If you are shy and want to overcome it, you’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans see themselves as shy, and this can stop them from getting what they need or want. But you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are lots of things you can do to lessen the discomfort you feel when shyness keeps you from being you. 

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand that shyness shapes up differently for different types of people. But the source for it is the same. Shyness is rooted in fear of disapproval, and that results in feelings of anxiety when around other people—especially in new situations or among strangers. It’s not linked to Introversion or Extraversion. American society tends to associate shyness with introversion but it affects all people of every personality type.

Still, it’s helpful to know whether you are an Introvert or Extravert because they tend to deal with shyness in different ways. For Extraverts, the challenge is met through social experiences. For Introverts, it’s met through careful energy management.

Let’s explore what both Introverts and Extraverts can do to lessen the pangs of shyness.

The Shy Extravert

Just because you are shy doesn’t mean you don’t want to go to the party! Some shy Extraverts may want to avoid direct attention or talking to new folks, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to be in a crowd where they soak up the energy they get from being with people. Social experiences give the Extravert a feeling of well-being, whether they are shy or not. In fact, they don’t even have to talk to anyone—just being around other people can bolster the mood of a shy Extravert.

They still prefer a busy social life. They still need the Extravert “buzz” and, because of this, overcoming shyness requires them to get out there and harness this social energy.

Extraverts, try these five strategies:

#1: Ride the energy wave

Take advantage of the energy wave you get from social environments. One of the gifts of extraversion is that you get a flood of positive emotions from socializing, and you can use this lift to propel you toward a more confident outlook. When we feel good, we are more likely to meet challenges with determination. So when you get to the party, absorb all the good feelings you can! When your cup is full, say hello to a stranger or try making more eye contact with an acquaintance. The point is, you can channel this supportive energy into the courage you need to take your first baby steps.

#2: Make it fun!

Find group activities that focus on your favorite hobbies or interests.  Your enthusiasm and knowledge will act like social lubricants, and you’ll find it easier to share your thoughts and feelings. Others will sense your positivity and return it, giving you a boost in energy and confidence.  You will start associating social events with fun instead of dread, getting you ready for that party full of strangers at the neighbor’s house.

#3: Revisit your social skills

A lack of social skills doesn’t necessarily make you shy, but it can add to the apprehension you feel while interacting with others. Whether you’ve yet to hone your social skills or you’re just afraid to use the skills you have, it can be helpful to revisit how you behave around others. Ask a close friend for feedback and, if you find something that could improve, work on it. Practicing your social skills can strengthen confidence and will help you socialize the way you long to.

#4: Ask for support

Let a good friend oil the social wheels for you. Keep them close when you meet someone new so that the attention is not solely on you. Let your friend start the conversation and you can chime in when you are comfortable. A shy Extravert still wants to express themselves—they just feel nervous about it. Take advantage of the times that you feel more comfortable and share with the support of someone familiar.

#5: Don’t be afraid to rock the boat

Shyness is a fear of disapproval. So, we worry that if we tip the boat at a social gathering, we will be rejected by others. However, the importance of being yourself can’t be overstated. If someone rejects you for speaking up, do you really want a connection with that person? Of course not. You want to surround yourself with people who will support your unique style and voice—not settle under the pressure to fit in. Be yourself and the people that matter will get on board, whether the boat is rocking or not.

The Shy Introvert

Many people associate shyness with introversion but don’t let that fool you. They are two separate things. Many Introverts appear shy to others when they are not—they are simply Introverted. They may be quiet or resist surface conversation but that’s often because they’re immersed in their rich inner world, processing all they hear and see on a deeper level, and then keeping their thoughts and feelings private.

But if you are an Introvert and you are shy, you have a double whammy.  Not only does social interaction drain you, it also causes anxiety. And that anxiety further depletes your energy. UGH.

Because of your tendency to lose energy, the strategies most helpful for Introverts involve energy management.

Introverts, try these five strategies:

#1: Protect your tank

Think of your energy store as a gas tank. Socializing uses up gas, and too much socializing will empty your tank. Don’t run out of gas before you pull over. Remember, your extraverted family and friends fill their tanks while socializing, so they may not understand. As much as possible, keep your tank topped off so that you have enough for yourself before you give to others. Feelings of shyness are compounded when we don’t feel our best, and confidence can be lost when we are tired. Like shy Extraverts, you still need to put yourself out there, but you probably won’t do it if you’re exhausted.

#2: Transform the dreaded small talk 

Introverts cringe at the very mention of … da da da dum … small talk.  Why?  It’s because an Introvert can’t stand to be trapped in a situation that feels meaningless to them, and small talk fits that bill. Introverts are drained by small talk and shy Introverts are both drained and stressed by it. But you can transform a surface conversation by re-directing it toward topics of substance.  You will get a boost from a subject that interests you, and this will help you work through your shyness. 

#3: Choose your relationships carefully

The importance of healthy relationships is paramount. Choose people who really listen to you and at least want to understand, even when they can’t. If you don’t have people in your life who honor your sensitivities, you may be less likely to muster courage in social settings.   Remember, Introverts thrive with fewer, deeper relationships rather than many casual ones. Having a small group of close, supportive friends is crucial for the shy Introvert and their love can motivate you to work through your shyness.

#4: Don’t succumb to pressure

The pressure you may feel when everyone is going to the party while you are running low on gas can be daunting. Your party-going friends just want your company, and they don’t have bad intentions.  They’re unaware that their lack of understanding adds to your discomfort. You may be tempted to give up socializing altogether, but don’t. Instead, explain how you’re feeling and tell them you would love to meet up for a quiet coffee date.  This reassures them and gives you a chance to work on your shyness in a more intimate setting.

#5: Give yourself a break!

The shy Introvert should make radical self-care a part of each day. Give yourself a break physically and rest when you feel tired from socializing. Give yourself a break mentally and redirect your thoughts toward something light and joyful. And give yourself a break from your inner critic who says you are a bad friend. Leave the party if you must. Lay down when you need to. Don’t look at the clock and don’t listen to others – listen to your own body.  Your physical body is the best whistleblower when overwhelm is at your door.

Final thoughts

Please be patient with yourself.  Whether you are introverted or extraverted, the challenge of overcoming shyness is a difficult process and takes time. Also, there will be setbacks.  This is normal and you shouldn’t make a fuss over it. The key is to know yourself and do what works best for you.  Do what brings you closer to what you need as an individual, and you won’t go wrong! 

Becky Green
Becky Green is a Social Worker and MBTI® Practitioner certified by The Center for Applications of Psychological Type. Becky loves to explore human differences, and she is convinced that proven typology tools can help us foster compassion today when it's sorely needed. Her INFJ happy place is writing in her home office with 432 Hz music playing and a dog named Rocker on her lap.