top of page
  • carrie37513

Shyness - Befriending the Enemy

"Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?"
Abraham Lincoln

When we’re faced with something that causes us emotional distress, it’s only natural we want rid of it, and quickly. In such circumstances we develop coping mechanisms to either pull away from or push our source of discomfort away. All too easily we become embroiled in a battle with it and when this happens, the harder we fight, the harder our opponent fights back.

I know first-hand how difficult being shy can be. Being in the company of others was excruciating – I felt self-conscious, embarrassed, awkward and anxious. To alleviate those feelings I adopted various strategies which manifested in various ways but in generally fell into following categories:

Escape – leaving situations as quickly as possible or conversely, turning up as late as possible to minimise time spent there - I took the term fashionably late to a whole new level!

Avoid – making excuses or simply declining invitations. If neither option was viable I would find ways to make it seem I was participating when in actual fact I was side stepping the event e.g. at parties, the one place you’d be sure to find me was in the kitchen being oh so helpful in doing the washing up.

Hide – hiding came in various guises. I would hide behind other people and let

them do all the talking as well as physically hiding in the background e.g. always sitting at the back, hiding in clothing (scarves, polo neck jumpers, dark colours….) and always looking down to avoid eye contact.

Pretendwhen none of the above were an option, I would try and pretend everything was ok and style it out. I remember vividly sitting in a circle at secondary school during drama class one day, dreading my turn at standing out front and reading a part aloud. As my turn came ever closer I’d resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t escape and thought I was putting on a good front until the teacher said ‘we’ll skip past you Carrie as I can see you’re terrified’. So much for my acting skills!!!

I spent years wishing my shyness away. I’d deployed every tactic I could to get rid of it but all to no avail. If fighting against shyness wasn’t working, it hadn’t made any difference what else was there?

Self-Rejection V Self-Acceptance

With self-rejection, shame, “shoulds”, “musts” and “have to’s” fuel our efforts to change. A demand has to be met, a commitment is made and we feel the resulting tension. Struggle and overcoming became my narrative; Messages from peers (implicit and explicit) and my internal critic were telling me that I ‘should’ stop being shy however this only served to create internal tension and further exacerbated my distress.

With self-acceptance, noticing our actual lived experience whilst affording ourselves self-compassion are the foundation. By not engaging with the ‘should’ and accepting where I was brought relief rather than tension, a sense of feeling good enough and hence and an openness about developing my capabilities.

Why do we so often take the path of self-rejection? Because our mind tells us self-acceptance means reinforcing our weaknesses, and that real change can’t happen unless we purge ourselves of those weaknesses in order to become some other version of ourselves that we want to become.

I’m shy, it’s part of who I am so by trying to rid myself of it I was coming from a place of self-rejection. That clearly hadn’t worked so I figured maybe that’s what needed to change for the change that I wanted to happen. Rather than reject my shyness, I needed to accept it, to befriend it.

What does befriending Shyness look like?

I’m afraid there isn’t one quick answer. It’s a blend of behavioural, cognitive and emotional shifts which together become a powerful tool with which to disarm our opponent and take its potency away.

Rather like making tea, befriending shyness will look different for each of us. There are of course commonalities but we will all have our own unique background, narrative and experiences.

Take the simple act of brewing a cup of tea. We’ll all see it as a cup of tea however the ingredients can differ vastly. Commonalities will be ‘a tea’ of some variety, a vessel to drink it from and a liquid in which to steep the tea. Aside from that, it’s open to interpretation……

· Vessel – cup or mug?

· Tea – leaf or bag?

· Flavour –Black, Green, White, Fruit, Herbal, Caffeine free, Chai, Oolong

· Temperature – hot or cold?

· Sweetener – none, low calorie sweetener, sugar

· Sugar – brown, white, sugar lumps, granulated

Befriending shyness for me in simple terms was thinking differently, interacting with myself differently and changing my behaviours. My key points were:

Be Authentic:

For so long I wished I could be like others but when I sat and thought about it, I realised I didn’t. What I actually wanted was to feel more confident in myself. Keeping my attention external and fixating on what others were doing was never going to achieve that, I needed to turn my attention inwards and work on me. And what’s the point in trying to be someone else anyway, they’re already taken!

Not just shy:

Realising that shyness is just a small part of me; there’s so much more to me than that. Also realising I’m not shy all the time, once I’ve had a little time to settle and gotten to know people, I’m actually an extrovert who thrives on being in the company of others – who knew!


Shyness brings with it negative connotations. Our society typically prizes those who are deemed ‘go getters’ but as the saying goes, there’s two sides to every coin. Sure I was reserved but that also means I was a good listener.

Being shy also lends itself to my being conscientious, careful, observant, empathic, perceptive, self-sufficient, studious, methodical, imaginative, reliable, loyal, inquisitive, polite, attentive, resilient..….. It’s not about shouting it from the rooftops, I’m shy remember!!! But I do ‘hold it’ quietly within by way of reminding myself that shyness is not all bad as I used to think.

Fact not fiction:

Understanding how common shyness is. Over 50% of the population are shy so contrary to what I believed, I came to understand it wasn’t just me. I wasn’t’ ‘faulty’ and it’s really common but of course I wouldn’t have known that as us shy ones don’t like to talk about it!

Just knowing this was so helpful and it became a gateway to my sharing with others when I felt shy. When I spot someone I sense is feeling uncomfortable, I actively share I’m feeling shy and nervous it still makes me smile to see relief on their faces and hear them saying ‘Oh you too…’


Rather than berating myself when feeling shy, I practised being kinder to myself. I wrote down how I would treat a friend in distress and started to afford that kindness to myself. Instead of chastising myself for being shy, I changed my internal language to words of encouragement, telling myself how well I was doing. Rather than berating myself for not having done well, I started to acknowledge and celebrate my wins, no matter how small they were. Shyness had afforded me sensitivity, patience and empathy with others yet I wasn’t offering that to myself, it was time to change that.

Inner Critic:

We all have an internal dialogue – rather than mine being a cheerleader, it loved to criticise. Just because we hear something, does it mean it’s true? No of course not, but I realised that’s what had been happening with my inner critic and I’d been believing it for far too long.

If I were to overcome shyness that needed to change, so instead I stopped engaging with it and just let it be. I practised letting the negative voice just be whilst getting up and doing something else despite it. Of course it wasn’t as easy as it sounds on paper but by making a conscious choice not to engage with it, before too long my inner critic got bored and stopped shouting so much – no point, I wasn’t listening.

Don’t React, Respond:

Changing behaviours - or practising my ‘social fitness’ as I like to call it was a key component in accepting and befriending shyness. It makes complete sense when you think about it because how can we get to know and make friends with someone if we keep avoiding them or running away from them?!

I’d always been keen on physical fitness and felt the benefits of my efforts, so I viewed befriending my shyness as another workout or, if exercise is not your thing, treating it like a job i.e. to get the job done and get results, you’ve got to do the work. My years of wishing like I was everyone else wasn’t the kind of effort that was needed here.

Having continually ‘shy’d away from people and situations, my ‘social muscles’ were weak. I drew up a social fitness plan to give them a workout and strengthen them, step by step, ensuring to push but not overwhelm myself. Utilising calming techniques I’d learned when needed, I would gently push myself to engage in situations I’d previously avoided and as I continued to work out in this was social muscles (my confidence) grew.


When we don’t identify with parts of our lived experience, inner conflict is created and we are less able to direct our own resources toward change.

Ironically, it was by accepting and embracing shyness, the very thing that I’d fought so hard against over the years that was the game changer! I’m shy – so what – so are millions of other people. I may sometimes feel nervous and may blush – so what – it’s normal and shows my nervous system is working. I’ve not only befriended my shyness. I even defend it now because of all the great qualities it affords me.

So if you’re struggling with shyness or indeed anything other changes you’re trying to make, ask yourself if you’re coming from a place of acceptance or rejection. If it’s the latter, then maybe that’s what needs to change for change to happen.

18 views0 comments


bottom of page