It can seem like such a minor thing to label something as ‘shyness’. It makes it sound like it is no big deal. However, if we look at the missed opportunities and the loneliness and isolation that can come from shyness we can see that it is no minor thing. Shyness is a big and important issue.

I heard the other day that research has shown that shyness is on the increase. When we look at how we live our lives these days that is maybe not surprising.

In days of yore we would all have been members of a tribe, and our lives would have been a lot more public and lot less private. When something happened to a tribe member everyone else knew about it – with all the advantages and disadvantages of that! The good thing about being a member of a tribe is that our ways of interacting with other members of the tribe are usually clear and understood by all. Nowadays it is not so easy.

Of course, there is not point hankering back to the past. After all, if it had been all that great we might have stayed the same! The point is that as more and more of what goes in our lives is ‘private’ and this can reduce our ability to interact with each other in meaningful ways.

Social skills are exactly that – they are skills! A lack of any particular skill does not mean that there is anything wrong with us; it just means we need get the idea about how to do something and then practice to get good at it.

The problem with shyness is that we can build negative beliefs about ourselves based on that lack of skills. A shy person may end up having harsh and unkind judgments about themselves. Their fears and repeated ‘failures’ at making the kinds of connection with other people which they would like may lead them to believe that they are somehow deficient and this can make it even harder for them to reach out to others.

The problem with shyness is that it tends to be self-perpetuating unless we do specific things to break out of it. When we feel shy we proabably tend to hide. If we hide we don’t give ourselves that chance to learn the necessary skills to relate to others in public situations – so we can end up in a self-sustaining loop.

We may try to overcome shyness by becoming ‘aggressive’ or go overboard to be the life and soul of the party. This is an attempt to power our way out of the problem. This approach may help in some ways, but only if the person then learns to go beyond their ‘act’ and keep it in balance so that it is an authentic expression of their natural selves.

People who are very shy in public may be fine in one-on-one situations. Also, some ‘life and soul of the party’ types don’t do so well on one-on-one. The situations we feel confident in this usually comes from whatever mix of skills we have. It can be the case that people who are very confident in public have as hard a time with having intimate conversations as the shy person has in public situations. Some of us struggle to connect in both public and private situations. A lot depends on what set of skills we have got round to developing.

A certain amount of shyness can be attractive especially expressed as a shy smile. A shy smile has a message that goes like “I am willing to take a risk and let you know that I like you”. This can be very attractive as it shows friendliness, courage and charm all at the same time.

When we show that we are making an effort to get past shyness we will often find that people will go out of their way to respond encouragingly. Therefore there is no harm in coming across as a bit shy.

One thing I do suggest is make it easy for yourself to practice. Practice skills like eye contact with friends and relations (plus the person at the checkout counter) and not scare yourself too much in the beginning. Go easy and you’ll stay with it for the long haul.