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Overcoming Shyness - Part 3

  • Dr. Neil Clark Warren for the eHarmony Research Library
  • 2003 12 Mar
Overcoming Shyness - Part 3

Is shyness crippling your social life? Unfortunately, it's a very common problem. I'm not talking about a little nerves of excitement when your date arrives to get you; that's completely normal. I'm not talking about some awkward silences that occasionally arise during a date; that happens to the best conversationalists. I'm talking about a crippling shyness that has you turning down dates or not bothering to ask. I'm writing about a level of shyness that is preventing you from enjoying life fully.

In parts one and two of this series, I offered six first steps toward conquering your problem:

1. Consider getting five to ten sessions of counseling with a therapist who has a great reputation for helping people.
2. Practice dating with someone who is not a potential partner for you.

3. Engage in something called "systematic desensitization."

4. Deal with your shyness by doing what you need to do about feeling good about yourself.
5. Be around as many people as you can where the demands on you are absolutely minimal.

6. Think of ten things you can talk about on a date.

Now I'd like to move forward with these additional suggestions:

7. The magic of listening.

When you're putting such a load on yourself as you visualize carrying the conversation during a dating situation, I want you to remember the magic of listening. Practice listening and understanding. Sometimes the only thing you need to say in a dating situation is that you understand what the other person is saying. If you can put into your own words what you've heard the other person saying, I promise you they will go home thinking of you as a conversational genius.

Listening and adequately understanding what the other person is saying is a great way to participate in the interpersonal conversational task so that others will think of you as a valuable partner in the interaction that goes on between you.

8. Practice double-dating,
Double-dating involves four people, but it literally reduces the load on you by way more than half because of all the interactional possibilities between the four people. When I was in high school and much more shy than I am today, I can remember how convenient double-dating was. It gave me far more of a sense of mastery to go with my friend to pick up the two girls. When we were in the car together driving to a place, four of us felt like a much more manageable circumstance for me than when I was just with one person. So, on a regular basis, I encourage you to group date or at least double-date.

These are ways that you can reduce the anxiety level on you because you simply don't have to carry as much of the conversation and there are more opportunities, more stimulating potential, for you to become involved.

9. Go on dates, at least in the early phases of a dating relationship, that take the focus off of you.

Go to shows or to ball games. I can remember the first date I ever went on with my wife, with my to-be wife, was to a Los Angeles Dodger game. It just happened that they were playing my favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, in Los Angeles. When we went to that game our focus was not on each other. It was on the baseball field.  We could talk about baseball and when it became possible we would talk about things that were going on between the two of us. These opportunities to place your focus on a third location make it possible for you to feel a lot less anxiety and thus overcome shyness in a good way.

10. Remember that no person has ever overcome shyness without a struggle.

You need to maintain your courage level. I remember a study a long time ago about snake phobias. As persons developed a greater and greater ability to move toward a harmless snake and actually to pick it up eventually, it was determined from studies of their heart rate and skin response that they had no less anxiety than when they stayed far back from the snake. That is, their mastery did not involve reduction in their anxiety. What it involved was an increase in their courage level.

If you are severely shy there's going to be a struggle for you; it will require some courage on your part. But I know from personal experience that you can do it. If you will take into consideration these points that I've given to you and if you will mobilize your will, if you will bring your courage right up to the highest level it can be, you can overcome severe shyness. When you do, you will look back at it like I do, with a little smile, but at the same time with a recognition that for a while it was very painful. I'm very, very glad that I overcame it. And I know you can too and I will pull for you in your efforts to do so.

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