Life’s too short to be shy. Honestly, you don’t have the time. And I don’t buy the idea of embracing shyness, romanticizing it, and not acting to improve it. Instead, here are some actual helpful tips and advice on how to stop being shy. These ways have already helped me overcome my own shyness and social anxiety. And I will also share my own personal story around being bullied and overcoming shyness.
Related: What is honest self expression? (Tips on how you can practice it)
I’ve always wanted to write a comprehensive guide on this topic. Because I think it is so important. But first, I wanted and needed to overcome my own shyness and become the person I’ve always wanted to be, in order to give others good advice. Now, when I’ve done that, I feel that the things I’ll share here are actual, real, and useful advice to you, the reader; who may be experiencing the same feelings around shyness.
I sincerely hope that this will help you stop being shy, guide you, and make you feel less alone or weird for any thoughts or feelings you may have. Being shy is not fun, and it’s not your fault. It is so important to know that you absolutely can overcome it. You can definitely learn and challenge yourself to become a different version of you, one that you truly want to be in this life.
Why you should want to stop being shy
Shyness is by my definition a real limitation in life. It hinders your growth, your ability to be authentic, and to connect and build strong and valuable relationships with others.
If you are not able to do all of these things, what kind of life are you living? Is it really the best life you could be living while you’re alive? Because it all ends one day, and you only get this one chance.
To be in the prison of shyness; however light or extreme; is to involuntarily hide oneself. It is to live in a mental sort of isolation that hinders you from actually reaching your full potential as a human being.
And to live with so much anxiety and discomfort that it takes over your entire inner world when you don’t want to; isn’t that the definition of torture? It’s painful, it hurts, and it’s not a loving, expansive, and wonderful way of living. It may even hinder you from seeking and attaining true love, relationships, friendships, and achieving your utmost dreams and fantasies.
All of these things, you deserve. You deserve to be able to live freely, openly, joyfully, loved, inhibited, authentic, and on the best side of everything. And I believe that one of the absolute most important things you must do to get there, is to stop being shy and conquer low self esteem.
What is shyness?
TLDR; The definition of shyness is to be uncomfortable, apprehensive, or lack confidence around other people. Especially in regards to new people and situations. In extreme form it can show itself as social anxiety and phobia.
Official definitions of shyness:
“Nervous and uncomfortable with other people”Cambridge Dictionary
“Shyness is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort or awkwardness especially when a person is around other people. This commonly occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people; a shy person may simply opt out to avoid these situations. The primary defining characteristic of shyness is a fear of what other people will think of a person’s behavior”Wikipedia page on Shyness
- She didn’t go to the party because she was too anxious about social rejection. So, she missed out on making new awesome friends.
- He was too shy to voice his thoughts because he was afraid of being laughed at, humiliated, or criticized. So, instead, he held his tongue while recoiling on the inside for not speaking up for what he truly believed in.
- She felt anxiety before even going in front of the class to speak, and when she did, she did not deliver all the important messages that she really wanted to. It fell flat.
- He was too shy to approach him, even though he wanted to. And now, he lives with the regret of what he has not done.
In some cases, shyness may be seen as a personality trait, but it is perhaps more the ways in which a person handles situations that may take form as shyness, rather than shyness itself that is the personality trait.
Extreme shyness can also take the form of social anxiety and social phobia. (Which is what I had growing up).
Shyness vs introversion
Shyness is also not the same as introversion.
Introversion is a character trait that causes an individual to voluntarily avoid excessive social contact. But that action in introversion is not motivated by discomfort, apprehension or lack of confidence.
Many people confuse introversion with shyness, but it’s important to distinguish them. But this is not to say that someone who is shy can also be introverted, and vice versa.
You can definitely be highly introverted yet experience no shyness at all around other people. And you can be an extrovert (want, crave, and need social interaction), but feel too shy to let yourself experience it.
One connection between shyness and introversion that I can see is; perhaps by being highly introverted, you may voluntarily avoid social contact to such a degree that you lack the social conditioning needed to be able to fit in and act like everyone else. This may perhaps lead you to become alienated from peers, and thus experience being a social outcast; which over time could take a dent on your confidence and may cause shyness.
Personal story: Being bullied, developing social anxiety, and overcoming it
Now, let’s move onto my personal story of being different, becoming bullied, a social outcast, and then fighting the feelings of shyness and social anxiety. Lastly in this section, I’ll share the methods and actions I took to overcome that shyness and social anxiety, so that you can see how those actions are valuable.
Part 1: Being bullied
I wasn’t a shy child, but that changed when I began getting bullied for not fitting in. Between the ages of 10 to 16, I experienced myself as a social outcast in many ways, which in turn made me extremely shy and scared of other people’s opinions of me.
It began in fourth grade (10 years old), when I was the only full Asian immigrant in my class, which included me looking physically different and having a different cultural upbringing at home. I had a different hairstyle, wardrobe, values, and behavioral systems than the other children in my class. I was also chubbier and did not care for my appearance at all.
I did not understand why other girls were already wearing makeup and using expensive designer handbags. And there were so many social codes that I had not yet internalized or even thought about. I did not grow up in such an environment and my parents are extremely down-to-earth, humble, and authentic people who do not value superficial things. So, I was lost.
And, because I was different, I became an easy target for bullying. Soon, all the boys in my class were bullying me; nicknaming me a “bear” (probably because of my uncommon dark features and chubbiness). They chanted it in groups, kicked me out of the playground for being “too heavy”, and “accidentally” kept kicking hard balls towards my head. The girls in my class probably took it as a social sign to exclude me (all except a few really kind souls; one of whom is still my best friend to this day and whom I am so grateful for).
Part 2: Becoming shy & developing social anxiety
It was a very emotionally hard and draining time for me, it tore down my confidence and self-image to pieces. It was the first time in my life I experienced the want to die or to self-harm, just to feel something that could take away that feeling of deep pain and rejection I was experiencing (I ended up not doing any of that though, which I am very glad for today).
I felt worthless, different in a bad way, unloved, and I became super shy. I was extremely scared of talking in front of my class, of speaking up for myself, and of even other people seeing me.
I started dressing in big clothing to not draw any attention to myself; only hoodies, dark colors and always keeping my hair in front of my face to hide my face. I thought; If I didn’t get seen, they wouldn’t attack me as much. And they couldn’t make fun of my face if they didn’t see it.
The shyness I felt was based around the thoughts: I am not cool enough. I am not pretty and can never be. I am not loved. I am not accepted. I am not someone that other people look up to.
Then, over the years, I changed classes and schools a few times; but in many ways I kept being different. Although I did learn how to dress, act, and talk in order to fit in. And I was never an outcast again; I even got accepted by great friend groups, got invited to social events and parties, and dated a few guys who seemed to actually appreciate me.
But I existed with so much…
- Anxiety over the possibility of being bullied again
- Fear of other peoples negative opinions about me
- Worry that I wasn’t enough, that I was too fat, too ugly, never could be considered attractive because of my Asian features
Part 3: Overcoming shyness
By this point, I know other people didn’t see me as particularly shy or afraid. I know (have gotten told) that people thought of me as well-liked and socially active.
But I was sweating down my legs anytime I needed to talk to an unfamiliar person. I couldn’t answer the phone, and preferred texting instead. I talked quietly, didn’t like to speak in front of groups, and couldn’t even laugh freely or express freedom or pure happiness with my body language. And I especially didn’t want to do anything that made me visibly different, have attention on me, or stand out.
I was afraid of attending parties and felt like I would vomit from the anxiety of meeting a whole group of new and “cool” people. I was scared of wearing the dresses and doing my makeup the way I wanted to. But I did still go though. I still did everything I could to challenge myself, every time.
Which is the first method of getting over shyness:
- Do everything you can to challenge your fears and shyness.
Facing one’s fears is one of the most common ways of treating patients with phobias, including phobias around social acceptance and other people’s opinions of you.
I knew what I was afraid of, and I kept making myself do those things again and again. Because I knew that if I do it enough times, I will have taught my brain and body that I won’t die. It won’t kill me.
How to stop being shy
As just mentioned, the key to stop being shy is to challenge your fears, and do the things that you feel shy about.
Shyness often stems from
- Low self esteem and self-image (e.g. from past bullying or emotionally traumatic experiences)
- Lack of self-love (not seeing yourself in a loving and beautiful light)
- Learned behavior and thought patterns: You may have become used to being and acting shy and need to step out of those patterns. Reprogram your mind and behavior.
- Identifying yourself as a shy person; or someone who is afraid or can’t talk in front of people or to strangers. STOP characterizing yourself with those things. You are not those things, they are in the past, and they are only chemical reactions in your brain and learned patterns of behavior that you can step away from.
- How people around you are treating you. Look at your immediate surroundings, are there people who are pushing you down? Who is making you more insecure by their gazes, backhanded compliments or demeaning comments? This can affect your confidence and shyness a lot. Step away from these people; get rid of them if you have to. It may be someone unsuspecting; a close friend, a partner, a family member.
Methods to stop being shy + overcome shyness
Now when you know some of the most common reasons for being shy, and the things you need to start working on: let’s get going!
Look at your own areas or situations of weaknesses (shyness). In what situations do you feel shy? With what type of people? What can you do to challenge yourself to become comfortable in those situations?
Most often, to stop being shy, you need to:
- Practice doing something again and again (exposure)
- Move towards certain new behaviors, thought patterns, people, or environments
- Step away from certain situations, people, or contexts
To give some more practical general guidelines of overcoming shyness I’d say to:
1. Build up your self-esteem and confidence
Boost yourself up. Speak only kind and encouraging words to yourself, behave towards yourself as you would talk to your best friend whom you love and want to support and help grow as a person. Once you love yourself and truly see yourself in a good and positive light, a lot of shyness will fall away per default.
2. Let go of your old identity
Do not hold onto your identity as a shy person. Time does not exist and what has happened is no more. You are not the old you; for every passing second you are an entirely new you. Free to be, act, and show up in the world as you choose to in any particular moment. You are not held hostage by old happenings. There is only the now, and the future possibilities of who you could become.
3. Surround yourself with people who love themselves, are non-judgmental and open
Your social context affects your inner world a lot. By hanging out with people who are already where you want to be, you will be affected by association. You will be smitten by their way of being, and slowly learn to become that way too. And also, who doesn’t love to hang out with people like that?
4. Step away from people, beliefs, and environments that make you shy
Honestly, it’s not your fault if other people are treating you badly or demeaning.
Often, we get stuck in old behaviors because of our environments. Some of your old friends may consciously or unconsciously inhibit your growth as a person. So to move on, you may need to move on from those people as well. The same goes for everything in your immediate environment and context.
If you find your friends, family, or partner saying things like “but that’s not your”; you tell them: “Yes, it is me. Now, this is who I am and who I want to be. Either you accept me and support me, or I don’t think we are good for each other anymore.”
You have every right to defend your integrity.
5. Practice doing what you are afraid of (exposure)
If you’re scared of going to parties and talking to strangers, you should be doing exactly that; until you’re not scared anymore.
If you’re afraid of talking in groups, challenge yourself to do it. Crack jokes, ask questions, voice your opinion. Who cares what happens. Probably nothing. Probably good things. You’ll probably connect with other people more and they’ll probably start thinking that you’re a more interesting person now.
Are you afraid of dressing in the way you want to? Nah, DO IT! What are they gonna do? Kill you? They won’t. But you will feel better. You will feel more like you than you have ever before. It’s a great feeling! To be free and to be whomever you want to be!
6. Pretend you’re someone else
“Fake it til you make it”, it honestly works. Well, I don’t like to think that I’m being fake, more like, I’m just choosing another avatar to show up as in this world with. It’s like in games where you can choose your avatar with different appearance, clothing, personality, and skills. You can do that in real life as well. We humans are just animals, our social identities are so arbitrary; they only have the weight that we decide to give them.
Here are some examples of things I did in order to overcome my shyness and stop being shy:
- Forcing myself to talk in front of people. Often and frequently. This was to practice talking in front of a group and having other people pay attention to me.
- Voluntarily gave speeches in school and at work. I hated talking in front of people, probably more than most. But that’s exactly why I kept taking every possibility I could to do it. I was ashamed, scared, and criticized myself; but I still did it. Nowadays, I am great at public speaking. I’m not saying it to brag, it’s the truth. People have frequently come up to me after speeches in school or at work. This just goes to show how practice can make you great at anything; even the things that scare you the most.
- Forced myself to attend parties and other social events, where I was thrust into groups of unfamiliar faces OR with people who were very similar to those who used to bully me. It taught me that not everyone’s the same, and I don’t have to be afraid. I will survive this as well.
- Just do, act, and show up as the person I wanted to be. Even if it didn’t always feel “like me”, even if I knew it was “out of character”; I still chose to continuously do things that I dreamt of doing. This includes wearing what I wanted but was afraid of (for me it was: leather skirts, leather jackets, red lipstick, crop tops, my all-black style). It also includes the things I post on social media, the articles I publish, the jokes I chose to tell, and how I allow myself to dance and move my body in front of other people. Practice, practice, practice; until that behavior becomes the new “normal” you.
- Stepped away from limiting people (friends), environments and beliefs. I changed some friends, changed my environment, and changed many beliefs. Now I know I’m no longer the same person that I was, and it’s great and freeing.
I really do hope that this article can help you stop being shy. You can return to it whenever you want to, for a reminder or as a guide. You may not be able to implement all of the ideas or practices right away; it can take time, and that’s okay.
For me, this journey took me almost five years of active daily work to change how I saw myself and my place in relation to other people. But I did start feeling a difference as soon as I started making changes. I do still sometimes experience pangs of shyness or low-self esteem, especially on by lowest day, but I no longer see myself as shy. It’s not something that identifies me anymore or that dictates how I live my life. And I wish for you a change like this as well; if you’re battling with shyness.
Your journey to become the most free, open, authentic, and self-loving version of yourself may not be similar to mine. But I hope you manage what you want.
Wishing you all the best of luck! And I’m sending you much support.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Wow, this article feels just like home !
I’ve had the same issues with bullying at school and family issues, and it left big scars in me. Now at 23 and still pretty shy inside (I’m at the beginning of your part 3 where people can’t see the shyness outside but you’re still terrified inside when talking to other people), I’m trying to change for the better.
Your experience is the proof that it is possible and your article is so nice of a read. Love it !
Thank you! I’m so happy this article could speak to you! It sounds like you’re on a really good path to overcoming your shyness, keep going! Time passes so fast and before you know it, you’ll be so proud of yourself for the work you’ve done 🙂