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Social anxiety and shyness

Shyness is a very common experience.

There are no agreed criteria for shyness. Yet we instinctively know what shyness is. This is because most of us have been through stages of shyness, in childhood, teenage years or early adulthood. And those experiences may have been painful.

Shyness is the norm in early life, and as we grow up, it usually becomes less. About 80{969778691359240c072e97759c2d0fb09c0cc365602a2d062bed06458e86e909} of people report they have experienced shyness in childhood and adolescence. About half of these people grow out of it. However, this still leaves about 40{969778691359240c072e97759c2d0fb09c0cc365602a2d062bed06458e86e909} (and maybe even up to 50{969778691359240c072e97759c2d0fb09c0cc365602a2d062bed06458e86e909}) of adults who feel they are still shy in some social situations.

It appears shyness is on the increase. This is possibly due to the impact of technology. Using computers and mobile devices is a more acceptable way of communicating today, both in personal and work life. Many generations have grown up very familiar with using computers, learning online or using computer CDs, playing video games, texting, using online forms of communication etc. In fact, many jobs today involve a considerable amount of time in front of a computer. And a lot of services today are automated. For example no human contact is needed to shop online, use an ATM or online banking, or use automated telephone answering services, or to buy something from a vending machine. For someone who is shy, these forms of communication, and automated services, may be a relief. But is does avoid human contact. Which means technology and automated services, may be a way of avoiding overcoming shyness.

Shyness tends to be more of a problem when interacting with someone in a position of authority, or in one-to-one situations, especially when talking to an attractive person.

Shyness is different from introversion. A person who is introverted prefers activities on their own rather than in a social group. They do not seek out social interaction. Extroverted people tend to be the opposite, and seek out the excitement of social interactions. Shyness can occur in either introverted or extroverted people.

Many shy people feel ashamed of themselves for being shy. They feel it is their fault. They feel they are to blame for not overcoming their problem.

However, there are some social advantages to shyness. It is an attractive quality to many people. There is perhaps some mystery about a person who is shy. It may lead the other person to want to know more about the shy person. And there is a sense of doing something good in gaining the confidence of a shy person. Also, some people admire shyness, as it can seem like a form of modesty. So there are possibly some social advantages to being shy, which may perpetuate the shyness.

What is the difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder?

There is a lot of overlap between social anxiety disorder and shyness. Social anxiety disorder does have an element of shyness to it. However the main difference between the two, is severity.

Severity in the level of anxiety:
Mild anxiety levels in social situations is in keeping with shyness. High anxiety levels in social situations is more in keeping with social anxiety disorder.

Severity in the degree of avoidance:
Little or no avoidance of social situations, is in keeping with shyness. However, avoidance which interferes with life is characteristic of social anxiety disorder. For example, they may avoid going out, or meeting people, or drop out of school, or avoid careers they are capable of. It interferes with their life now, and in what they want to do in the future.

Severity in the persistence of symptoms:
Generally someone who is shy will feel uncomfortable when meeting someone for the first time. This usually gets better with time, as they become more familiar and comfortable in that social setting. However, someone with social anxiety disorder may continue to be anxious even when they get to know the other person better.


Shyness is common. Shy people tend to feel it is their fault, and blame themselves for being shy. However, there can be some social advantages to being shy. Shyness affects both introverted and extroverted people. The main difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder is in the severity to which it affects their life.

Take care,


Dr Paul Ogilvie
Dr Paul Ogilvie