- Wednesday, February 12, 2003
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.
1. If your shyness is currently keeping you from dating or is making dating a painful ordeal, I want you to consider getting five to 10 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 10 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.
2. Practice dating with someone who is not a potential partner for you.
Shyness is often the result of a buildup of interpersonal anxiety. What you fear is that you won't be able to handle the interpersonal demands of the dating situation. This suggestion may seem so obvious to you that you will wonder why I'd take the time to throw it out to you, but here's what it is.
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 more sure of yourself. As the shyness begins to subside you will no longer feel quite the same intensity of anxiety.
3. I suggest you 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.
Try this and see if you can relax your body as you think about the dating process. If you can, I promise your anxiety will be greatly reduced. When it is, your shyness will abate and you will feel far more fluid in your ability to move forward in the dating process.
These are the first steps toward a life with less shyness. In our next installment we will examine several more exercises that you can practice to make dating less anxiety-ridden.
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