W. McCall, (2000, January 17). For some shyness is a crippling disease. (Associated Press). The Boston Globe, p. A7.
Shyness stems from a natural survival instinct that protects human beings from any threatening creature…from our days in the wild to urban congestion. Shyness, as commonly understood, describes extreme cautiousness in social situations. In its extreme, shyness becomes a phobia called social anxiety disorder.
Experts rank the social anxiety disorder as the “third most widespread mental health problem” in the United States-following depression and alcohol or drug abuse. Specialists in this affliction say “3 to 5 percent of Americans are so shy they need treatment.”
When Marissa Turner of Portland, Oregon was growing up she felt herself weird because she always wanted to be alone-even avoiding opportunities to play with her cousins. She wouldn’t think of raising her hand in class out of fear that she might embarrass herself and have classmates make fun of her. If a teacher called on her, “she would sweat and tremble, and her throat would tighten.”
I knew I was afraid of a lot of people. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I thought I was different.
Shyness followed her well into her twenties as she sought employment in Washington, DC:
The average reaction for me walking into a room full of people would be a rapid heart rate, sweaty hands, that kind of racing feeling in my head and a sort of fuzziness. I found it hard to focus mentally on anything.
Dr. Michael Resnick of Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, who has studied and treated shyness, comments: “It’s an awful experience for the people who suffer a severe form of it.”
Dr. Robert Reichler of Seattle’s Pacific Institute of Mental Health has treated children and young people afflicted with shyness.
I see kids in my practice who can’t function in class, who can’t participate in class. They don’t have friends, they eat alone, they spend time in libraries alone. (Later on) they have trouble getting a job, they have trouble handling job interviews, their hearts pound, they sweat, they can’t talk. It’s a major impairment, not just shyness.
Michael Resnick traces the social anxiety disorder back into our biological history.
Ancient humans evolved a certain level of anxiety to cope with danger and survive against wild animals. (Today) some people have more of this (social caution) than others, and it gets to a point that it’s not helpful. It goes haywire, and instead of a protective mechanism, it actually harmful.
Having conferred with experts, the writer of this article concludes:
Although it is widespread, social anxiety disorder is considered mild compared to less common but more profound mental diseases, such as schizophrenia. Still, it can ruin lives and disrupt families, businesses, and schools.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Who do you know who has a problem with shyness?
- Did you know that extreme shyness is often labeled and treated as social anxiety disorder?
- Do you know anyone afflicted with shyness to that extent?
- What most impressed you about this article, and what further questions does it raise?
- How would you intervene in the life of someone afflicted with extreme shyness?
- How do you think shyness and then the more extreme social anxiety disorder can be treated?
- Where will you turn for more information and help?
- Most people have experienced at least some tinges of shyness.
- For many it has been a problem at one time or other.
- Extreme shyness and social anxiety attacks are painful and injurious.
- We need to help children and young people who have tendencies toward shyness.
- Be aware of further resources available.
© 2017 CYS