By Adam D. Blum, MFT, Gay Therapy Center Founder and Director
Are you shy? If so, be forewarned: this is not an article about how to overcome shyness.
The reason? I don’t want to add to the large chorus of shamers of shyness.
About 40 - 50 % of us say we are shy, according to Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, the leading shyness researcher. That big number is surprising because about three-quarters of shy people are good at hiding it.
I’m Shy, So What?
What if you stopped torturing yourself for being shy?
What if you noticed when your shyness arose, acknowledged that you were feeling shy, and then paused and felt compassion for yourself?
Try it. It’s delicious.
What if someday you could even comfortably admit to someone at a party, “I’m shy when getting to know someone”.
If you are lonely, what if you allowed yourself just to feel the feeling of lonely, instead of immediately judging yourself for not being more outgoing?
Lonely feels a lot less painful without the self-torture.
Yes, you can practice softening your shyness and building your courage and self-confidence. There are many good ways to do that. But it’s unlikely that you will ever completely delete your shy temperament.
So why not accept that it is a part of you, like the color of your hair? About a third of shy people are born that way and the rest acquire it as kids.
Making new friends and going to parties would be easier if you weren’t shy, but we all have parts of ourselves that make some things tougher to do. Some of us have brains that make it harder to solve quadratic equations. Others have body chemistry that makes drawing a picture not so easy.
Some of us can’t sing well.
With effort, we may get better at singing but we’ll probably never be great. And nothing makes it more difficult to improve our singing or our social anxiety than our own auto-shame mechanism.
Shame creates shut down. It’s full stop mode.
Gay Men and Shyness
Shy kids endure more teasing and peer rejection. They make prime targets for bullies. Who is better to taunt than someone who gets scared easily and cries?
Gay kids are also at high risk for bullying. And if you are gay and shy, you may have received a toxic double dose of teasing.
If that happened to you it was heartbreaking, and the first job in recovery is experiencing compassion for your own little kid. You’ll need to love him with an intensity you’ve never experienced before.
Zimbardo’s studies show that shyness also brings an increased potential for abusing alcohol and drugs. Many of my clients, when they examine why they drink too much, realize that they drink to feel safe in social situations. If you want to reduce your drinking, you might want to begin to look at the connection between shyness, gayness, and use. When clients realize they are ultimately endangering their health to feel loved, change occurs.
In the US, we live in a culture that idolizes the charming. Let’s not forget some of the benefits of shyness. Shy people often are better listeners, more insightful and empathic, and appear more trustworthy and less threatening to others.
And given what we see on reality television, maybe the world could use a little more shyness.
For more information about how we help LGBT individuals and couples please visit our website at www.gaytherapycenter.com. We offer services in our San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles offices or by Skype or phone worldwide.