Why Are People Shy?
So a lot of the time when I talk about overcoming shyness I talk about first understanding it. So how about we start from the start and answer the question why are people shy?
First of all I just want to clear this up. People are not just ‘shy’. Are you shy around your family and best friend? Probably not. You might be shy around strangers or large group but that narrows it down – you’re shy in certain situations. So rather than taring the entire idea with ‘you’re shy because you’re a shy person’ lets actually look at a common situation where you might feel shy.
Here’s a common one – talking to a stranger.
Now some people might not think anything of this. It’ll be second nature and some will even talk to a stranger the same as they would with an old friend. But it’s a common situation to feel shy in.
Now you find yourself talking to this stranger – why do you feel shy?
We get into this in far more depth in our how to overcome shyness training course but it’s basically your caveman brain. It’s a little useless these days but try telling it that. The outdated, outmoded part of your brain is still trying to protect you like you’re living in a tree at threat from the dominant alpha dog if you act out. Next time you’re at the zoo you might see a monkey bending over and raising a hand to the dominant alpha male. It’s surprisingly similar to that because evolution just hasn’t caught up to civilization that way. We still think there’s a threat so we better not draw attention to ourselves.
Feeling shy is the lower levels of your brain trying to protect you from a perceived threat. So for some reason the lower level of your brain is interpreting this situation as a threat and it’s because you feel inferior somehow to this person. You might have noticed this yourself but sometimes you don’t have a problem talking with some people while you have problems talking to others. Commonly this happens when talking to someone you find attractive but it can actually happen with anyone.
If you’re focusing too much on what this person might think of what you say or do then you’ll generally find yourself struggling to communicate properly. You might struggle to avoid eye contact, you might start mumbling when talking or even panic and seize up entirely.
So you feel shy because your brain is registering your current situation as a threat and wants to get you out of there. But why is it registering it as a threat in the first place?
Well there was a study out a while ago (I’ve actually linked to it somewhere before but I can’t seem to find the link at the moment) which showed a pattern for shyness to be more prevalent for some people. So part of it is down to genetics and some people are born with a higher likelihood for it – but that’s not why people are shy.
Whether you were born genetically predisposed for shyness or not. If you feel shy in situations then it’s because, at some point during your life, you have learned that it’s a situation to worry about. You’ve learned it through social learning and the lower levels of your brain just remember that perceived threat and want to get you away from it.
It seems people commonly assume this happens during your childhood but actually it can affect you at any point during your life. I know plenty of people that were complete extroverts as children but became shyer later in life. It’s hard to determine exactly it happened because it’s usually slowly over time.
It can also be easily affected by self esteem problems. In the how to be more social guide I took a closer look at how self esteem issues can affect you and how you can get started to overcome them.
Survival in Evolution
Studies have shown that the same kind of personality present in shy humans is present in various other species from penguins to fruit flies. In this case though it doesn’t affect them going to parties or making friends – it a matter of who jumps in first. The shyer animal introverts will tend to use their brains rather than their limbs.
The extroverts will dive straight in and hope for the best while the introverts will think it through or wait for others to go in first and see if it’s safe. From a survival standpoint the introverts are at an evolutionary advantage here because, while they might be last to the food, they’re going to get eaten a lot less often.
So you might be the type of penguin who is not going to dive into the water first – but that does not mean you have to feel shy. I don’t know if it’s possible to remove this genetic predisposition for survival. I don’t even know if I’d want to if it was. But it’s certainly possible to overcome shyness.
When looking at why are people shy – we’ve found the root of your shyness. At some point you were extroverted and ‘exposed’ being active or social – and it was met with a negative response. Probably on more than one occasion. Perhaps you’re focusing too much on something which you think everyone else see’s the same way and you can’t get past that.