Dear Barb—Twice Shy

Do you ever wonder if your shyness is something more?

Dear Barb: 

I have always been a shy person, but, as I’m getting older, it seems to be getting worse.  I constantly feel uncomfortable in social situations unless I am with my immediate family.  When I was in school, if the teacher would call on me, I could barely speak out loud.  When it was time to do oral presentations, I would be stressed out for days before I had to speak.  I have never introduced myself to anyone and if I am introduced to a new person all I can do is utter a weak “hi.” Throughout my life my mother always excused my behaviour by explaining to others that I was just shy.  No big deal was ever made of it by my family.  It was just a consensus that “Marg is shy.” But now that I’m an adult, I really would like to overcome and become more social.  My best friend is the only person I really talk about this with and she says I might have social anxiety.  I have read a few books on overcoming shyness, but I can’t seem to put into practice what I read.  I don’t know where I could turn to for help, do you have any suggestions? Thanks, Marg. 

Hey Marg:

Thanks for sharing your situation.  I can understand that you have reached a point in your life where you want to be more outgoing.  The Social Anxiety Institute conducted an extensive study on the differences between shyness and social anxiety disorder.  The results of their findings confirm that shyness and social anxiety are two different things, however some of the symptoms do overlap.  A major difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder is that social anxiety disorder is not considered a normal personality characteristic, buy shyness is.  Individuals who are shy are often able to live a normal life and not feel held back by their situation.  They accept their shyness and do not see it as a negative trait.  Whereas people who suffer from social anxiety feel held back and unable to do the things they want to do.  From your letter it does seem like you feel held back and not able to participate in the activities you would like to.  Most likely you are an extrovert by nature, but you are not able to fully express yourself and live your life completely.  So you may be suffering from social anxiety disorder, rather than simple shyness.  Throughout the last 30 years there has been a significant increase in the number of individuals being diagnosed with this disorder, perhaps because more professionals are trained to identify the symptoms.  You can do a test online to find out where you fall on the spectrum.  Whatever the results are, you may want to follow up with your doctor, as he/she will be able to refer you for further counselling or put you in touch with a support group for shyness or social anxiety disorders.  Good luck Marg, and let us know how you make out.

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