Shyness, or diffidence, refers to the awkwardness or apprehension some people feel when approaching or getting approached by other people. Unlike introverts, who prefer to be alone, shy people want to interact with others but fear is preventing them to do so. Shy people worry about their looks, about how other people see them and whether other people like them. They abstain from talking for fear they will say the wrong thing and because they are averse to interaction with people, they have few friends and often suffer from loneliness and depression. According to the Stanford Shyness Survey, more than 80 percent of those questioned reported that they experienced shyness at some point in their lives, which leads to the conclusion that shyness is common, widespread and universal.
Shyness often has its origins in the teen years when being part of a group is important. Some evidence suggests that diffidence generally affects more teenage girls than boys. Researcher believe that shyness, however, causes more problems for boys. While shy girls tend to form close relationships with other girls, boys sometimes adopt behavior such as resorting to drugs and alcohol to overcome their shyness. Shyness is more common among schoolchildren than adults because many adults have managed to shake off their childhood shyness. Contrary to popular belief, diffidence does not affect only children as there are many adults who are shy, too. Shyness, however, has its positive aspects. Shy people often appear discreet and seriously introspective. In addition, shy people are unlikely to intimidate or hurt others. Another advantage is that shy people may be more careful in forming a relationship with other people. Careful observations and cautious deliberations are not always considered drawbacks.
Many scientists believe that people are not born shy. The three main features of shyness, including excessive self-consciousness, excessive negative self-evaluation and excessive negative self-preoccupation, involve a sense of self. Since this sense starts developing after the age of 18 months, individuals cannot be born shy. Although some researchers presume that a tendency toward shyness may be inherited, people are principally thought to learn how to be shy. A person may develop diffidence if surrounded by siblings who are talkative or a person may become anxious in social situations as a result of a negative experience.
Shyness, being a habit, can be overcome. Conquering shyness does not change the personality of the individual, it is, in fact, learning not to be afraid of eye contact and how to start up a conversation. An important step a shy person must take toward overcoming shyness is to debunk the myth of the "never changing" personality. There is sufficient evidence that human personality and behavior are changeable. The ability to adapt is, in fact, the key to survival and humans and animals that fail to do so soon become extinct.
People who want to become more confident need to change the way they think about themselves and about shyness, the way they behave and certain social values that promote shyness. It should be noted that overcoming shyness is not a quick-fix process but a time-consuming and gradual one. People who suffer from shyness or social phobia may be subjected to psychological treatments such as social skills training where they can learn to feel more relaxed and confident in company. The treatment focuses on simple social skills that other people tend to take for granted such as how how to start a conversation with a stranger. Another method of alleviating shyness includes putting a shy person in a situation they might consider to be frightening and, with the help of a therapist, stay with them until the feeling of anxiousness eases. Shy people may compile a list of situations and then start with the least intimidating ones. This exercise is usually done in stages, each time making the situation a little more intense.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help shy people change the way they think about themselves and other people. It works by changing the way a person thinks in terms of their habits and behaviors. CBT is used to treat shyness, anxiety, depression and a wide range of other conditions and is often successful, leading to an improvement in the quality of a person's life and confidence. According to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, CBT is "a class of interventions and techniques with wide applications and demonstrated efficacy in testing psychological disorders."