Shyness is a feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort or an awkwardness especially when a person is around others. It involves a fear of negative evaluation by others. Shyness is different from being an introvert, although the two are commonly mistaken to be the same thing.
Being an introvert means paying more attention to one’s inner life rather than to the outside world. An introvert enjoys solitude and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. It may not involve any fear. A shy person on the other hand doesn’t necessarily want to be alone but is afraid to interact with others.
It may be that shyness is a personality trait but a propensity for it is influenced by social experiences, says Kishore Chandiramani, Consultant Psychiatrist Emotions Clinic, Education and Training Centre, England.
It is believed that most shy children develop shyness because of their interactions with their parents. The parents, mostly mothers, who are authoritarian or overprotective can cause their children to be shy. However, these parents also offer an opportunity to the child to get out of their shyness if the child can identify with them, he tells.
“It is strange that both introverts as well as extroverts feel envious of each other for the traits they are missing in their own personalities. Carl Gustav Jung has mentioned that a switch occurs during late 30s or early 40s in one’s life when the introverts try to become extroverts and extroverts introverts with some success, as they both feel that being an extrovert or an introvert hasn’t paid them off well in life. However, early in life an introvert should try to be a successful introvert and an extrovert a successful extrovert,” explains the expert.
Social anxiety disorder
Chandiramani says: “Shyness is not an illness but a social anxiety disorder is, and the two are different. Shyness is a personality trait. Many people who are shy do not have the negative emotions and feelings that accompany social anxiety disorder. While many people with social anxiety disorder are not shy in other setting, shyness is not a pre-requisite for social anxiety disorder.”
He adds: “Shyness is pervasive but social anxiety disorder can be restricted to only one aspect of one’s functioning such as eating in public, public-speaking or encounters with the opposite sex.”
However, social anxiety disorder can also involve almost all social situations outside the family circle. Social phobias are usually associated with low self-esteem or fear of criticism, he says.
“They may present with a complaint of blushing, hand tremor, urgency of micturition, and they may have panic attacks as well. The avoidance of the feared situation is marked in social anxiety disorder, in fact the diagnosis is based on that, and if one doesn’t avoid the feared situation it is not classed as social anxiety disorder.”
There is some evidence supporting genetic basis to the diffuse (not specific) social anxiety disorder as it is found more commonly among relative of the client. The fMRI studies of the brain also suggest that the amygdala (which is a seat of fear in the brain) of social anxiety disorder clients was hypersensitive to facial expression of others – the expressions of anger or contemptuous (socially threatening) attitudes, Chandiramani says.
“Stressful life events and trauma during childhood can also influence the development of social anxiety problems. Some of the exposures known to have predictive value for severe social anxiety include: Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. It is encouraging to note that many social anxiety disorder clients respond well to treatment with SSRIs.”
Jung and his introversion /extroversion theory
Jung has argued that being introverted is a matter of individual disposition and not related to the mother’s influence as two children of the same mother may exhibit contrary traits early in life. He doesn’t discount the role of parenting and says that if mothers own attitude is extreme, a similar attitude can be forced on the child too, thus violating their individual disposition, Chandiramani explains.
“Introverts are ego-centric and they devalue the external objects, which are very important to an extrovert. There is also a conscious desire to dominate the object – the unconscious mind then tries to compensate for this indifference and superiority by way to creating an irrepressible and absolute tie to the object. The more an introvert struggles to preserves his independence and superiority the more he becomes enslaved to the external objects, and his desire to dominate ends in a pitiful craving to be loved. His fear of objects develops into a peculiar kind of cowardliness, he shrinks from making himself or his opinions felt, fearing that this will only increase the objects power. He is terrified of strong emotions in others, and is hardly ever free from the dread of falling under hostile influences. Anything strange or new arouses fear and mistrust, as though concealing unknown perils, heirlooms are attached to his soul as by invisible threads.”
Jung argues that the extroverted on the other hand orients himself in accordance with the data supplied by the outside world. He thinks, feels, acts and actually lives in a way that is directly correlated with the object’s condition and their demands. His inner life is subordinated to the external necessity; though not without a struggle.
He is suggestible and his effusiveness can take him into the realm of fantasy. The danger is they get sucked into objects and completely lose themselves into them. If they experienced sudden success in the outside world they start neglecting the needs of their own unconscious mind or personal self.
The unconscious mind then tries to compensate by creating nervous inhibition, panic or some physical illness to force them into an involuntary restraint. At times these pleasing and cordial extroverts behave in a childishly selfish, ruthless or brutal manner as a result of the compensatory behaviour of their unconscious mind. It can also take the form of alcoholism or suicide.
As a result of this compensatory behaviour of the unconscious mind, one can exhibit mixed characteristics of both introversion as well as extroversion. It is difficult to decide at first which function is primary. The function which is completely under conscious control is the primary and the function which has a haphazard and spontaneous character is secondary or compensatory from the unconscious.