I thought I was shy in grammar school, but in hindsight, I don’t think I was shy, exactly. Introverted seems a more accurate term. And yet, we often call people introverted when really they are just shy: The two are not the same. That’s just one of the musings I had while reading Shyness: The Ultimate Teen Guide by Bernardo J. Carducci and Lisa Kaiser. The book could prove helpful to extremely shy teens or the parents of very shy teens, and it brought many ideas to mind, some of which I’ll incorporate into my own parenting.
The first idea Carducci and Kaiser examine is what shyness really is, and who truly is shy. “You are shy if you think that you are shy,” they write. It’s a label that is, or should be, self-applied. Carducci has learned this, among other things about the phenomenon, as a professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. He has written several other books on shyness, and has teamed up previously with Kaiser, the assistant editor of an independent newsweekly in Milwaukee, to write two of them.
As for what shyness is, Carducci’s definition seems to be someone who wants to be with people and participate but is stopped by doing so by his or her own mind and body. Shyness, he writes, involves anxious reactions, excessive self-consciousness, and negative self-evaluation. And it “affects an individual’s physical reactions, thoughts, and behavior, which is why it can feel so overwhelming at times.”
This means that, according to Carducci’s research, shy people are not necessarily introverts, despite what some believe. In fact, the authors write, shy people want to be around others but have trouble getting over their internal struggles.
This, in turn, often leads to shy people having a lower level of social skills and being “off time” with their age-peers. (“Off time” might mean starting to date at an older age than peers or simply learning to play a certain way later than other children.)
After establishing these basic ideas, the goal of the book is to help create “successfully shy” teens and young adults. A successfully shy person is one who still has shy traits but has learned to not let those traits hold her back. She keeps her self-talk in check and gets on with life. Carducci and Kaiser use numerous quotes from teens and young adults and case studies to illustrate this point.
So, what are some techniques for becoming successfully shy? Increasing your comfort zone is one of the most important. And that hit home for me, because I regularly torture my own kids with comfort tests. Okay, it’s not really torture. The comfort tests are designed to push my kids a little bit without sending them overboard. For instance, I might take my shy son to the grocery store and assign him the task of fetching strawberries and cough drops. Then, the tricky part is that he has to buy them from a cashier and not the self-checkout lane.
So I totally buy into the idea of increasing your comfort zone. Besides helping with shyness, it’s supposed to help with creativity and general happiness, too.
Another big idea is what Carducci and Kaiser call a factorial approach. I don’t particularly like the word factorial for this concept, but the idea is basically to take baby steps. Don’t, in other words, decide you’re going to get over your shyness by going to a rave. You’ll set yourself up for failure. Instead, change one variable in your comfort zone at a time. So, if you’re okay with a group of three people, start by adding a fourth person to the group. That will likely work a lot better than going from zero to a hundred.
In addition to the ideas of comfort zones and baby steps, Carducci and Kaiser promote the idea of, as they put it, the four I’s: Identify a specific aspect of your shyness — for instance, you might realize you’re afraid to approach a certain person. Then, gather as much information as you can. What does that person like to do for fun? Incorporate something useful that you’ve gathered into your comfort zone and then implement and introduce yourself, they suggest.
Carducci’s ideas are not strictly for teens. If you’re shy and want help in learning to deal with it, even if you’re older, or if you have a family member who’s very shy, the book might help. One caveat: If the shyness is just mild, you probably won’t be pulled into the text enough to finish it. But if it’s a major problem, either for you or someone else, this may be a very useful read.
Shyness: The Ultimate Teen Guide
Roman and Littlefield, June 2015
Hardcover, 298 pages