A remarkably diverse mix of people, including many in the public eye, self-describe as having this "condition".
Has someone been sending you emails rather than calling or meeting you face-to-face?
When you get together, does she or he stand back or avoid holding eye contact or speaking up? Could that description fit you?
While there are many possible reasons for their behavior, that person may, in fact, be chronically shy. Shy people tend to smile, touch, and speak less. In social situations they experience rapid heart beat, perspiration, and butterflies in the stomach.
Shy people think more negative thoughts about themselves, expect to be rejected, and perceive others as unapproachable. They are more likely to forget information presented to them when they believe they are being evaluated. In short, the world looks like a scary, unfriendly place, so—ironically—they often look unapproachable.
At what cost?
Shy people have more trouble meeting people, conversing, and forming relationships.
In his study, Thomas Harrell of Stanford University found that “The number one factor linked with success was social extrovertism, the ability to speak up,” something shy people are least apt to do.
Two potent negative consequences of shyness are:
1) Shy people have greater health problems because they tend to have a weak network of friends, are less resilient to illness, and less likely to give doctors sufficient information to be treated
2) They're less likely to make money, live up to their potential at work, or feel appreciated for their contributions.
Why do more people describe themselves as shy? Is it our growing social isolation? With less time spent in face-to-face interaction, people are less comfortable with their ability to connect.
What can you do to reach out through your shyness? Seek out and create safe environments to experience the non-shy parts of yourself, without fear of judgment or negative consequences. Over time, you'll know that you can survive and even thrive in situations that had seemed scary.
Most of my childhood I was quiet and kept to myself, mostly because I enjoyed daydreaming and reading. But most people thought I was shy. I had to learn to reach out more so people would be comfortable with me.
When you connect and care, you live better—not because those gestures are always acknowledged, but because it is your brave and warm expression of how you want to live your life.
Here's some good news. According to one study cited by Smart Mobs author, Howard Rheingold, some people "credited the Internet with helping overcome shyness."