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Shyness: Questions and Answers

Ruy Miranda
social anxiety disorder diagnosis Social Anxiety Shyness Info

Here is a list of frequently asked questions about Shyness, all of which will be answered.

What is Shyness?
Is Shyness an illness?
Is Shyness a psychological problem?
Why is it that non-fulfillment is a problem?
Do histories of humiliation lead to Shyness?
Can Shyness be developed in silence?
Does Shyness increase with the passing of time?
Can Shyness influence the choice of work?
What are the Shyness types?
Can Shyness be cured?
Is a shy person insecure?

What is Shyness?

In essence, Shyness is the lagging behind of some forces which drive us forward. We are used to describing Shyness as a set of signs and symptoms: avoiding personal contacts, especially with unknown persons, feeling unease during social contacts, not finding anything to talk about with most people, and so on. These are signs and symptoms based in what is happenings within the individual, just as bodily fever and pain can be signs and symptoms of infection in the organism. To me, what goes on inside the person during these occasions may be called obstruction of many natural forces.

The obstruction of natural forces results in anxiety. Let us consider the example of an individual who holds a concept that she does not have attributes that make it possible for her to be loved. She will feel discomfort, the degree of which may vary from very mild to moderate, whenever she is in social contact with someone who could be a date or romantic partner. This discomfort is anxiety, situational anxiety, even though we are used to referring to it as fear. Read more about anxiety in Shyness.

On the other hand, a favorable self-concept will facilitate the expression of these forces and will bring well being. This does not mean that I think that persons must have all their potentials actualized. This is practically impossible. But I believe that the more areas are actualized, the better the person will feel.

Is Shyness an illness?

From a health standpoint and from a psychiatric perspective, Shyness is not a disease but a rather common occurrence which brings no harm to a person.

On the other hand, Social Phobia / Social Anxiety and Avoidance Personality are classified by Psychiatry as mental disorders because they cause much suffering and result in a reduction in the quality of life. However, many specialists see them as more serious forms of Shyness.

As I see it, the word 'disease' is improper for either one of them because the psychological processes are very similar. The difference between Social Anxiety (Phobia) and Shyness may lie only in the number and complexity of factors which form self-concept. This matter is examined in the articles Self-Concept/Self-Actualization - Shyness Nucleus and Social Anxiety: What is it, The Anxiety Attack Symptoms.

Is Shyness a psychological problem?

Yes. A psychological problem lies in any situation in which the individual does not fulfill his potential. Examples: If you can mobilize only part of your potential to love, you have a problem in this area. If you can only use 50% of your intellectual capacity, this will harm you. If your access to your own feelings is limited, this will generate difficulties—and so forth and so on. The shy person cannot do things despite having potential; therefore, the problem is psychological.

Why is it that non-fulfillment is a problem?

It is a problem because we have natural forces driving us onward and forward, and if these forces do not execute their "work," we do not feel well. Here is a common example. When a baby's nervous system matures, he naturally sits, then crawls, then stands, and finally walks. He will certainly cry if one attempts to stop him from doing such things. What force drives him on? What forces drive us on to do so many things in areas so diverse?

The best answer I have found for this is the concept of tendency to self-actualization. This concept, created by Kurt Goldstein in 1940, was much used later by the renowned psychologist Carl Rogers. The concept implies the existence of a basic force which drives the person on. This is obviously a belief but I believe in the existence of such a force, which results from other same-direction forces.

Do histories of humiliation lead to Shyness?

Generally they do. However, it may be that some factor will contribute in such a way that resentment, generated by humiliations—such as humiliating public spankings—may lead the person to a pathway away from Shyness. Example: It may lead one aggressive in contacts.

On the other hand, physical punishment, such as many maternal spankings, which breed no resentment nor are perceived as humiliating, may not generate Shyness. Likewise, a person may be shy without having ever undergone punishment.

Can Shyness be developed in silence?

Often the causes of Shyness are silent and invisible. There are situations which are silent yet visible to the attentive observer. Example: During the period when the self is formed and consolidated, the tendencies to self-actualization may be controlled by the manipulation of feelings. Everyone has heard a parent say to a child something like "Be quiet and I will take you out later for a nice walk." Or someone says to a younger sibling he is jealous of "I won't let you play in this game because you are too soft." Or the brother will reply "No way, and you've got a big nose too!"


These situations deeply impact the self that is being formed. Some led the child to believe that she will be accepted only if she makes concessions. Others convey a message of rejection due to flaws and defects.


There is also a silent and practically invisible situation: when no value is accorded when the baby, the child or the teenager achieves something. This occurs in families that could be called "cold" or families in which the parents are not able to express feelings of joy at the day to day progress of their children. What happens to self-concept? The person does not consider what he is capable of. This makes him feel unequal vis a vis other persons.


Something similar takes place when parents fail to express love. The child does not develop a firm concept that she is loved. Later the child doubts that people can like her.


Although these examples are limited to family situations, much of what happens outside the home can influence the self-concept. What happens to the child in school echoes deeply in him, as does the treatment he receives from friends and classmates. Even the absence of such relations may bear on the self-concept , inasmuch as the child does not develop the ability or confidence to deal with others.


There are examples in which the self-concept is compromised and brings about the onset of Shyness without third-party interference. Let us take some cases of essential tremors (a.k.a. benign essential tremor or familial tremors or simply essential tremor). Their genetic nature may lead to the onset of tremor, especially hand tremors in childhood. The inconveniences, limitations and interpretations of what "nervous" is, coupled with the difference that the child perceives vis a vis other people, may lead to self depreciation and avoidant behaviors. Any other problem or physical limitation may end up in the same process.


Read more about the importance of self-concept and the concept of the other upon us in the Shyness process.

Does Shyness increase with the passing of time?

In some cases it does. Example: A shy person can be so ashamed of her Shyness that she begins to avoid contact. In such a case, Shyness becomes its own secondary cause, in a re-feeding process.


Shyness can also increase for little known reasons and take on annihilating proportions. At this time and stage of our knowledge, no one can rule out the contribution of some constitutional or genetic factor, which makes the evolution unpredictable.


In most cases, stabilization sets in at the start of adult life. The person develops adaptation mechanisms that reduce suffering. Example: If it is painful for the person to make contact with unknown people, she can adjust herself to a type of work in which there is little such contact or in which she is surrounded by safety elements.

Can Shyness influence the choice of work?

Yes. In general, it does. The shy person tends to choose work that limits the number of people that he will deal with or that provides safety.

Example: As a professor of Psychotherapy Theories and Techniques, I saw some shy people choosing to become psychotherapists. The psychotherapist - client interface presents favorable peculiarities to these people, namely:
* the relationship is previously characterized by granting greater power to the therapist;
* both parties expect the therapist to establish the relationship rules;
* the emotionally-fragile client seeks help;
* characterized by intimacy, the relationship reduces even more the threat to the therapist;
* a quiet laconic therapist provides more room and security for the client to speak;
* a trained-to-listen therapist decreases the usual discomfort the shy person feels when in contact with other listeners.

Thus, acting in protect himself, the shy person tends to limit contacts.

However, in some cases, the choice is, on the contrary, in favor of work with greater exposure. This process, referred to by some psychologists and psychiatrists as a reaction formation, is powered by the challenge to the threat of that situation.

What are the Shyness types?

There is no satisfactory description of types of Shyness. Shyness is not a technical term and, thus, has not been the object of enough controlled and systematized studies. It is not included in psychopathology as such. Its manifestations fit here and there as expressions of inner dynamics or of a process, explained according to several theories of personality.

Only two very well characterized situations are described in the International Disease Classification, in the Chapter on Mental and Behavior Disorders: Social Phobia / Social Anxiety Disorder and Avoidance Personality Disorder. They are included there not as Shyness types. However, many professionals regard them as more serious forms of Shyness.

The other situations display varied shades ranging, for instance, from a mild tension when speaking in a small group of people to noticeable inhibition, most cases occurring at a moderate level.

The difficulties plaguing the vast majority are not enough to distinguish these people from the average individual in the population. Given their large numbers, they contribute to form the psychological profile of the average person in the population.

Can Shyness be cured?

The Shyness process can be modified; that is, Shyness can be overcome. It is improper to speak of Shyness being cured because it is not a disease. Even in those cases already mentioned and classified as disease, I see overcoming Shyness as a process, even if the sufferer benefits from medication to control anxiety attacks. A psychological process can be modified, provided that certain variables in the person's life are introduced. Psychotherapists are trained to do it.


In my own experience of nearly four decades as a psychotherapist, the successful process is one which brings consistent changes to the self-concept.

Is a shy person insecure?

Not always is a shy person insecure. I do not like the term "insecurity" because it is vague and can be described in several different ways. In spite of that, it can be said that a certain shy person appears insecure in some situations. Another one becomes temporarily insecure in some situations. Yet another feels a discomfort so mild that it cannot be labeled as insecurity. Another individual is extremely confident and efficient in many areas and is disturbed only in certain interpersonal contacts. Another person has the impression that sometimes the world is crashing down upon her.

May, 2004.

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This web site, the Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness Directory and these articles contained on this web site are not solicitations, are not medical advice and are not intended as medical advice. This web site, the Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness Directory and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific medical information and are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topics discussed. This web site, the Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness Directory and these articles do not create any physician-client relationship between Ruy Miranda and you, and they do not replace the eventual relationship between you and your physician, psychologist, or other healthcare professional. This article’s author recommends no particular medication and does not represent the interests of any person, company or pharmaceutical laboratory.

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You may want to read other articles on Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia and Shyness:

What Is Shyness? Fear, Anxiety, Anguish?

Questions and Answers on Shyness

Humiliation Stories, School Spankings: Examples of Shyness Causes

Social Phobia / Anxiety Disorder: Differential Diagnosis

Self-Concept/Self- Actualization – Shyness Nucleus 

Social Anxiety Disorder: What It Is, The Anxiety Attack Symptoms  

Social Anxiety Attacks: Incidence, Onset, History, Evolution

Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder: Neurophysiological Approach 

Social Phobia / Anxiety Disorder: Treatment 

Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder:Medication Action 

Avoidant Personality Disorder 

Why Self-Help in Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia Doesn’t Help You 

Self-concept, Body Image, Self-depreciation and Shyness 

Medications in Social Phobia: Side Effects - Part 1

Antidepressants Tricyclics: Side Effects - Part 2  


Metabolic Pathways Individual Differences and Medications Side Effects - Part 3


Genetic Changes: Medications Side Effects - Part 4


First Line Antidepressants - Side Effects - Part 5


Social Anxiety Medication Information


Panic Disorder, Shyness, Social Phobia - Differences


Facial Blushing, Redness of the Face, Ears and Neck


Psychoses, Shyness and Social Phobia

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