Shyness is a feeling of fear or discomfort caused by other people, especially in new situations or among strangers. It’s an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness — a fear of what some people believe others are thinking.
This fear can inhibit a person's ability to do or say what they want. It can also prevent the formation of healthy relationships.
Shyness is often linked to low self-esteem. It may also be one of the causes of social anxiety.
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’s normal for children to sometimes feel shy in new situations. Perceptions of shyness may also be cultural.
Some cultures, such as many of those in the United States, tend to regard it negatively. Others, such as some Asian cultures, tend to regard shyness more positively.
About 15 percent of infants are born with a tendency toward shyness. Research has shown biological differences in the brains of shy people.
But a propensity for shyness also is influenced by social experiences. It’s believed that most shy children develop shyness because of interactions with parents.
Parents who are authoritarian or overprotective can cause their children to be shy. Children who aren’t 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 their development. Children with shy parents may emulate that behavior.
In adults, highly critical work environments and public humiliation can lead to 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 that they never want to leave their parent's side.
Children who do poorly in their studies or who have a difficult time making friends should be evaluated for shyness. Those who have been victimized by bullying are at risk for developing shyness.
Children who are constantly ridiculed may exhibit aggressive behavior as an overcompensation for shyness. Those who have experienced neglect are at risk as well.
Sometimes, shy children aren’t diagnosed and treated. Unlike many other emotional disorders, shyness often doesn’t result in a child causing problems. Frequently, there are no tantrums or aggressive behavior to raise red flags and encourage treatment.
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, anxiety — which is more than shyness — affects approximately 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 in the United States.
Therapists can assess a child for shyness by engaging them in activities such as charades and board games. They may also use puppets and dolls to get the child to open up.
Overcoming extreme shyness can be essential for the development of healthy self-esteem. Shyness can result in difficulties at school and difficulties forming relationships.
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 anxiety, which may underlie shyness. Group therapy can also be helpful in children and adults experiencing shyness.
There are effective treatments for adults with anxiety who have difficult completing daily activities. However, severe anxiety often goes untreated.
In rare instances, medication can provide temporary relief for shyness.
To prevent or manage shyness, parents and guardians can help children develop the following 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 be at ease among their peers.