wikiHow to Open up if You're Painfully Shy

Three Parts:Building ConfidenceSharing in Intimate SettingsConversing in Social Situations

On occasion, everyone feels nervous about opening up. After all, it takes bravery to share oneself with others. But, people who are painfully shy are often self-conscious and have frequent negative thoughts about themselves.[1] When these insecurities are present, opening up is even more difficult. Luckily, opening up can be learned with patience and willingness to change.

Part 1
Building Confidence

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    Discover your value. Look deep inside and journal about the things that you cherish most about yourself. Maybe you are very nurturing, understanding, or compassionate. Consider what a shame it would be if the rest of the world never got to share in these gifts.
    • Look at what you're good at doing. Identifying your strengths will help boost your self esteem. So, if you're caught in a moment of self-doubt or shame you'll always have a strength come quickly to mind.
    • Focus on how your habits work to your advantage. For instance, you might be someone who prefers one-on-one conversations and time spent in nature. All this intimate time with yourself and another might be making you a better listener and more aware of your feelings. These are strengths that are difficult to cultivate as a big voice in a large social group.
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    Embrace your shyness. Accept yourself as someone who has lots to offer, even though being the life of the party isn't your thing. Doing this will give you more realistic expectations for what will happen when you open up. You may find, for example, that when you open up you create deep connections with select people rather than filling up your phone contacts with half-remembered faces.
    • One cautionary note about labeling yourself: Be sure that you don't box yourself in. Many people call themselves shy as an excuse to keep from facing the difficulties of opening up. Consider shyness as a different style of relating that presents some hardships to overcome rather than a blunt fact about your limitations.
    • The thing to realize is that many of the things that make you label yourself as shy (i.e. enjoying time alone, getting exhausted by banal party conversations, not always having something to say) are experiences that most people have, shy or not.[2]
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    Move on from mistakes. Avoid spending time analyzing situations that felt awkward or uncomfortable and beating yourself up for having been a part of the cause.
    • Recognize that the world is not looking at you. Besides, most people are too busy looking at themselves. Instead of watching yourself as if you are other people, bring your awareness inwards.[3] Armed with your understanding of what makes you shy, seek within yourself and become the observing presence of your thoughts.
    • Self-pity will only direct your energy to beating yourself up rather than do anything with what happened. Take solace in the fact that hardly anyone noticed that you fumbled through that last comment. Since you are the one taking notice, treat yourself how you would another well-meaning shy person. Chuckle lovingly at yourself for having tried so hard, move on, and try again.
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    Put rejection in perspective.[4] Remember that rejection is part of life, and how we learn to understand the difference between ourselves and others. Say you are at a gathering and someone who you are talking to edges away, leaving you by yourself. Instead of blaming yourself, try to recognize that the scenario was not the best fit for both parties.
    • Switch your attention to finding a lesson in what happened. Perhaps the person who went to talk to someone else was having a hard day and saw a close friend walk through the door. From this, you can take the lesson that meeting one's own needs for solidarity can (and sometimes should) override social graces. There are no wholly negative experiences if you can find something to learn from and carry forward.
    • Make sure to reward your efforts even if the situation didn't have the outcome that you expected. Look honestly at what you did to make conversation and listen well. Take your progress into account--maybe you couldn't have mustered up the confidence to do this a month ago--and be proud! After all, we can only change ourselves and our attitudes. Outcomes always rest on the innumerable parts of life that are beyond our control.
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    Let go of perfectionism.[5] Often times, having unrealistic expectations crushes the ability to notice the good things that we take part in. Ask yourself, "do I believe deep down that I should be able to talk to and like everyone?" It is simply a fact of life that we will not be motivated to open up to everyone.[6]Make sure your mission to open up to others isn't an attempt to triumph over your natural sense of who you can and cannot trust.
    • Perfectionism can also surface when we are trying to make others see us in a certain way. Take the pressure off yourself and realize that you do not have to (and cannot) control how others see you. This means that in social situations your job is to observe others and enter in when you can contribute positively--a much easier job than monitoring everything you do and obsess over how you're being received.
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    Use positive self-talk.[7]Words have an amazing power to stick in our minds. Try replacing negative self-judgments and criticism with encouragement. When something like "I'm too shy to talk to anyone" pops into your head, remind yourself that you are capable of interacting with others and have the confidence to be uniquely you.
    • Re-training your mind to bring up affirmation rather than doubt will also allow you to be more aware of your successes, as you increasingly spot evidence of your abilities and contributions.
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    Start a journal. Opening up is instantly easier if you can find something to say, and writing is a great way to find your voice. Whether you are writing about things that happen to you or what you read on the news, you will become more comfortable constructing opinions and forming responses to your surroundings.
    • In this way, you are exercising the wordy part of your mind that can have a thought about nearly anything. And if you find yourself wanting to bring up a new topic, you can relay things you've written about (presumably something), telling people "the other day I was thinking about ___"

Part 2
Sharing in Intimate Settings

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    Give yourself permission to share. Having low self-esteem and many worries about how others view you might make sharing parts of yourself seem unthinkable.[8] Remind yourself that even if you are preoccupied with yourself, maybe even sick of thinking about yourself, people in your life experience the opposite. As a shy person, people you care about may be wishing that they know or understand you better.
    • By making attempts to let some of this inner-world out, you are also opening yourself up to other perspectives. If your self-image is quite negative, chances are good that opening up to those you trust will only help you see great parts of you that you fail to consider.
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    Own up to shyness. When you want to open up to friends, family, or a romantic partner, don't be afraid to be frank about where you're coming from. By letting your guard down and talking about how you presently feel, others will feel instantly connected to a deeper part of you. Most importantly, the other person will not recoil in doubt or fear that something wrong with him makes it difficult for you to open up.
    • Try starting with something like "I want you to know that I'm a little shy talking about this, so please bear with me." This statement enlists support rather than making an excuse. Remember that you do not need to apologize for your level of progress in opening up. Apologizing will set off doubt and passivity.
    • Make sure that you are not owning your shyness to signal that you need sympathy or babying. The purpose is to give insight into why you might seem nervous or aloof. Having patience and support from others should ultimately help you take risks and display effort as you learn how to be more comfortable opening up.[9]
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    Focus on the other person.[10] Turn your focus outward and let the other person motivate your desire to open up. Watch facial expressions and listen for raises in tone that cue you in to what the person is getting excited about. Excitement is contagious, and with deep engagement it'll be hard not to return it.
    • Deep attention to the cues of others does not mean that you should take a subordinate position in conversation. For instance, if your brother is detailing a problem that he's having at work, you could respond either by asking for more information, giving comforting advice and input, or sharing a similar experience.
    • Shyness is, in part, an excessive self-focus, which makes it difficult to respond appropriately to others.[11] Focusing on others more generally is an exercise that will lift you further and further out of extreme shyness.
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    Share from the heart. Begin to trust in the fact that having someone's attention in an intimate setting is happening in the first place because they already hope to hear more from you. Ease into openness by reminding yourself that there is no right and wrong to your feelings. If you feel judged or fear judgment, ask yourself "who is judging me here?" Opening up to others can be how you get away from your harshest critic--yourself.
    • There is always something to share from the heart. Do you feel blank, empty, or at a loss? Those are some pretty intimate things to let someone know. You may even unleash a whole stream of feelings and memories surrounding that very fact.
    • You might begin by saying "You know, it's funny, whenever I go to talk about myself, I come up with a big blank space. Sometimes I wonder what it is that won't quite come out..."

Part 3
Conversing in Social Situations

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    Be prepared. Don't stress yourself out by arriving anywhere without a handful of small-talk ideas.[12]Stay up to date with current events, the latest club or restaurant openings in your area, or anything else that might spice things up. Having at least five or six things to hit on will allow you the flexibility to bring up something that fits with the moment you're in.
    • In addition to general talking points, come in with a sense of what this group of people find relevant. If you're going to a party where a jazz band is playing, brush up on music-related topics.
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    Start out small. Don't force yourself to go to any events or gatherings that seem especially intimidating. You can also try setting flexible time limits for yourself. Even if you want to stay longer, know that you have an agreement with yourself to stay a minimum of, say, two hours.
    • Arriving places early can help you feel more secure, as you will have time to adjust to the atmosphere. Sometimes the panic caused by arriving to a full venue or house can be enough to plunge back into old habits of self-doubt.[13]
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    Look approachable.[14] Use your demeanor to show that you actually want to be approached. If your hands are in your purse or busy texting, others might sense that you are occupied or blatantly uninterested in engaging. Try to envision how you carry yourself when you're around someone you trust. Perhaps your eyes are present and not focused on your feet. Your arms are probably uncrossed, and you're not hiding under layers of sweaters and coats.
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    Start up conversations. Review some of your recent experiences, and trust that once you begin talking, you have a heftier conversation piece. Maybe you recently watched a police chase or went on a chat-worthy vacation. Start off with a simple comment about something anyone might be able to respond to--"How's that beer treating you?" or "I know I've heard this song before, but I can't place it!"
    • It's always a safe bet is to comment on your immediate environment. When you share your observations about the neighborhood you're in, the group you're with, or the food being served, you are inviting the person to become a meta-commentator with you. This sets the two of you on a shared mission of finding and sharing oddities and interest in your surroundings.
    • Throw in as many extra tidbits and details as you can.[15] This will help keep the conversation from flat-lining. If someone asks you how you're doing, avoid simply saying "good." Try something like "good, especially considering the day I had yesterday, oh man!"
    • When sharing observations, related experiences, and insights, try to avoid excusing and apologizing for yourself. Lead-ins like "maybe it's just me..." and "sorry, but I have to say..." come off as scared and lacking confidence.
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    Use confident body language.There are certain physical actions that will indicate you are engaged in your conversations with others. Eye contact, hand gestures and nodding all let your listeners know that you care and want to keep on going.[16]
    • When talking is the main challenge, it’s easy to forget that half of opening up is truly listening. When you’re very focused on what’s being said, producing a response comes more naturally—you won’t be caught off guard. Chances are your shyness will prohibit you from talking as much as others, so make up for it in close listening.
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    Ask open questions. Open questions are questions that ask for a response that goes beyond just a "yes" or a "no". By asking these questions once you get the gist of a conversation, you will show others that you are taking a real interest in what’s going on.
    • For example, if someone is recounting getting stuck in a traffic jam, don't ask how long it took to get home. Instead, try asking "How do you deal with boredom on long trips?" or "What part of coming home makes you the happiest to be there?" Instead of a curt answer like "usually a full hour", you'll get an answer that will smoothly branch out to other topics.
    • What’s more, throwing an open question out means that more talkative people will take the lead. Then, you'll have the bold speakers directing themselves toward you, the interested party.
    • Think of yourself as a casual journalist, eager to learn about others and unashamed to probe them to talk about themselves. Not only are you not invading their privacy, but you're letting other attendees talk about the topic in which they have the most fluidity and expertise.
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    Make others feel comfortable. The best way to do this is by making an empathetic, person-to-person connection by smiling. When you smile and make eye contact, you are signaling that you're friendly, open to conversation, and are someone who wants to engage. This works equally well with friends and strangers--we're hard-wired to enjoy mutual smiling. It's like giving a long-distance pat on the back!
    • Keep in mind that everyone is present because they want to interact. If you feel as if you're being too forward or imposing on the person, remember that in all likelihood they are relieved and excited to have caught someone's attention.
    • When you send these warm, kind signals out, conversation may be quite different. Instead of introducing yourself formally, you might just hop right in with "This is becoming quite a night, isn't it?" or "Hey there, I can't help but gravitate toward the cheery ones here..."
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    Stick it out.[17]Turn the fearful situation into a place of introspection and personal growth. Become the observer and dig into yourself, answer the questions: why do I feel this way? What caused me to feel this way? Can there be an alternative explanation to what is happening?”
    • Say you're only 30 minutes into a party and you're starting to get anxious. Don't be afraid to use the bathroom or another private space you can find to check in with yourself and use some quick methods to calm down.
    • Don't give up in uncomfortable situations. Allow yourself to become desensitized to moments that you would typically run from. You might find that a little bit of awkwardness or silence can be comical and is not the disaster that you envision it being.

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Categories: Overcoming Shyness & Insecurities