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May 24, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Hi, I'm Shy!

The fat pill. The bald pill. The sex pill. According to last week's New York Times, the pharmaceutical industry's Next Big Thing is: the shy pill. (The opposite, if you will, of the chill pill.)

Since shyness in its more, um, aggressive forms is indeed considered to be not just a personality thing but a legit diagnosable social anxiety / phobia-- from which 19 million , or, according to other reports, up to 50% of Americans are said to suffer -- some experts say it may also be treatable by certain forms of the "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor" anti-depressants (Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac). Needless to say, many therapists are boldly denouncing the quick chemical fix as an alternative to, you know, actual therapy and healing.

In fact, you shy people, there are jillions of people out there to help you, if you just (first step!) find the guts to ask. (Resources to follow below.) Experts believe that shyness is -- primarily, or for most sufferers -- a set of learned behaviors. Which means: drugs -- missing the mark. And that, of course, with practice, shyness can indeed ... shrink back. In in-depth research conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo at Stanford's Shyness Research Program, 40% of respondents reported being chronically shy.

And an additional 40% of respondents said they used to be shy, but no longer. (In another study group, one even became an exotic dancer. I'm just saying.)

How can you switch from the former 40% to the latter? Even without necessarily making a career change?

> Practice makes confident. Shyness therapy (official or on your own) often involves Just Doing It: practicing speaking with/in front of others (including <gasp> "Would you like to have a Frappuccino sometime?") and listening to them ... instead of one's own "negative self-talk." ("I'll prolly say something stupid; best not to say anything" -- "I don't know what to say" -- "S/he's not interested" -- "I'm not interesting" - etc.)

> "Relax." Some experts also recommending treating anxiety and tension themselves with relaxation/breathing exercises.

> The vicious cycle. Pay attention: this is where the BG-type "Quit setting yourself up!" rant comes in. In the Encyclopedia of Mental Health, Philip Zimbardo and Lynne Henderson write that shyness "becomes a self-handicapping strategy -- a reason or excuse for anticipated social failure that over time becomes a crutch. 'I can't do it because I'm shy.'" And then guess what, you don't. Easier said than done, but willing yourself to notice this pattern can help you talk yourself into not talking yourself out of talking to people.

A few more fun facts about shyness:

* Shy extroverts. Did you know that shyness and introversion, while related, are different? In fact, there's such a thing as a "shy extrovert: they are "privately shy and publicly outgoing. They have the requisite social skills and can carry them out flawlessly in highly structured, scripted situations where everyone is playing prescribed roles and there is little room for spontaneity. [Life? -- BG] However, their basic anxieties about being found personally unacceptable, if anyone discovered their 'real self,' emerge in intimate encounters or other situations where control must be shared or is irrelevant, or wherever the situation is ambiguous in terms of social demands and expectations.

* Flirting. In shyness studies, "[straight] shy men exerted avoidant control over mutual gazes by denying female partners opportunities to initiate and terminate them." Translation: they looked away when women looked at them. And women said this was a bad move. Uh-oh. Considering that "eye contact" is always cited as a primo form of flirting, we can see why this is problem. (Shy women also looked away, but men didn't complain as much, suggesting that "the cultural burden of shyness may rest more on men, who are expected to take the initiative in heterosexual encounters. But women did complain about women looking away in studies of same-sex couples.)

* Gender gap. The majority of people who attend shyness workshops and the like are women. "Men think if they admit they're shy they're admitting weakness," Charles diCagno -- who runs an NYC support group -- told the Times.

* Long term consequences. Uh-oh, deux. "Shy men have been found to marry and have children later than their peers [Well, let's don't consider that a pathology -- a certain 30-year-old superheroine], to have less stable marriages when they do marry, to delay establishing careers...[shy people may also have] greater health problems from lack of a social support network, so essential for health maintenance, and failure to disclose personal or sensitive problems...and making less money in suitable jobs due to less frequent requests for raises, lowered visibility, interview difficulties, and limits on job advancement that require greater verbal fluency and leadership skills." Sheesh. And you thought dating was a problem.

* Still, it's not as bad as you think! Shy individuals "are not usually viewed as negatively as they fear."

See, I've said it before, I'll say it again: the boy on South Park who hurls on girls, he's shy. You shy folks -- if you can will yourselves into such encounters in the first place -- are likely a lot less lame and a lot more appealing than you think. Shy as limiting behavior, you might have to work on. Shy as character... can be pretty cute.

Further resources:


The Shyness Home Page


Shyness: A Bold New Approach
How I Overcame Shyness: 101 Celebrities Share Their Secrets
Beyond Shyness: How To Conquer Social Anxieties
Talking with Confidence for the Painfully Shy
Shyness: What It Is, What To Do About It




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