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Shyness is a personality trait that produces behaviors ranging from feeling uncomfortable at a party to an extreme fear of being watched by others while talking on the telephone.


Shyness affects people of all ages. A toddler might run from strangers and cling to her parents. While kindergarten is frightening for many children; some students are anxious about the first day of school until they graduate from college. Job interviews are stressful for people uncomfortable talking about themselves. For some people, feelings of self-worth are related to their careers. Retirement may bring feelings of lower self-esteem.
Shyness is linked to brain activity, how a person was raised and other experiences, and the person's reaction to those experiences.

Social phobia

Extreme shyness is sometimes referred to as a social phobia. Also known as social anxiety disorder, a social phobia is a psychiatric condition defined as a "marked and persistent fear" of some situations. The shy person continues to go on job interviews. Social phobia may cause a person to remain unemployed, according to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA). True social phobia affects about 3% of people.


The introvert enjoy being alone and intentionally avoids situations like a party. The shy person wants to be around people. However, shyness is stronger than the desire to be sociable. The shy person is afraid to go to the party and stays home alone.

Causes and symptoms

Temperament is related to the amygdala, the part of the brain related to emotions and new situations. The amygdala evaluates new situations based on memories of past experiences. If the new situation appears threatening, the amygdala sends a warning signal. The amygdala in a shy person is extremely sensitive and much more active than that of an outgoing person. The increased activity causes the person to withdraw either physically or emotionally. This withdrawal is known as inhibition.
The baby runs from strangers; the job applicant laughs nervously when talking about his accomplishments. Brain activity is one component of shyness. Environment also plays a role. If the inhibited child has outgoing, nurturing parents, she will probably imitate their behavior. If parents and teachers are mocking and critical, a child may have a lifelong fear of the first day of school. A person with that background may compare himself with others and feel they are more capable than he is. The person embarrassed in a job interview could become anxious in future interviews.
At the root of shyness is a feeling of self-consciousness. This may cause the person to blush, tense up, or start sweating. Those are some reactions caused when the brain signals its warning. The person may avoid eye contact, look down, become very quiet, or fumble over words.
Symptoms vary because there are degrees of shyness. A person might be very quiet when meeting new people, but then become talkative when she feels comfortable with them. The jobseeker may not be afraid of social gatherings.

Social phobia

Social phobia causes an extreme fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in front of people, according to the according to the NMHA. It may be connected to low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority. The phobic is not fearful in all situations and may feel comfortable around people in most of the time.
However, social phobias have caused people to drop out of school, avoid making friends, and keep away from other fear-provoking situations. Phobic fears range from speaking in pubic and dating to using public restrooms or writing when other people are present.
According to the NMHA, phobic may feel that everyone is looking at them, A trivial mistake is regarded as much more serious, and blushing is painfully embarrassing. Social phobia is frequently accompanied by depression or substance abuse.


In many cases, adults realize they are shy. In a sense they have diagnosed themselves, and may take steps to overcome their shyness. Teen-agers may also try to remedy their situations.
Adults and youths may buy self-help books or take classes on subjects like overcoming shyness and assertiveness training. These classes may be taught by counselors, psychologists, or people with experience conquering shyness. Health-care providers often schedule these classes. They are also taught in settings ranging from adult schools to social service agencies. Costs will vary at these classes.
Children may not know there are treatment solutions for their shyness. Parents and educators should be alert for symptoms of shyness in younger children. Schools and family resource centers can provide referrals if it appears counseling want their child diagnosed.

Medical diagnosis

Based on the child's circumstances, parents may take the child to their health care provider. Some insurance plans require an appointment with a doctor before a referral to a counselor or a psychologist. The health professional conducts an assessment and then recommends treatment.
Children and adults may need medical treatment for social phobia. The adult's diagnosis also starts with a medical exam to determine if there is a physical cause for symptoms. If that has been ruled out, the patient undergoes a psychiatric evaluation.
Diagnostic fees and the time allocated for evaluation vary for both shy and phobic people. Diagnosis could span several hour-long sessions that cover an initial evaluation, personality tests, and a meeting to set therapy goals. Each session could cost around $90. Insurance may cover part of the costs.


Shyness treatment concentrates on changing behavior so the person feels more at ease in shyness-provoking situations. The person may be guided by a self-help book or participate in individual or group therapy.
Books and therapy generally focus on behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. One method of behavioral therapy is to expose the person to the situation that triggers fear. This could start with rehearsing a job interview with a friend or making eye contact with a store clerk. Over time, the person goes on interviews to get experience rather than to be hired. Another person might move from eye contact to attending an enjoyable event like a concert to become more at ease around strangers.
Therapy also focuses on developing skills to cope in new situation. These include taking deep breaths to relax and practicing small talk. Cognitive-therapy helps the person learn how thinking patterns contribute to symptoms, according to NMHA. The person is taught techniques to change those thoughts or stop symptoms. This association maintains this therapy is very effective for people with social phobias.
Treatment costs very from the price of a self-help book to the fees for therapy. Therapy sessions may be led by a licensed marriage and family counselor, a psychologist or psychiatrist. The cost of group therapy is for is generally an hourly fee, with therapy planned for a set time. The therapist might charge $80 an hour for a social phobia group that meets three hours a week for 16 weeks.
Treatment may include medication. Prescription drugs like Paxil (paroxetine) are generally only prescribed to people with social anxiety disorders. Paxil is prescribed for depression and other mood disorders. The patient takes one tablet daily. Costs will vary, and a 30-day order could be priced at $74 to $84.
Insurance may cover part of the costs of therapy and medicine.

Alternative treatment

Alternative treatments for shyness focus on symptoms like tension and stress. Relaxation tapes and CDs guide the listener through a series of actions to relieve tension. The activity starts with deep breathing and then the person progressively focuses on the head and different parts of the body. The exercise may start with the head, neck, shoulders, moving down to the one foot and then the other. Some techniques involve tightly tensing and then releasing each part. Another method is to concentrate on relaxing each part or imagine that it becomes warm.
Another self-treatment is aromatherapy. Lavender is a relaxing scent and is available in liquid form as an essential oil. Stress can be relieved by adding oil to a bath. Some people carry the oil with them. If they become anxious, the people can dab the oil on a cotton pad. They breathe in the lavender and feel calmer.


Shyness may not be a permanent. Children often outgrow shyness. Behavioral changes and therapy can help people feel more at ease. Furthermore, some aspects of shyness are positive. Shy people are frequently good listeners and are empathetic, aware of others' feelings.


Shyness is a personality trait related to a person's biology and experiences. The part of shyness related to the brain cannot be changed. However, parents can provide a nurturing environment that helps prevent shyness. This will provide the child with a healthy mental attitude that helps prevent shyness. When faced with situations that could cause self-defeating shyness, children will have coping skills.
According to the National Mental Health Association, the basics of good mental health for children include:
  • A family that provides unconditional love not related on accomplishments.
  • Nurturing self-confidence and high self-esteem by praising children. Methods include encouraging a child to learn a new game. The parents should set realistic goals, assure children, and smile frequently. Parents should avoid sarcastic remarks, set realistic goals and let children know that all people make mistakes.
  • Playing with other children helps the young learn how to develop friendships and problem-solving skills.
  • Emphasizing that school is fun. Parents can play school with their child to demonstrate that learning is enjoyable. Enrolling children in preschool or children's programs allows them to learn, be creative, and develop social skills.
  • When disciplining, parents should criticize the behavior, rather than berating the child.

Shyness prevention and adults

For adults prone to shyness, the issue is related more to treatment than prevention. Shyness for these people has probably been an issue, one that surfaces at various times in their lives. A move, a death in the family, job loss, and other unsettling changes could cause emotions that include the fear associated with shyness.
In some circumstances, the person must go through the grieving process. In other situations, the person needs to do things that build self-confidence. Like the child, the adult needs a support system. A network of friends helps with encouragement and listens to the person's concerns.
To combat the avoidance symptom caused by shyness, the person should look into enjoyable pursuits. Recreational activities like walking groups combine physical exercise with the opportunity to socialize. Enrolling in a class at an adult school or community college provides the opportunity to learn and make new friends. Class topics range from upholstery to mystery book discussions. Classes like these can boost confidence as a person learns a hands-on skill or discovers that other mystery readers value her or his opinion.



Carducci, Bernardo. "Shyness: the New Solution." Psychology Today January/February 2000 [cited April 5, 2005].


American Psychological Association.750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. 800-374-2721.
National Mental Health Association. 2001 N. Beauregard Street, 12th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22311. 703-684-7722.
Shyness Research Institute. 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany, IN 47150. 812-941-2295.


Jaret, Peter. "Is Shyness a Mental Disorder?" WebMD Feature. April 10, 2000 [cited April 5, 2005].
Painful Shyness in Children and Adults American Psychological Association pamphlet. [cited April 5, 2005].
Shy Child, Shy Adult. WebMD: Science, June 20, 2003: News release, American Association for the Advancement of Science. [cited April 5, 2005].
Putting Shyness in the Spotlight. Teens Health. April 2004 [cited April 1, 2005].
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Timidity, esp. in an unfamiliar setting or when encountering strangers. It cannot be classed as abnormal unless it interferes with activities essential to employment or interpersonal relations. See: social phobia.
Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners
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