Shyness should not be the Criterion for Self-Esteem

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Shy people often complain that their self-esteem is low. When I ask them why they think poorly of themselves, I often hear, "Because I am so shy." I feel like begging them to not limit themselves or their self-esteem to merely one trait, the shyness." No one should elevate shyness to such a high status. Shyness, or lack of it, should not become the sole criterion of your self-esteem.

Are you a good driver, player, reader, writer, helper, a hard worker or a person of good qualities? If you say "yes" to even one of these skills or qualities, you have a good reason to feel good about yourself. There are many personal, social, and spiritual qualities that are far superior to, and more important than the matter of shyness. For instance, it is more important to the society that its members are kind, compassionate, and considerate to one another than their being socially facile. Personally, I will swap a loud-mouthed or brazen faced person for a shy one anytime.

What do you think of people who are trustworthy, dependable, honest, calm, and sincere? I am sure you won’t mind if they are a little on the shy side. Once you get to know them who they really are, you love them. Why don’t you mind their shyness? Because, you love them. Perhaps, you are more patient with them, give them time to warm up and help in every way to put them at ease.

In the long-term, the qualities of trustworthiness, dependability, honesty, and sincerity will help you more in life than your degree of comfort and ease with people. Just because you are shy, nervous or don’t easily talk with others, don’t assume that everyone criticizes you behind your back or looks down on you. I know some very talkative and easy-going people who are widely criticized and looked down upon by others.

The only person judging you may be you. That’s it. No one else. You may also be very unforgiving to yourself. "Shy people are their own worst critic," says Jonathan Cheek, a shyness researcher. Recognize that your unrelenting, biased, and unfair criticism of yourself may be preventing you from initiating or taking part in a conversation. Turn the self-critical voice off.

Try to reach out to other shy people. It’s much less challenging to talk with another shy person than to talk with a life-of-the party who may constantly keep you on your toes. Tell the person with whom you want to socialize that you are shy and that you take a little time to warm up. Have some talking points handy such as the current affairs, sports, clothes, movies, etc. Keep a few icebreakers up your sleeve.

When you make progress over your shyness, relish your success. Don’t compare yourself with the "black-belts" of the social art. Compare yourself with someone who matches your level of difficulty. Many shy people rob themselves of the pleasure and pride of their achievements by such joy-killers as "Everybody can do that. I should not have had any problem with things that everyone takes for granted."

If you socially goof up because of your self-conscious behavior and shyness, do not unnecessarily chastise yourself over it. You don’t have to explain it to anyone except yourself. Explain to yourself in a benign way. Don’t generalize from this experience such as, "I always make a fool of myself." Instead, recognize it as a commonplace and insignificant event such as, "Other people do it, too."

The way to minimize the impact of shyness is by doing something you really love. When people are engaged in doing what they truly love, they are more task-focused and are less self-conscious.

Remember, if someone switches over to another topic or is unwilling to talk about the topic you initiated, he or she is not rejecting you, but your topic. Perhaps, it is a subject he or she doesn’t feel comfortable about. Let it go. Don’t take it personally.

Shy people find it hard to make small talk. Reasons are obvious. They don’t introduce themselves early in the conversation. They share little about themselves and don’t ask questions. As a result, they can’t find the common ground between them and the other person. Understandably, the conversation soon reaches a dead-end. If the other person asks them questions, they answer as briefly as possible. Subjects of common interest can hardly develop in such an interaction and the other person may take that as a signal that they are not interested in furthering the conversation.

Elaborate on your answers instead of just saying "no" or "yes." Share something about yourself, so other people can feel invited to share something about themselves. Ask questions to give the other person a chance to elaborate on their answers.

Many shy people shun contact and thus a valuable opportunity to get to know others. They don’t engage in a conversation worrying about what people will think about them. They worry about other people’s imagined judgment and opinions about them, the impression they create on others and whether their contribution will have any substance or value. What they need to realize is this, "It’s not about you, it’s about them." Show interest in what your conversation partner is telling you and the conversation will keep rolling.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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