Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Dear Reader,

Are you shy? Is that an easy question to answer?

I could not be more sure that I'm predominately an introvert. But the question of shyness seems to be quite different. The distinction between the two has been described as 'the fear of negative judgement' as opposed to simply 'a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments' (Article by Susan Cain in Psychology Today). Often the two are equated, and introverts may suffer from the difficulties arising from assumptions that they battle with plunging self-esteem, or are cripplingly anxious about the perception of others. Susan Cain offers further insights here on the medicalisation of shyness as a 'social anxiety disorder'.

The phrase 'social anxiety' seems to have had more acceptance lately as people feel the relief of self-diagnosis. Here, the Institute for Social Anxiety discusses the differences between shyness as a personality trait and Social Anxiety Disorder as an illness where 'high levels of anxiety and fear cause avoidance, even of activities people want to engage in.'  The emphasis here is that shyness is a level of reticence that a person does not feel is negative; once it begins to override their desires to perform an activity, it may become a disorder.  

However this article  by Henderson, Gilbert and Zimbardo associates many negatives with shyness, asserting that those who experience it are 'helpless and passive observers of life' that wish to become 'more socially comfortable';, explaining their view that  'shyness..., is best conceptualized as a state of inadequate “social fitness,” analogous to inadequate physical fitness', with the idea of a continuum rather than discrete states being developed as part of this analogy.  It presupposes that there is a level of 'outgoingness' that we should aspire to, and indeed the authors make the claim that we should, as 'each of us, as social beings, have important and valuable contributions to make to the general community'.

This seems to cut right to the heart of the shyness debate: do shy people feel comfortable being shy, or do they , and should they, wish to be otherwise?

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