“As a child, I was very shy. Painfully, excruciatingly shy. I hid a lot in my room.
“I was so terrified to read out loud in school that I had to have my mother ask my reading teacher not to call on me in class.” – Kim Basinger
Many of us were shy as children, and continue to be, to some degree.
In more extreme versions, it may be labeled social phobia or social anxiety disorder, but for many people it may be a more or less mild form of discomfort or anxiety that interacts with the personality traits of introversion and high sensitivity.
A number of psychologists and others argue that shyness can be viewed as an ordinary variation in personality, and should not be pathologized or treated as a medical condition to be overcome.
Artists who are shy
Actor Sigourney Weaver has commented,
“Sometimes because I am very shy, when I meet a director and they are shy too, we just sort of sit there. I remember when I met Ang Lee and we were left alone — we were supposed to have tea with each other… I was so shy and he was so shy neither of us said anything to each other for about 20 minutes.“
[Photo: as Ellen Ripley in Alien Resurrection (1997)]
Many other actors describe themselves as shy. Chris Cooper approached getting “unblocked” with dance classes, and through acting – “Theater, as therapy,” he said.
Nicole Kidman has said she is “very shy – really shy – I even had a stutter as a kid, which I slowly got over, but I still regress into that shyness. So I don’t like walking into a crowded restaurant by myself; I don’t like going to a party by myself.”
Shyness and anxiety
For some people, shyness may be part of an anxiety disorder.
Kim Basinger has talked about fear being “something I’ve lived with my entire life, the fear of being in public places — which led to anxiety or panic attacks.”
She says she has been a lifelong victim of agoraphobia.
In her BBC News article Is being shy an illness?, Anna Buckley wrote, “Most of us are shy to some degree, but acute shyness is one of the most under-recognised mental health problems of the modern age, say some.”
Social phobia, she explains, “was first recognised as a mental health condition in 1980 and some professionals believe it’s one of the most under-recognised and under-treated mental health problems of the modern age.
“Others are uneasy about such statements, saying shyness is behaviour that falls within the normal part of human experience.”
Pathologizing human experiences such as shyness
A Northwestern University news story – How shyness and other normal human traits became sickness – noted, “What’s wrong with being shy, and just when and how did bashfulness and other ordinary human behaviors in children and adults become psychiatric disorders treatable with powerful, potentially dangerous drugs, asks a Northwestern University scholar in a new book that already is creating waves in the mental health community.
“In his book Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, Northwestern’s Christopher Lane chronicles the ‘highly unscientific and often arbitrary way’ in which widespread revisions were made to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication known as the bible of psychiatry that is consulted daily by insurance companies, courts, prisons and schools as well as by physicians and mental health workers.
Calling it a disorder
“By labeling shyness and other human traits as mental conditions with a biological cause, the doors were opened wide to a pharmaceutical industry ready to provide a pill for every alleged chemical imbalance or biological problem, the author says.
Christopher Lane adds, in his New York Times Op-Ed article Shy on Drugs, “Few children relish the start of a new school year. Most yearn for summer to continue and greet the onset of classes with groans or even dread.
“But among those who take the longest to adapt and thrive, psychiatrists say, are children trapped in a pathological condition. They are so acutely shy that they are said to suffer ‘social anxiety disorder’ — an affliction of children and adolescents that, the clinicians argue, is spreading.
“It may seem baffling, even bizarre, that ordinary shyness could assume the dimension of a mental disease. But if a youngster is reserved, the odds are high that a psychiatrist will diagnose social anxiety disorder and recommend treatment.”
He goes on to ask, “How much credence should we give the diagnosis? Shyness is so common among American children that 42 percent exhibit it. And, according to one major study, the trait increases with age.
A high percentage of people are shy
“By the time they reach college, up to 51 percent of men and 43 percent of women describe themselves as shy or introverted. Among graduate students, half of men and 48 percent of women do.
“Psychiatrists say that at least one in eight of these people needs medical attention. But do they? Many parents recognize that shyness varies greatly by situation, and research suggests it can be a benign condition.
“A study sponsored by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council reported that levels of the stress hormone cortisol are consistently lower in shy children than in their more extroverted peers.
“The discovery upends the common wisdom among psychiatrists that shyness causes youngsters extreme stress. Julie Turner-Cobb, the researcher at the University of Bath who led this study, told me the amounts of cortisol suggest that shyness in children ‘might not be such a bad thing.’ ”
Misunderstanding, mis-diagnosis of shyness
Another aspect may be misunderstanding of shyness, introversion and other personal qualities.
In his article Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children, James T. Webb, Ph.D. writes that “Some of our most brightest and most creative minds are not only going unrecognized, but they are being given diagnoses that indicate pathology.
“For decades, psychologists and others have given great emphasis to the functioning of persons in the lower spectrum. It is time that we trained health care professionals to give correct assessments to gifted, talented, and creative children and adults.”
Shyness, social anxiety, social phobia, introversion – one of the problems in using these labels about others or ourselves is they are often too unspecific and relative: shy compared with whom? How anxious, for how long, in what situations?
And just because a sophisticated drug company commercial says a “condition” needs to be treated with prescription medication — it ain’t necessarily so.
Many of us avoid crowds or social contacts that are too anxiety producing, and it works. But if this kind of anxiety and protective behavior gets to be overly self-limiting, holding us back from expressing our talents, there are ways to deal with it, including psychotherapy, strategic changes in activity, self-help programs, and supplements.
Photo at top of Kim Basinger is from article about her work in the movie “The 11th Hour” – which includes this wonderful quote by her:
“I just love the journey of this life. I’ve got a lot to do. I don’t know exactly what that means.
“But I’ve always kind of held true to one thing — I just want to be of service. If I can be a spokesperson and speak up for women, men and animals or use any power that I have to bring more awareness to something that needs a little boost or assistance in my lifetime — that is really my passion.”
See link in my Facebook post.
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