Surmounting Shyness

Photo by Pierre Guinoiseau – – For illustration only

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Reader’s Question

Is it normal to still be painfully shy at almost 40? I have not many friends and live with my two kids. At the office many of my colleagues have very little to do with me, and I tend to keep to myself a lot, as I get really nervous when I’m around too many of them at once. I avoid meetings and social gatherings in general since I sometimes just don’t know how to make small talk (which I also find to be a waste of time anyway). I’m also a bit boring, when i have no social life, and I’m also aware that I generally look very nervous, awkward and stupid. I sometimes get very depressed and anxious on Sunday afternoons as I realize that on Monday it’s back again to work again.

I would also like to meet someone new and start a relationship, but I have no idea how to go about carrying it out. I feel like I’m emotionally underdeveloped; I think I become a school girl. I also feel very inferior incomparison to my peers who have well-adjusted families and active social lives. I often wish that I could be more like them. I feel really lonely sometimes. I just don’t understand what to do with myself at this point within my life, and I feel myself becoming more and more reclusive and depressed. I know that I need to move out and interact with people, but I don’t know how/where to start and how to get it done without appearing fake and nervous and stupid. I merely don’t know what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

To answer your first question, yes, shyness is really a common personality trait and is normal, no matter what age. In some cultures, shyness sometimes appears as a positive trait — but because Western culture is very outgoing, it can be difficult to feel as if others experience shyness as well. It’s also very normal to wish to have one or two close friends, or to have deeper conversation with anyone rather than making small talk to acquaintances. Some individuals find it useful to know that others are such as this, and that a construct called Introversion (from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, MBTI ) exists. Individuals who score higher on the Introversion (rather than Extraversion ) end of the scale frequently feel drained if they need to interact with many people or make small talk — they tend to get their energy from their own thoughts and some ideas and can become easily overrun at parties or other large social gatherings. Some introverted individuals are also very sensitive, and find support in books such as The Highly Sensitive Person [ Amazon-US | Amazon-UK ] by Elaine Aron, PhD.

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From what you’ve described, it sounds like you have some successful relationships — having had two kiddies, having some friends, and being able to work in an work place. You were able to form those relationships before, and I wonder whether anything could have changed in your life since then.

I can understand how difficult it can feel when the dread and fear set in when approaching situations that create worry and nervousness. If the worry is significantly interfering with your social, work, as well as other important areas, then it might be helpful to find a licensed mental health professional to rule out Social Panic attacks and to help with increasing your relaxation response in social situations. They are able to also help explore the thoughts that are creating more worry (such as “I look nervous, awkward and stupid” ) and the a few ideas that follow (which, for instance , might be, “no one wants to be friends with me, ” “others are just being nice in my experience because they have to be, ” or “everyone’s looking at me and judging me” ). A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can help better sort through these thoughts and feelings and support you in finding ways to reach your goals for connection with others.

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All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by Dr Elizabeth Chamberlain, PhD on and last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on.

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