Overcoming Shyness

By Neil Clark Warren

Overcoming Shyness

Did you know that for many people, shyness is the number one obstacle they have in their dating life? Imagine: they have lots of offers from attractive people, they live in an area where there are dozens of dating activities to enjoy, they can afford to date, and they have the free time. Yet their overwhelming shyness still makes is impossible for them to date without great pain. It is a common problem, and a very sad one.

If you are one of these unfortunate people, this series of articles is going to help you overcome the problem. You should know that when I was young I was shy, so I have a lot of empathy for what you’re going through yourself. The whole idea is to overcome that set of frustrating fears that currently have you kind of mired in an anxious, shy place.

If your shyness is currently keeping you from dating or is making dating a painful ordeal, I want you to consider getting five to ten sessions of counseling with a therapist who has a great reputation for helping people.

For this particular problem, I recommend that you not be in therapy for longer than five or ten sessions. I just want you to see someone long enough for you to investigate the roots of your shyness. I want this therapist to be the kind of person who can give you ideas and who can help you develop a plan for overcoming your shyness.

Overcoming shyness always requires courage. You need the encouragement of a person who is there as your coach. They give you encouragement and then they redefine the plan so that you know what the next step is for you to take.

Practice dating with someone who is not a potential partner for you.

This can be your cousin or your sister or your old friend—somebody that you like. I suggest you go right through the whole rigmarole–call for a date with this person, where they play like they are a potential dating partner and you ask them out. You pick them up at their home; take them out to the car and to a show. It won’t matter who it is, you’ll get some laughs from it. You need just that practice. As you practice doing these things, you feel more and surer of yourself. As the shyness begins to subside you will no longer feel quite the same intensity of anxiety.

Engage in something called “systematic desensitization.”

Now that’s a big long term, systematic desensitization. What am I talking about? The theory is to pair up, in your mind, a very relaxed body and a vision or thought of the thing you fear so much. I want to get you as relaxed as I can physically, and then I want you to think about the thing you fear so much.

Here’s what I would do if you came to me. I would put you through a program called the Jacobsen relaxation technique – I would start with your hands. I would have you fold up your hands into two fists as tightly as you can and to hold the tightness for a while and to consider what it felt like with your hands being so tight and then I would have you just relax your hands and stretch your fingers out. And then I would move eventually to your forearms. I would have you hold you forearms in a way that allows you to feel a lot of tension in your forearms. And so on throughout your entire body.

Once I got you through this process of being relaxed, I would begin to introduce to you the whole dating situation and I would start from the part of the dating situation that is least tension-producing for you. I would keep you relaxed all along the way.

Now I want you to think about the type of person that maybe you would want to date sometime. You would think about this person and I would urge you to stay relaxed and eventually I would move you all the way through the hierarchy getting up into the place where now you’re actually thinking about going to the telephone and calling a person. Eventually you’ll go through the whole date in your mind but with your body totally relaxed.

Deal with your shyness by doing what you need to do about feeling good about yourself.

Some people are shy because they feel inadequate within themselves. When I ask them, “What do you feel inadequate about?” They say “Well, you know, I weigh too much. I’m just overweight.” I say to them, “Look, if we’re going to deal with your shyness, we need to deal with your weight problem. We need to mobilize your will to get started dealing with your weight.” If you’re a person who’s shy it’s probably because you don’t feel very good about yourself. If you don’t feel very good about yourself, there are reasons that you don’t feel very good about yourself. We want to attack those reasons. We want to eliminate them so that you can start feeling better about yourself. The second you start feeling better about yourself, your shyness will reduce.

Be around as many people as you can where the demands on you are absolutely minimal.

But I want to encourage you to be around them in a place where you feel better and better about your ability to manage the demands of relating to these people. For instance, if you can be in a group of people who are more than willing to carry the heavy burden of a conversation but at the same time allow room for you to talk when you feel the need, then that will provide you the opportunity to work progressively on your shyness in the interpersonal sphere.

What kinds of groups are there like this? Well, there are book clubs that sometimes provide this kind of opportunity. There are bowling groups that are always looking for new people. There are softball teams that need individuals to fill in. You want to have situations in which you are in the interpersonal sphere but in which you do not put a heavy load on yourself.

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