Causes of Shyness - The Reasons Why People are Shy

What are the causes of shyness, and why do shy people behave the  way they do? Let's look at the psychology behind shyness and reasons for it.

Causes of Shyness and the Reasons People May Avoid Social Situations

The Different Factors & Causes of Shyness

So, what causes shyness?

There is not one specific cause, but rather a combination of different factors that may influence a person's tendency to be shy. Shyness can be caused by a combination of nature and nuture, and can change as a person grows older and experiences new things.

Moreover, people may not remain shy all their lives ; it is possible to go through phases of shyness and periods in one's life where one's self-confidence may rise or fall.

Some of the most common causes of shyness include experiencing harsh treatment, having faulty self-perception and life transitions that may be hard to handle, such as divorce, a new job, going away to school, etc.

Often Starts at a Young Age - Causes of Shyness and Infants

Although there is no 'shy gene', very young children can start exhibiting symptoms of shyness - even from the age of two. Babies may even appear to have a shy temperament that may become more obvious as they grow older.

To be shy, you need to be conscious of yourself. Shyness is related to self-consciousness so we normally relate shyness to children who are able to identify themselves as distinct entities.  However, a tendency to be shy from a young age does not doom a person to a life of social hostility. It also depends a lot on a person's upbringing and life experiences.

One key aspect that has been widely noted is that shyness is very often linked to fear. Children who are fearful are much more likely to be shy as opposed to less fearful children.

Reasons behind Shyness in Social Situations

Shyness is often described as being uncomfortable in social situations, especially when coming into contact with new people. A key reason why a person may feel uncomfortable in a social setting is that they may be heavily self-critical of their behaviour and how it will be understood. They are apprehensive about the reaction they will receive from others, even to the extent of panic.

Shy people tend to focus on what they feel they do wrong and they may allow negative past experiences to affect a present situation. For a shy person, shyness may be like a constant voice in their head, telling them to be anxious about new situations, because they believe they are likely to fare badly. Shy people may also attribute any perceived social failure as having to do with something wrong with themselves.

Shyness may also develop from a child's relationship with a parent (normally of the same sex) who may have been anxious, rejecting, critical or restrictive.

Studies have shown that there are physiological and neurological differences in shy and non-shy preschoolers in the way that they process emotion.  EEG monitoring systems measured significantly more brain activity in the right anterior part of the brain in  the shy children when showed video clips that depicted fear and sadness, compared to the non-shy children.

Shyness is a state that is often difficult to watch in others, even harder to experience and quite confusing to explain.

How Shy People May Be Treated and How it Might Increase Their Shyness

People who are not shy may be upfront or even aggressive towards those who are, and this will often make the situation  more intense. It may simply be an attempt to get the other person 'out of their shell'. However this is often not the best way to approach someone who is shy, because it may draw unwanted attention to them, making them more self-conscious and uncomfortable.

More In-depth look at the factors

Let us have a deeper look at some key ways that shyness may develop in childhood.

  • Lack of knowledge on how to participate in social situations.

Children may be shy because they are not sure of how to behave in certain social situations. So when they are exposed to such situations where they are expected to express themselves or participate, they may run away, frightened.

When you consider it, children have much less life experience than adults. Many of the situations that children have to encounter are indeed new, and thus they may not be equipped with the skills to handle them. The fear of constantly having to react to new situations with unfamiliar people could make a child withdraw.

  • Too much teasing and criticism

Children who are teased too much, overly criticized and even threatened may become accustomed to receiving a negative response from others. It is no surprise then, that their self-esteem may be painfully and drastically lowered, and they may assume that everyone will dislike them. This leads to the avoidance of social situations and contact with other people. Conversely, children who have low opinions of themselves, expect others to feel the same way about them too.

Parenting Mistakes

Inconsistent parenting:

If a child is punished one day for a behaviour, and then the next day nothing happens, they experience inconsistent parenting. Inconsistent parenting may cause a child to feel insecure, and they might get the impression that their parent is over-involved sometimes, and under-involved at other times.

Lack of involvement:

Parents may give children the impression that they have neither the time nor desire to be involved in their child's life. This can be very devastating to a child. If a parent appears to be disinterested in the child's development, this may cause the child to shy away from people, believing that they will be perceived as unimportant or 'not worth it'.

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Overcoming Shyness

Shyness and social anxiety can ruin your social interactions by making you constantly self-conscious. I recommend taking the Master Your People Skills course by Vanessa Edwards on CreativeLive to learn how to be more comfortable in social settings and how to feel more confident. I've taken this course and love it because it teaches you how to better understand people and social interactions, which is a major step in overcoming shyness. 

With the right tools, you can overcome shyness over time no matter what the causes of your shyness are. 

So those are the major causes of shyness and why people may be moved to avoid social situations. As you may have seen, shyness can be influenced by a range of factors. Upbringing & childhood experiences can play a huge role. However shyness can also be caused by new situations that people face later in life. I hope you found this article interesting and that it helped to explain reasons why people may be shy.


What are your thoughts on the causes of shyness?

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