To learn how to overcome shyness (this is the site which got me started and asked me to track my progress on a journal) you need to know where it comes from. In a recent University of California, Los Angeles study found that this negative social feedback activates the same area of the brain as when we feel pain. So, just like when you put your hand on the stove as a child and you learned very quickly not to do that again because of the pain, you can also start to avoid social situations that might result in the pain of disapproval. Trying to be confident is actually painful. Trying to be confident and the center of attention is now seen by a certain part of your mind as being a behavior that will result in you getting disapproval. Which is painful.
Here’s Social Learning in a nutshell: We are constantly looking at how other people react to what we do in order to figure out what is “good” behavior. What is the behavior that we should repeat in the future? What is the behavior that we are punished or rewarded for with disapproval or acceptance? Simple. And this happens ALL THE TIME. In every interaction that you have ever had, you have looked at other people’s reactions to what you are doing to see if it was “good”. And you don’t even know you were doing it 99% of the time. Everybody does this, subtly, subconsciously, and automatically.
“If Everyone Does This, Why Doesn’t Everyone Have Shyness?”
People with shyness are born with a genetic trait that makes them see other people’s responses with greater intensity than a regular person. It’s a specific type of sensitivity. In other words, other people’s disapproval does not have the same emotional impact on regular people as on people who eventually develop shyness. So a lot of negative reactions regular people get don’t register in their brain. This lets them seem to care a lot less about what other people around them think of them than people with social anxiety or shyness.
Okay, get it? So, because you saw negative reactions when you tried to be confident as a child, you slowly developed negative feelings to social situations. This is what made you become shy or socially anxious. In summary, your shyness was caused by a combination of you being genetically predisposed to developing the condition (increased sensitivity to other’s reactions), combined with being in the wrong place at the wrong time (getting disapproval to being confident).
In fact, one observation that a famous psychologist made was that people with shyness or social anxiety tended to be raised by someone who was negative, critical, and controlling of them while they
were growing up. Think about that… Was one of your parents or other authority figures very negative, critical and controlling of you when you were growing up? This can cause someone to develop excessive inhibition to avoid the negative criticism. You become shy to avoid “setting the person off”, so to speak.
I VERY often hear stories from people who tell me they only started to become socially anxious when they were bullied or excluded at some point in their life. Maybe their parents decided to move, and at the new school they didn’t fit in right away and felt not accepted. It’s another form of social learning. Another possible cause of your social anxiety could be learning by example – maybe you had parents or an older sibling that had SA growing up and you were just imitating their behavior.
Kids are generally wired to imitate others as they are growing up. You’ll even see this happening if you watch documentaries of wild animals raising their babies. Kids learn how to live and survive in the world
through copying and imitating the older people. So if everyone around you growing up was shy or socially withdrawn, then you may have been accidentally programmed that this is the “normal” way to live. Making outside friends and having a social life would be totally unknown territory to you, and therefore outside of your believed “realm of possibility”. Growing your social life and learning to overcome shyness is just a matter of learning what causes it and what you can do about it.