Sunday, August 12, 2007

Overcoming Fear and Shyness

Overcoming Fear and Shyness

The first thing to understand about fear and shyness is that neither is a symptom of cowardice or inferiority. Neither fear nor shyness have anything to do with cowardice or inferiority, so no one should make the association, either consciously or unconsciously.

Cowardice and feelings of inferiority may be associated with each other in some people, but not necessarily. Both are symptoms themselves of emotional abuse or emotional maldevelopment or underdevelopment, conditions which this article will not address.

Fear is natural, built into us in the form of apprehension of potential danger and associated with the fight or flight response. Fight or flight is a decision-making process that allows the brain to make rapid choices in the face of risk and it's backed up physiologically by the chemical epinephrine (aka Adrenalin), a chemical secreted by the adrenal gland to give people an instant jolt of strength to either run from danger or to face it (and fight in some cases).

Fear only becomes a negative when it affects our daily lives. At that point it may be called a phobia or severe anxiety. Most cases of life-affecting fear are self induced, resulting in the harm done to the fearful person by their own brain being far worse than if what is feared actually came about. Being self induced, both phobias and severe anxiety can only be overcome by self therapy, often but not necessarily with the assistance of a professional psychologist or therapist.

Shyness is a special kind of fear. It stems from emotional abuse (usually in childhood) when someone in a position of power (such as a parent) treats another person as inferior, a failure, stupid or worthless. Repeated treatment of that sort will make a victim shy about doing or saying anything that might cause others in different settings to treat the person in the same way as the abuser did in the past.

This shyness fear is usually at the unconscious level. The shy person consciously is afraid to make a mistake, even if he or she knows that a mistake will not harm their reputation, such as those that might happen in a casual conversation among friends.

The other kind of shyness is a feeling inadequacy. While the shy person might feel that they can't think of good words to use in a conversation or how to say something in a small-talk-casual manner, the problem may be that the shy person simply cannot think fast enough to make conversation rapidly.

For example, I have a problem processing information in my brain quickly. In some circumstances I act like a genius, while in others I seem to stumble more than someone with a low intellect. The difference may be only the time I have to process the incoming information and act upon it.

In groups up to four people I can hold my own in conversations when only one person speaks at a time. In larger groups I seldom say anything because more than one person may be talking at a time and my brain can't process that much information at once. I am the proverbial wallflower in a large group.

A shy person may simply take longer to process incoming information (such as in a conversation), which has nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence.

To fill in gaps in a conversation when such an insecure individual wants to continue to hold the floor, the person may repeatedly say "Uh," or repeat prepositions ("of...of...of the next day") or stutter in order to not lose their place in the speaking order. Losing your place in the speaking order of a conversation makes you feel like you are being ignored or incompetent.

My wife is very understanding of my problem of processing information and thinking while doing something else, such as driving a car. I sometimes leave gaps in the middle of sentences of half a minute or more while I think about how to word what I want to say. That does not involve a risk to my losing my place in the conversation because my wife allows me time to do my thinking before speaking.

However, such patience is uncommon in most social situations. In a conversation, participants want a continuous flow of vocal sound, which often results in small talk degrading into drivel or talk about the weather or who won a sports match. While people want a constant flow of vocal sound, some are unable to produce it themselves so they talk about immaterial matters.

A shy person must avoid situations where he or she gets part way through a sentence or series of sentences then must stop to think of what to say next. The way to do this is to prepare what they want to say fully before beginning to speak. Actually say the words, in order, in their head before saying them out loud.

This means that a shy person may not speak as often in a conversation as others whose brains work faster. However, it does not mean that the shy person will not say something of importance. On the contrary, often someone who speaks quickly may use many words to say something similar to what a shy person may say more concisely.

Life-altering fear and shyness are manageable. They are not signs of low intellect. In fact, people who stutter may be of above average intellect but have trouble putting the many ideas they have into words in an easily understood order without stuttering or using some other form of place-holding mechanism.

The best advice for a person with life-altering fear or shyness is to get your priorities straight, then get your thinking in order. Most people can't remember what they were worried about or fearful of ten years ago, five years ago, even one year ago. If you are unlikely to worry about something five years from now, it's not worth worrying about today.

Worry (a euphemism for fear) usually prevents a person from addressing the source of their problem, thus prolonging and magnifying its effects. Worry makes a small problem into a tragic event. Get your priorities in order so that you can address your problems directly.

When face to face with seemingly big problems, most of us find that they diminish in size considerably as we work our way through them. Worry and fear are road blocks, not detours.

Find your detours and get on your way again.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book that shows how big problems can become manageable when faced properly.
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