10

In a few weeks time I'm spending a week with a close friend, and as part of that we're planning on going to various places (via bus) and going out in public together a lot. However my friend is very shy, and I was wondering if there way I could help her be less shy and more outgoing? Not just to help her enjoy the time (i.e. she doesn't have to rely on me to do things around others), but also so in the future she's more independent.

Some examples of what we'd be doing:

  • Taking a bus to various locations (and buying tickets there)
  • Ordering food at a restaurant/cafe
  • Entering certain venu's (like national trust areas) and buying tickets to access it
  • Purchasing souvenirs/gifts at local shops
  • Talking to my family (not hers), having never met them before

And also some examples of what defines her as a "shy" person:

  • She often doesn't talk around other people. With friends she is actually very vocal and loud but around people she doesn't know (in public), she often says very little/nothing. If engaged in conversation with someone she doesn't know (or doesn't know well) she doesn't engage very well in the conversation.
  • She often avoids interacting with strangers, preferring it if other people purchase things (such as tickets for her) or speak for her too when entering venues.
  • What sort of things will the two of you be doing during the week? Are there some situations in which her shyness is better or worse? I know that some people (myself included) may experience shyness for certain interactions but not others, and I'd like to know if this might be the case for her. – HDE 226868 Jul 1 '17 at 14:54
  • 1
    @HDE226868 edited the question to include potential activities – Crafter0800 Jul 1 '17 at 15:00
  • What about these activities would she be uncomfortable with? If she won't talk to a ticket vendor to buy a ticket or order food at a restaurant from a server, that's pretty extreme and likely won't be something you can "fix"... it's something she should be seeking professional help for if it's negatively affecting her daily life. – Catija Jul 1 '17 at 16:50
  • Please edit this to define the "shy" characteristics of your friend. – curiousdannii Jul 7 '17 at 7:47
  • Edited question to include some characteristics of my friend. It is worth noting this was just for future readers to review, as the question was closed AFTER I accepted an answer; however if anyone feels they have unique answers they are free to post and I may consider accepting them :) – Crafter0800 Jul 12 '17 at 13:33
13

For starters, does she want help? If the answer is yes then you and her should be able to find ways you can help. I would suggest asking her to imagine a situation where she would normally be shy but would like to be less shy. Have her define "less shy" as an acceptable outcome, there may be more than one. She will likely have outcomes that may be too big for right now but let that go for a minute.

Now you can ask her to brainstorm with you ways to achieve this outcome. You might play a game: "imagine you have magic wand and you can get yourself to do anything...what do you make yourself do?"

From this you should have a list of things she thinks she could do to attain her desired outcome. Now you can look at these and work with her to rate them as to how effective she thinks they would be. Remember the top 3-4. Now take the whole list of possible actions and work with her to rate them as to how likely she is to be able to do them. Hopefully you will find some cross section of the top actions for effectiveness and top actions for likelihood and now you can ask her how you could help her with those.

If the desired outcome is too big you might get weak indications that she is likely to do any of the actions. You might need to break the outcome down into smaller pieces. Help her walk it backwards like a breadcrumb trail to find a smaller first step and then repeat the process.

In all steps, try to think small and clear and unambiguous. Measurable if you will.

  • 8
    I'd add that if she doesn't want help, you shouldn't push her to doing things she's uncomfortable with. – Alissa Jul 3 '17 at 11:35
8

Shy is not something we can easily avoid becoming; genetics and life experiences both contribute to it, along with how we are raised. Added to the fact that many shy people don't realize there are ways to help it - shyness then gets thought of as a non-fixable personality trait. Even if a shy person does know there are ways to help, shyness by its very nature could keep them from asking for it.

This article at Psychology Today explains shyness well, including the contributing factors:

Genetics:

According to developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., and colleagues at Harvard University, up to a third of shy adults were born with a temperament that inclined them to it. The team has been able to identify shyness in young infants before environmental conditions make an impact.

...

Further evidence of a biological contribution to shyness is a pattern of inheritance suggesting direct genetic transmission from one generation to the next. Parents and grandparents of inhibited infants are more likely to report being shy as children than the relatives of uninhibited children, Snidman found in one study.

Life Experiences:

Most shyness is acquired through life experiences.

How we're raised:

Some people are born with a temperamental tilt to shyness. But even that inheritance doesn't doom one to a life of averting others' eyes. A lot depends on parenting.

...

The incidence of shyness varies among countries. Israelis seem to be the least shy inhabitants of the world. A major contributing factor: cultural styles of assigning praise and blame to kids.

But shyness can sometimes be overcome, at least to some degree. The article also states:

Despite the biological hold of shyness, there are now specific and well-documented ways to overcome its crippling effects.

As mentioned by Kev Price in the comments, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) has been shown to help. I'm not sure if you would have the chance to incorporate a bit of that into a one-week visit, but it might be something to suggest to your friend. Here is a good overview of what CBT is and how it can help.

In reference to Catija's comment above: being unable to speak to people when you are shy is very normal. That characteristic is practically the layman's definition of shyness. We have phobias to describe the extreme cases: fear of leaving your home, fear of the public, etc.

To answer your question:

The list of starting activities sounds like a good beginning. The main things to remember are:

  • Start small
  • Always have their back

The second point can mean anything from not leaving them to fend for themselves at a crowded party, to cheerfully leaving that crowded party with them 5 minutes after you arrive because it's too overwhelming for them.

Also bear in mind that your friend might agree to go do a certain activity, but back out when the time comes. This is not motivated by anything in particular (except sometimes, panic) - most of the time it's because the shy person thought, "Sure, I can do that," but as the time gets closer they realize how awkward, overwhelming, or far out of their comfort zone it might be.

If this happens, make sure they know you are not blaming or judging them, and see if you can talk through what about the activity is causing the reticence or distress. Don't try to debate their points, just listen. If they are willing, you two can try to think of another activity to replace that one with.

As time goes on and your shy friend starts to trust in the fact that you are not going to judge them, put them down, talk them into doing anything, or tell them they need mental help, that trust is likely to give them more confidence to try new things. Practice, practice, and try to form some more outgoing habits. Sometimes all a shy person needs is a "partner in crime" - someone to diffuse the awkwardness, or similar. Also, for some reason, an activity far from home can be more appealing than one right up the street.

These activities will help by setting the thoughts and memories of these good experiences against the negative thoughts your friend usually has about situations like that. The more good experiences they have, the less impact the prior contributing factors will have; this is basically what CBT does, except that it tries to make you more conscious of the negative thoughts you have so that you can purposely counteract them. So your activities could have elements of CBT without you even trying.

Patience is key; your friend has most likely been living with this all her life, so it will probably take some time for her to come out of her shell. And sometimes shy people just don't. You will at least have gotten to spend some quality time with your friend.

  • 1
    I disagree with your initial statement of "Being shy is not something we can help" as you then go on to describe a process of helping. Also Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has an evidence base that shows shyness/social anxiety can be managed and changed. However I agree with the majority of the rest of your answer – Kev Price Jul 6 '17 at 12:19
  • 1
    @KevPrice That's a good point. I will edit my answer to fix that. And thank you for the reminder about CBT. I'm not sure the Op would be able to incorporate it into the week they will have with their friend, but it is worth mentioning. – dei gratia regina Jul 6 '17 at 12:48
  • @KevPrice I've edited the answer.. still not sure the first paragraph says what I want it to, but I'll leave it for now. – dei gratia regina Jul 7 '17 at 10:06
  • :) nicely researched – Kev Price Jul 7 '17 at 10:08
1

Shyness is often an inherent part of one's personality and sometimes that person has to learn through life experience how to just 'shelve it' at certain times. Perhaps you could gently remind her of this?

In public, beware of discreetly enabling her continued shyness. If she prefers other people to do the purchasing/interaction, this is fine. But if she constantly doesn't have to, in this situation she is shielded, and this is allowing her to remain shy.

Much shyness can be attributed to a loss (or lack) of social confidence, which may be based on (lack of) experience and is typically paired with an overdeveloped fear of embarrassment.

It is a common trait which is usually mitigated (or reinforced) as a person ages and feeds on life experience.

It cannot be erased but can be overcome. Achieving this usually depends on a combination of emotional quotient, life experience and mature social cognitive reasoning. A shy person as a result may or may not be equipped with the tools to overcome shyness.

Shyness is prone to vanishing in times of action, and manifests in moments of inaction.

Inevitably, life will present a person with situations whereby one does not have time to be shy, or simply cannot afford to be. Whether it be a genuine emergency or a key moment in team sports. In these moments, shyness will vanish, and it is in these instances that one can learn to be more bold. Problematically though, shyness is a comfortable pattern of behaviour which one can easily relapse back into.

Her shyness can be the result of an overabundance of concern about what others (may) think of them. An old mantra which I would recommend to your friend:

In your 20s and 30s you worry about what other people think of you.

In your 40s and 50s you stop worrying about what other people think of you.

In your 60s and 70s you realise that no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.

Shyness is also mitigated with aging. When you're old, you really do care less what others think of you. Essentially, you have no time to be shy.

Life is too short. You can gently reminder of this also!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.