If someone is shy and they have weaker social skills, it will probably take them longer to get over their problems. They have to work on two things at once, and they feed into and exacerbate each other. With time and practice they can be overcome. The hardest part is usually at the beginning, before things start to click into place.