Avoidance or inhibition creates problems for the painfully shy and for those around them

Avoidance and inhibition include:

  • Canceling social events at the last moment

  • Avoiding situations that provide positive social interaction

  • Few or no friends

  • Avoidance of activities that are otherwise pleasurable

  • Passivity, pessimism and low self-esteem

  • Friends, family members, teachers, or mentors are concerned

  • Excessive computer use that is not social in nature, and is without face to face contact with others

Research shows that causes of avoidance, inhibition, distress can include:

Temperament or Biological Influences

  • Withdrawn, avoidant, excessively emotionally reactive

  • Highly sensitive, when lacking adequate social support

  • Poor emotional "fit" with family members or some environments

Stressful Life Events

  • Shaming experiences

  • Major moves from one school or city to another

  • Abrupt changes or disruptions in family life

Negative Family Interactions

  • Frequent parental criticism and shaming to enforce behavioral compliance, high parental control with little expressed warmth

  • Chaotic family interactions or neglect

Stressful Work or School Environments

  • Highly competitive, critical, or hostile environments

  • Public embarrassment for poor performance

  • Dominance behaviors rewarded, and bullying or teasing ignored or encouraged

How loved ones, friends and mentors can help

Maintain Appropriate Expectations

  • Maintain appropriate expectations while communicating empathy for the shy person's painful emotions.

  • Encourage them to tell you about their daily experiences and how they feel about them.

  • Acknowledge the conflict between needs to belong and fears of rejection.

  • Role play challenging situations with the shy person.

  • Help the shy individual set specific, manageable behavioral goals, and agreed upon reasonable means to attain them.

  • Help challenge the frequent negative thoughts about the self and others, and help them develop constructive alternatives.

  • Avoid negative labels and intense pressures for social performance.

  • Remember that shyness and social anxiety are common and universal experiences at all ages for most people.

A psychologist can help
  • Group therapy provides a place to explore, experiment, test pessimistic hypotheses about the self and social interaction, and develop adaptive interaction styles.

  • Successful therapy lowers barriers to action and increases appropriate risk taking and self-acceptance. Deliberate social "niche picking", or choosing situations that suit one's temperament, also increases.

  • Individual therapy provides a place to explore one's needs, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors without pressure from others.

  • Group and Individual therapy help clients develop more empathy for others and themselves by reducing negative selfthoughts, self-blame and shame while building positive perspectives and effective behavioral patterns.

  • Medication may help clients enter feared situations.

About this guide
Prepared by:
Lynne Henderson, Ph.D., Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., and Elaine Rodino, Ph.D.

Sponsored by/For more information:
Psychologists in Independent Practice, A Division of the American Psychological Association (APA) - www.division42.org

The Shyness Institute - www.shyness.com
©2001 Psychologists in Independent Practice, APA Division 42, and The Shyness Institute

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Coda Creative, Inc.
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