Shyness has nothing to do with being an extrovert or introvert, or if you are hyperactive or an inattentive subtype. It has everything to do with how comfortable a person feels about themselves.
Many adults with ADHD don’t feel comfortable with themselves at all. They feel shame that they aren’t where they thought they would be at this point in their lives. They are worried about potentially embarrassing themselves by saying or doing something impulsively or by breaking a social rule that they didn’t know about.
There is often a lot of fear, perhaps stemming from memories of past social behaviour, or by being around critical people. Plus, small talk is agony for most ADHDers.
What is Shyness?
Shyness is a feeling of angst, awkwardness and unease in situations when you are near to people. It is usually heightened in new situations and new people. Blushing, ‘losing your tongue’ anxiety and stammering, are all part of feeling shy.
Feeling shy can stop you from doing things. Because being in situations where you feel shy is so unpleasant and uncomfortable, you would rather not do them. However, that can lead to feelings of loneliness, and frustration at unmet potential. The good news is that shyness doesn’t have to be permanent. You might always have shyness tendencies, but there is a lot you can do to help yourself feel more confident and comfortable in social situations.
While this article focuses on ways to step out of your shy shadow, there is no shame in being shy. Unfortunately, we do live a culture that values being social and so, people who are shy don’t feel as valued. Shyness can also be misinterpreted as ‘standoffish’ or ‘stuck up’; which of course isn’t true!
A surprising amount of famous people have been or are shy. It’s good to know that being shy doesn’t mean you can’t excel in your field. This website has a very comprehensive list of famous shy people.
Introverts are Shy Too!
Shyness isn’t related to being introverted. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy. While shy people and introverts might both avoid social gatherings, the reasons behind that choice are made for different reasons. Introverts rejuvenate their energy by being alone. Shy people are avoiding a potentially painful experience.
Researchers are still learning more about shyness. Nevertheless, what they have found so far is that it might have genetic roots, and be influenced by both the environment the child was raised, and by their individual experiences.
The 3 Elements of Shyness
Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci, author of ‘Shyness: A Bold New Approach’, says shyness has 3 elements:
· Excessive Self-Consciousness
You are intensely aware of yourself especially in social environments
· Excessive Negative Self-Evaluation
You are highly critical of yourself
· Excessive Negative Self-Preoccupation
You notice everything you are doing ‘wrong’ when you are with others.
Adults with ADHD are experts at the Excessive Negative Self-Evaluation; so much so that it can be debilitating.
Ready to combat your shyness? Here are 12 steps:
1. Identify Areas in Your Life Shyness is Causing You a Problem
You probably aren’t shy in every area. E.g. When you are with close family members.
Whichever areas where your quality of life would improve if you weren’t as shy. What are those?
Presentations at work, dating, meeting new people etc….
2. Stop Labeling Yourself as Shy
Growing up, well-meaning adults might have said things such as, ‘Don’t worry about John, he is just shy’. While letting people know that you are shy and not being rude is helpful on one level, if you have a label in your mind, then you do your best to fit that label. From now on, stop thinking of yourself as shy!
3. Start treating your ADHD
Everything becomes easier when your ADHD is being treated!
4. Join Toastmasters
Toastmasters gives you the practical tools to overcome shyness. If you know that you can talk in front of a room full of people, then you also know that you can talk in any other situation including on the phone or to an authority figure. You also learn how to ‘think on your feet’, so the right words will come to you when you are put on the spot, not 15 minutes later. It also helps address underlying issues, like confidence and self-esteem.
5. Improve Your Self-Esteem
Improving your self-esteem is very helpful in reducing shyness. Self-esteem is a big topic.
Still, here are a couple of things to do to help get your started.
a. Brain-storm all the things that are annoying you at the moment. Then, look at which ones you could take action on. Someone I know improved their self-esteem dramatically when they lost some excess weight that had been bothering them.
b. What are you naturally good at? Often, when you have ADHD, you spend so much time trying to ‘fix’ yourself that you don’t make time for your natural talents. For example, if you are a great piano player or artist or dancer, make sure you are doing those things on a daily or weekly bases.
6. Stop Being Highly Critical of Yourself
As you are breaking out of your shy comfort zone, it will be very helpful if you can talk to yourself with compassion; not criticism. It doesn’t matter if you dropped food down your top because you were nervous, or you forgot someone’s name. Instead, focus on the fact that you made an effort to go out. Richard Branson is very good at talking to himself kindly and with compassion. When you talk to yourself like this, it also helps improve your self-esteem.
7. Remember no one is looking
Shy people are intensely aware of themselves in social environments. It feels as if everyone is looking at your every move. They aren’t. They are busy thinking about how they appear to others! Or they might be listening to what the person they are talking to is saying, or thinking about what they will have for supper this evening. We will never know for sure. However, even though you are a super lovely person, all eyes won’t be on you. So relax.
8. Interesting Things to Say
A lot of people feel they don’t have anything interesting to say. Even if you feel this, it isn’t true. You have ADHD, which means you are always devouring new information. You have lots of interesting things to talk about!
9. Social Skills
Growing up, we aren’t given any formal social skills training. We are somehow expected to know it; which can be problematic when you have ADHD. There are a lot of ways to develop these skills, including working with a coach. Also, a great starting point is to read or listen to ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. It’s a classic and has some great tips. For example, do you know how a person will think you are a great conversationalist? It’s not by you doing a lot of talking. Instead, all you have to do is ask a few questions and let the other person talk, which is perfect for a shy person!
Joining groups focused on your hobbies is a great way to overcome your shyness. It helps you be with people; yet the focus isn’t on talking, it’s on the activity. Plus, you automatically have at least one thing in common, so conversations are easier. For example, if you like to run, join a running group; or a photography, quilting, scrapbooking or cooking group. There are so many! Meetup.com is a great way to find groups in your area.
11. Book Recommendation
If you like to read, check this book by Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci. ‘Shyness: A Bold New Approach’. It’s very helpful, informative and is based on decades of research on shyness.
12. Keep Track
Open a Google doc or Word document and keep track of your progress. Every time you go out of your comfort zone, record what happens. Did anything bad happen? What were the good things that happened? When you get hard evidence in writing, rather than memories that you have exaggerated (for the worse), it is much easier to see your progress and realize that bad things rarely happen and if they do, they aren’t that bad.