How To Overcome Shyness And Learn How to Express Yourself
Updated September 21, 2018
Reviewer Lynne Healey, LMHC, QS, CAP, MPS
Meeting new people can be intimidating. You want to make sure you make a good first impression, you don't want to say anything that may offend them, and you don't want to be stuck in the awkward situation of staring at each other without knowing what to say. It is normal to feel shy on occasion, but sometimes this feeling can impair your ability to function normally in social situations.
Social Anxiety Disorder
When your shy demeanor begins to impair your ability to interact with others, you may have what is known as social anxiety disorder. Typical symptoms of social anxiety disorder are feelings of extreme self-consciousness, the belief that everyone is negatively judging you and avoidance of social situations. Those with social anxiety typically feel inadequate when interacting with others, which may lead to feelings of depression and humiliation.
Social anxiety can come in a variety of forms. It can be situation specific, such as feeling an extreme level of discomfort when speaking in front of a large group, or it can be a more general sense of discomfort in all social situations.
Do you feel uncomfortable in these situations?
- Having to interact with people at a party
- Meeting someone for the first time
- Having someone watch you as you are doing something
- Being asked a question on the spot
- Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another, whether a friend or a lover
- Having to speak on the phone
If you find yourself feeling high levels of anxiety while faced with any of these situations, you may have a social anxiety disorder. Typical physical symptoms of anxiety are:
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Upset stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
Learning More About Yourself
Why do you feel shy? Understanding the root of the problem is the first step to tackling it. While being introverted may be part of the reason, the problem may lie a little deeper than that.
Do you have problems with your self-image? Is your inner voice typically negative? Spend an afternoon focusing on the thoughts you have about yourself. If you find that they are mostly negative, start building up positive thoughts. Make a list of everything you like about yourself, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Whenever you find yourself having a negative thought, try to balance it with a positive one. When someone pays you a compliment, accept it rather than trying to disagree.
The second step to overcoming your shyness is accepting that you are shy. Try not to think of it as purely negative. Accept this part of yourself and understand that while you may never completely overcome this feeling, you can find ways to alleviate it in most situations. Try making a list of the social situations that make you feel uncomfortable, and ask yourself why they make you feel that way. For each situation on the list, try to visualize ways in which you could feel more confident.
Becoming More Comfortable in Social Situations
Overcoming shyness won't happen overnight, but there are a handful of steps you can take to begin to become more comfortable in social situations.
Fake it until you make it
If you spend your days trying to avoid social interaction, you'll find yourself stuck in a vicious circle. It may be intimidating at first, but the first step to getting over a social phobia is putting yourself into a social situation. This may be introducing yourself to one new person a day, calling a friend on the phone you haven't spoken with for years or participating in small talk with the cashier at the local supermarket.
Pick up a new hobby
Have you ever wanted to take up knitting? Join a sports team? Interested in trying your hand at painting? Take a class or join a club based on something you are interested in. This way, the hobby itself opens up an easy door of communication. Instead of racking your brains about what to say, you can speak about the sport or project you are working on.
When speaking with someone, speak with confidence. Hold yourself straight, maintain eye contact, and make sure to enunciate properly. Fidgeting with your hands, avoiding eye contact, or mumbling will only increase your feelings of inferiority. The more you practice speaking with confidence, the easier it will become. Acting as if you are confident will also help to trick your brain into believing you feel more confident.
Maintain a positive attitude
With social anxiety, there is often an underlying fear of being negatively judged by others; often, you can imagine a large number of negative outcomes of any social situation. Try to acknowledge this pattern and begin to imagine positive outcomes. Visualize yourself having an easy, lighthearted conversation with someone. Think about how it would feel to laugh with them, to share your thoughts, to have that person understand and appreciate your feelings. Every time you find yourself thinking of what could go wrong in a situation, try to turn that thought around and visualize ways it could go right.
Have conversations with yourself
Practice conversations before you have them. If you know you need to bring up an important matter to your boss, look at yourself in the mirror and say exactly what it is you need to say. You can even write it down first and read it out loud until you feel confident enough to speak to that person directly. Try to visualize ways in which they will respond, and come up with proper responses to every outcome. While you can't prepare yourself for every conversation, you will ever have, allowing yourself some practice time for more important ones will help boost your confidence.
You may find yourself slowly becoming more comfortable in social situations, but still, have trouble properly expressing yourself. Talking about the weather and current events is one thing, but talking about your fears, desires and own beliefs can be more intimidating. How can you bridge the gap between small talk and true, deep conversations?
Write it down
Sometimes it's easier to get your thoughts out on paper. Write down what makes you happy, what your goals are, what you believe in. Then take it a step further - write down why those things make you happy, why you have those goals, why you believe in those things. The more you understand about yourself, the easier it will be to express those thoughts and beliefs to others.
Reading will help you get a better idea of how people express themselves. Many situations and conversations in popular novels are similar to ones you will experience in everyday life. Reading also helps to expand your vocabulary, which will allow you to be more concise and eloquent when explaining your point of view.
Accept that everyone is different
Not everyone will agree with everything you say. That's okay! The beauty of conversation is allowing people to express their viewpoints while respecting the viewpoints of others. There are ways of disagreeing with people without belittling or offending them. The more you discuss your thoughts with others, the more you will open your mind to new ideas and ways of viewing the world. If you practice empathy and allow yourself to see a situation from another's point of view, they too will feel more accepted and confident about expressing their own beliefs and ideas.
One Step at a Time
Gaining more confidence in social situations takes time. Some days it may feel like you aren't making any progress, but every little step gets you closer to feeling more confident and being more eloquent. Treat every situation you encounter as a learning experience. If a conversation doesn't go the way, you want it to, consider ways in which you could make a similar situation better in the future.
And remember, you don't always need to please everyone! Only half of every conversation is under your control. When someone else is involved, it is impossible to determine exactly how they may react or respond. If someone disagrees with you or criticizes the way you choose to express yourself, remind yourself that there is nothing inherently wrong with you. Some people's personalities simply don't mesh with each other. Try not to take everything personally, and remember that it's okay to not agree with everyone all the time.
Start small and then gradually introduce yourself to more and more situations that make you feel uncomfortable and anxious. The more you practice, the easier it will become. If you find that you are unable to take the first steps, you may want to look into getting proper treatment for social anxiety disorder. The counselors at BetterHelp are trained professionals and can speak with you anonymously and confidentially to find the best course of action.