What If There Was Nothing Wrong With Feeling Shy?
Do you tend to criticize yourself when you’re feeling shy, inhibited, or otherwise not fully confident and outgoing? You’re not alone. In fact, our culture teaches us that we are bad for being this way.
But in truth, there are tremendous benefits to the shy part of yourself.
Join Dr. Aziz as he interviews world-renowned author and shyness expert, Dr. Lynne Henderson. You’ll discover what the benefits of shyness are, and how to use them to become even more confident in yourself immediately.
Click below to hear this episode!
Click here to Learn more about Dr. Lynne Henderson’s work, including her books on overcoming self-criticism, increasing self-acceptance, and truly building social confidence based on your strengths.
The Benefits Of Shyness
Hey welcome to today’s show. Today we’re going to look at something that you may have never looked at before and you may have been dealing with shyness or social fears or wanting to look confident for years and you may have never looked at things in this way. And when you do, you can notice a profound shift in how you feel about yourself and what that allows you to do in the world. It’s kind of a paradox but here’s what it is the benefits of shyness, the upsides, the pros, the strengths of shyness. Because we tend to focus on the downsides, right? How it’s getting in the way, how it’s blocking you, how it sucks, how it’s annoying, you get frustrated at the situation.
You probably get frustrated at yourself. But when we do that we actually keep ourselves stuck even more. Because the reality is shyness itself is not the problem. It’s not the sort of disease that you have to somehow extricate, extract and cut out from your nervous system. Really the problem is not the shyness that little bit of inhibition or maybe that tendency to be a little more reserved, that’s not the problem. The problem is the way you treat yourself in your mind about the shyness, right? And if you listen to this podcast, you’ve been getting that theme that is the way that I talk to myself, the way I tell myself I’m pathetic, I’m a loser, I’m a jerk, I’m a weirdo, that is the biggest inhibiting factor. That’s what leads to all the discomfort. In fact, you’re going to learn some fascinating stuff in an interview that I do with Dr. Lynne Henderson who is the founder of the Shyness Institute.
She is a big player in this area. She’s been doing this stuff since the 70s, maybe earlier. I mean she’s been really researching this stuff at high levels at Stanford and other universities to get real data, real fascinating stuff and you’re going to see as we talk, she shares a lot about what she’s come across, not only in her own work with people but in the research. She’s got a lot of ideas about this and that’s one of the things that she teaches, is that we have to learn how to accept the benefits of shyness. You’re going to learn a lot more about that in a moment but let’s take a second to really think about what these benefits are. Oh, and by the way if you want to jump in the conversation and we’re getting some great messages from people, you can call the studio hotline at (206) 338-3176 or you can also go to shrinkfortheshyguy.com and leave me a message on that site, I listen to them, I love them, they’re fantastic and I’m going to start including more of them into the show so it can be more of a conversation.
So, as I stalled there, did you think of any benefits of shyness? None. There’s absolutely none it sucks. Well, think about it for a second. What are the strengths of shyness? What are the benefits of it? You know sometimes people that are shy tend to be very emotionally or socially aware of what’s going on. They tend to be very emotionally intelligent, tend to be more collaborative, kind, receptive, better listeners, any of these describing you? If you’re saying nah, nothing then could they describe you if you’re giving yourself some credit? Another thing that shy people tend to be which is very positive is sensitive. Now I used to think, I used to not like that word, because I am a man and as a man being sensitive is can be considered bad. In fact my wife would say that, “When we first met and we’re dating, wow you’re so sensitive?”
And she’d be meaning it like a compliment and my eyes would kind of squint down and I’d be like sensitive, eh? She’s like, “What?” And I’m like, “No man wants to be called sensitive.” And she’s like, “No, it’s actually a really good thing like you feel the world around you and you feel me and you’re aware and you tune in.” I’m like, “Yeah. Well, maybe you should call it something else like perceptive or aware, that sounds more manly.” She’s like, “No, because that’s not what it is. It’s sensitive.” I’m like, “All right.” But flash forward maybe what three years now and I really get it. I mean, it’s one of my deepest strengths. It’s like I’m sensitive. I can feel things deeply, that’s what helps me connect people and help people.
So, what is that for you? That’s just a plan to see. As I talk with Lynne here in a moment, I want you to be thinking about this. Don’t just be listening passively to the interview but thinking about you and your life and your strengths and the benefits of shyness in you and how you can start to accept those things and then still move forward. You don’t want to be restricted in your life. But at the same time, you don’t want to be criticizing yourself for something that’s just maybe how your nervous system responds to the world. So, without further ado, let’s jump into that interview, with the great Dr. Lynne Henderson.
Expert Interview With Dr. Lynne Henderson
Dr. Aziz: Welcome back to today’s guest expert interview. I’m incredibly excited to speak with Lynne Henderson, a PhD. She is truly an expert when it comes to helping people overcome shyness and social anxiety and challenges with confidence and being themselves in the world. She has a wealth of experience. She’s the director of a number of organizations that are designed to help people including the Shyness Institute and the Shyness Clinic both located in the Bay Area in California. She is a visiting scholar and has been a lecturer in a variety of schools and clinics in Stanford University in the Bay Area and she’s the director of the Social Fitness Center. She’s also written a number of books and training manuals including the compassionate mind guide to building social confidence.
And I’ve learned a tremendous amount from her. I actually did some work at the Shyness Clinic in Palo Alto and worked with one of her training manuals and learned so much and some of the work that I do with people directly comes from what I learned from her. So, thank you so much for joining us today Lynne.
Dr. Lynne: I’m glad to be here, Aziz and the only thing I would like to do is just correct a couple of small things. I’m no longer the director of the Shyness Clinic. I am the director of the Shyness Institute and I was a visiting scholar at Stanford until about 2007. So, I am now in Berkeley in private practice doing the same kinds of things and I still direct the Shyness Institute.
Dr. Aziz: Oh, great. In fact, I like to hear a little more about – let’s just jump in with that the Shyness Institute. What is that? And what is it designed to do?
Dr. Lynne: Well, it’s basically research and public education. So, the major research project I have going on now is a study of shy leaders. I worked at the clinic for many years with shy clients. I became very impressed with their strengths, more impressed with their strengths. Yeah, as a matter of fact than their vulnerabilities and I got curious about leadership. It was a book called from Good to Great that came out and it showed that CEOs who had guided their companies through times of intense change and become incredibly successful after that were shy. They were called diffident and things like that and the fellow who was running the research study, Jim Collins, didn’t believe it when a student, his research officials came back and told him that.
So, he actually told them to go back and check again and they were indeed somewhat shy and I got very serious about that. And doing this interview study of shy leaders and they do tend to lead from behind, empower their people because they don’t care about the spotlight themselves and so they’re very good at helping other people shine who tend to be excellent listeners. You probably saw this yourself at the clinic, very considerate of other people often and quite collaborative rather than highly competitive and of course, because they don’t lead from the spotlight, they often lead because they really care about a cause or they care about something. So, that sort of our findings so far in that study but that’s the primary study and then it includes public education. So, whatever we can do to help spread the word about, how workable shyness is and also to empower people who see themselves as shy because shyness wasn’t negatively stereotyped as a personality trait until after about the ‘50s.
Often I think allowing the fact that our society became more and more competitive than individualistic and self-presentation became so important that we sort of became a more narcissistic society and that’s when people who are quieter I think got more negatively stereotyped.
Dr. Aziz: Interesting. Yeah, which leads into something that you do, a lot of focus in your work is helping people realize that this is not some horrible defect or flaw in themselves to feel shy or inhibited in some ways. Can you say a little more about that, about helping people let go of shame around feeling shy?
Dr. Lynne: Oh, that’s a good question. It’s the reason that I developed the idea of social fitness is because as I was seeing the strength of the people, as they interacted in the group, they thought they didn’t have social skills and in fact they did. When they weren’t uncomfortable in the spotlight, they often just demonstrated superior social skills. And so what I realized in treating them was, “Oh, my goodness this is really interesting.” We all have temperaments to manage. Some of us talk too much sometimes and interrupt. I sometimes struggle with that one.
Other’s talk could benefit from speaking more and the rest of us could benefit from that. But social fitness is just like physical fitness. You can’t workout once a month and be in good physical shape and you can’t work out once a month and be in good social shape. So, it just involves practicing every day and getting coaching when you need it and for me, that was a much better model for working with shyness because I see it as health maintenance for sports model.
Dr. Aziz: Hmm, yeah.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: Can you say more about that? So, what is social fitness? What will that look like? Because everyone can relate to physical fitness, everyone knows well there’s jogging, biking, running, weights, what is – what are the examples of social fitness be?
Dr. Lynne: I’m glad that you said that because that’s one of the things we emphasized at the clinic is that not everybody wants to run marathons but you can hike, you can play tennis, you do all sorts of different activities in physical fitness and you can with shyness too. Somebody may never like huge parties but then many like small gatherings. They may be very good at one on one friendships and so, you might like to hike with people, you might like to go the theater with people, there are many different kinds of activities that you can do with people too. Just like some people who aren’t as fond as huge lectures but they do better in small group interaction when they learn. And so, a lot of it is what we called niche picking and that was not our term.
I can’t remember who coined that term in personality theory I think years ago. But the idea that often people who were socially skilled are good niche pickers. They find the places that they like to be, that they feel most comfortable or that they think they’re going to get the most benefit from even if they have to push themselves to develop new skills. So, the idea was if there was say you got promotion at work and all of a sudden, you had to give talks, well public speaking is the number one fear of America. I headed this. So, most people need coaching or practice with friends or people who were experienced public speakers. So, everybody can do that. You can become socially fit by getting coaching and that sort of thing to be in the environment and do the things that you want to do.
And the important thing we try to do as a clinic and I thought this was very important, the questions we asked were: Who do you want to be? How do you want to be? That’s the secret of going where you really want to go and in those years, I wasn’t as familiar with ACT therapy and of course that’s one of the basic talents of ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is that you behave in accordance with your goals or your values so your preferred direction in life is based on what you care about, what you want to contribute. And when you think of things that way, it’s a natural motivator. So, it’s not that you don’t get anxious but we all don’t get anxious, that we don’t get scared, we just do what we care about doing and we learn the skills that we need to learn in order to do that.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. I think that’s a very important distinction and I think that comes from ACT as well is instead of saying “I will do the things that I’m drawn towards when my anxiety goes away” it’s find the things that you’re drawn towards and learn how to do them in spite of the anxiety withholding while holding the anxiety.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah, exactly. You do it in the face of anxiety and the anxiety does flicker off later on. But that’s not the most important thing. The important thing is you’re also getting the enjoyment and the inspiration and all the good things about what you’re doing and you also get a chance to be rewarded because you’re out there and you have a chance to be reinforced for what you’re doing which really increases your motivation.
Dr. Aziz: And so, let’s look at some of the things that get in the way from someone engaging in social fitness because from what I’ve seen both in my own experience of working with my own shyness and then in anyone that I’ve seen in the clinic, everyone I worked with is that when someone really jumps in and starts doing the social fitness, I noticed positive shifts. It’s almost surprising. It is like, “Wow, this can change.”
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: But the biggest obstacle I think is what stops people from really engaging in the practice and there are few that I see all the time and I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you help people work with this. The first one is “Oh, man I know the rejection that I feel or get, you know if I get rejected it feels so bad that I don’t think I can handle it. I don’t want to do this. It’s too much.”
Dr. Lynne: That’s a really good point, Aziz. I think as I would, we had always thought that it was fear that held people back. But as you say once you start doing things, you can often really enjoy them but as we’re learning anything and as we’re experimenting with anything, there are rejections. There are failures. There are – and I realized that the most important emotion in shyness was not fear but it was shame. It was what happened after social situations and we developed a set of challenges to those negative beliefs because what would happen afterward is somebody would say, “Well, see I really am an asshole. I really can’t do this.”
And the shame is so painful that your fear, you can sort of fight yourself up like athletes do to do what you need to do. But with shame, we all want to go sit in a corner and suck our thumbs. We don’t want to come out. And so, we learn to help people challenge, we call them negative attributions because what would happen and the research was showing this when I was at Stanford and I was studying Social Science as a visiting scholar is that when shy people failed or…… failed socially, when an interaction just didn’t go as well as they wanted it to, instead of saying “Oh, well that’s both our responsibility” they would say that’s all my responsibility even if they’re in a group of five people and the conversation petered out.
They would find a way to take responsibility for it and that was called attribution style. How you define responsibility for things that don’t work out as well as you hope? And the research was showing that people who label themselves as shy would blame themselves and it was counter to what they called the self-enhancement bias. The self-enhancement bias is something that particularly white males in western cultures learned to develop in very competitive society. If anything went wrong, you blame the situation or somebody else. If something went well, you took credit for it. And it makes sense because what you were doing, was you were maintaining your own motivation, it wasn’t always nice for the people around you and for your subordinates.
So, it doesn’t, the self-enhancement bias doesn’t work super well in the long run but you could see why people developed it in the short run and now what the research is showing is a balanced attribution style is better. You take responsibility for the things that you can control but you don’t take responsibility for the things that you can’t.
Dr. Aziz: Yeah.
Dr. Lynne: So, that was one of the major things that we wanted people to be able to work on. So, when something went wrong, rather than blaming themselves and feeling ashamed, we can say, “Well, could there be any other explanation just like to challenge the usual thoughts that people would get before situations? Could there be any other explanations for the reason, for you blaming yourself?” Well, I’m in a habit of blaming myself. Well, could there be any other explanation for the fact that the conversation didn’t go as well as you hoped? Well, maybe the other person may have felt a little bit shy, too. Maybe we were both struggling a little bit for something to say.
So, that proved very useful because I realized that shame was much more often holding people back than the fear and they could help each other. I mean, I know I think you had mentioned at one point something about group being helpful and I think that’s one of the things that could make the group helpful is people could really see it with each other. They could see that somebody who had done a good job in a role play was being hard on themselves and so, they could help them with a more realistic assessment but the person themselves also then learn to challenge the automatic thoughts so that they wouldn’t be so hard on themselves. And that’s kind of what led me into the study of compassion is because I realized that they were struggling so hard with that and they were so self-critical that that had to be something that in order to kind of soothe the emotional state even though they changed their thoughts, they sometimes go badly.
So, in order to change the emotional state then we began to use things like mindfulness meditation techniques and then deliberate exercises around compassion. So, let me back up, this is a little circuitous but in addition to the shame and self-blame sometimes what would happen is when people felt really badly like that, they’d often have automatic thoughts about other people. But they were different than the ones they had about themselves and they got automatic thoughts about themselves could be “I’m not good enough or I’m an addict or no one will ever like me.” But automatic thoughts about other could – others could be “Well, they’re inconsiderate. They don’t care. They’re not going to make space for me. They’ll gossip about me.”
And Len Horowitz, was a professor at Stanford and he collected these negative statements that people would say about other people and then we developed a questionnaire for that that was tested through Stanford and done at the clinic and we did find that five clients scored higher on that questionnaire than the average college student or even the five college students did. So, those kind of automatic thoughts were then related to resentment. So, you could really get – that’s how I came with the three vicious cycles, with working with shyness is that there is the fight, flight or the fear flight and then there’s the after workers – there’s the shame and self-blame and then the third vicious cycle can be resentment and blaming other people. And so, you can challenge then we developed challenging questions for those two. Do I know for certain that somebody is really like that?
Could there be other explanations for what I saw? And another explanation might be that person again might feel a little bit shy themselves so they might look a little aloof or I don’t really know that that person was judging me or what do I really have to support the idea that people gossip, well, I don’t know it’s my fear. Well, there is a way you could test that out. So, we worked with all three of those vicious cycles and I think often you have to – you often have to get all three and some people have more or less in any particular area. But did that answer the question that was a very long answer.
Dr. Aziz: Absolutely and it raised so many other interesting points. I mean some of the main things that I hear in there is how when we attribute everything to ourselves, it becomes really hard to see accurately what’s happening.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: And I know this blew me away when I used to – when you’re sort of in this life of shyness, you tend to say well, everything else out there as got this handle and I’m just this kind of weirdo who can’t do this or something wrong with me.
Dr. Lynne: Yeah.
Dr. Aziz: So, anytime I interact with someone if it didn’t go well, I’d say, “Well, that’s because I am the weirdo.” But then as I started to do the social fitness and really practice I realized that other people, even people who don’t really consider themselves shy can be uncomfortable or nervous in a new interaction.
Dr. Lynne: Right.
Dr. Aziz: And I remember for the first time I was interacting with a woman that I was attracted to and I could perceive that she was nervous talking to me and it kind of blew me away. It was like, “Wait a minute. Oh, wow, oh, okay.” And I think that’s when I saw that attribution style that you’re talking about is and that’s a really key piece you said that can really help people shift into a more accurate perception then I really love what you’re saying about compassion. I have a number of things I want to ask you about that and then the last thing about the resentment that builds. I think that is so important to see because there’s kind of we-attack ourselves and it feels really bad to stay in that place of self-blame and we kind of flip into other blame to almost get some relief.
Dr. Lynne: Exactly.
Dr. Aziz: But then we still are creating this distance and we still don’t feel good about ourselves. So, that one question I had which relates to that is I see a real common pattern in shyness is, “Okay, there’s something wrong with me” is sort of the default assumption and therefore I’m going to be perfect or I’m going to look perfect and then that can also flip though where someone is like “Oh, other people need to be perfect as well” that’s sort of the resentment part. But how do you help someone who is operating with strategy? Because I think it’s really common as a way of trying to deal with shyness is just to try to be perfect all the time.
Dr. Lynne: Right, right. Well, one of the things that we sort of have on our side is that the research has shown….
Dr. Aziz: What? What does the research show? Tell me now. But unfortunately, we’re at the end of our time. So, that’s what we call a cliffhanger in the biz, gets you interested, hope it gets you listening for the next show. But I want to say just a minute here at the end for what we always end with which is your action step.
Time For Action
Dr. Aziz: Today’s action step is to take what you’ve learned today and turn it towards yourself and ask yourself these question: What are my strengths? What are the benefits of shyness for me? What are my strengths that might come from shyness, might come from a different area of your life? What benefits come from this shy side of your personality? You might have spent years battling it and making it wrong and judging it and judging yourself. Let’s turn that corner. Let’s shift this right now.
You always have a choice to do that. You always have a choice of how you relate to yourself. Even if you’ve beaten yourself up for 30 years, you can make a choice right now as you’re listening and saying these words and just decide in yourself, resolve in yourself, commit to yourself that you are going to start finding your strengths, looking at the benefits of the shy side of your personality and ultimately treating yourself with more respect, kindness, acceptance, and love. So, that’s your action step for today. By all means let me know how it goes, go to the website, leave me a message, leave me a comment shrinkfortheshyguy.com, share these episodes with anyone that you think could benefit from them so we can spread the message so no one remains stuck in shyness. That’s my big mission and I want you to get onboard with me for that so we can help as many people as possible. Well, thanks so much for listening.
In the next episode, we’re going to get into the rest of our interview with Dr. Lynne Henderson and you’re going to learn about the fascinating science, the brain research of compassionate imagery, how to really transform the way you relate to yourself on a neurological level. Thanks for listening. I really enjoy sharing with you and I look forward to hearing from you and until we speak again. May you have the courage to be who you are and to know that you’re awesome.
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