2019-02-20

Would you imagine that a well-known news reporter would have trouble talking to her guy-friend that she happens to have a crush on? Do you think that a celebrity who spends most of her time in the public eye would feel like an outsider around a male colleague she has a thing for? Would you believe that over half of all Americans self-identify as “shy,” especially around members of the opposite sex?

Believe it. It’s all true.

If you’re shy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You’re pretty normal, in fact. If you’re like most women, you might come from a background that tells you that men are always to make the first move. You might feel awkward or uneasy asking a guy out. Although times have changed, old social norms sometimes still get in the way, causing unnecessary social anxiety. If your shyness is getting in the way of love, though, it’s time to do something about it.

When we give into our shyness and turn aside from the opportunity to meet new people—particularly those we may have developed feelings for—we put ourselves at great risk.

That risk is regret.

Ask yourself this: is the momentary pain of rejection the worst thing that could happen to you? Or is it, rather, that future moment, 40 years from now, when you somberly remember the opportunity you passed up?

In case you’re wondering, it’s the latter.

But if you’re extremely shy—so shy that you think you might never muster the nerve to talk to your crush—what can you do?

The answer? Plenty!

What Shyness Is

To combat shyness, let’s first take a look at what it actually is.

The root of shyness lies in low self-esteem. The shy simply do not have the confidence that they can perform in social situations, and believe that they will be punished in some way for their failure.

Shyness manifests as the tendency to feel worried or tense during social encounters, especially when unfamiliar people are involved. The shy may experience physical symptoms, such as sweating, blushing, upset stomach, and a quickened pulse. They may also experience negative feelings about themselves, and worry about how others view them. This low self-esteem results in a tendency to withdraw from social interaction.

Shyness can be a major hindrance to romantic relationships—the higher the stakes, the higher the anxiety, and what is higher-stakes than love, after all?

Some bad news first: shyness is partially genetic. If your parents are shy, you’ll likely have some natural disposition toward shyness as well. Your childhood environment has a great effect on how shy you are as well, with isolated children and victims of child abuse often becoming debilitatingly shy.

Now, the good news: no matter what, you can change. You are not bound by your upbringing and genetics.

For most of us, shyness is simply a natural part of life. Making eye contact, coming up with topics of conversation, and having a relaxed posture are hard, and we all have our triggers. Perhaps we become shy around authority. Maybe we’re reluctant to speak with people of the opposite gender. And, of course, nearly all of us choke when it comes time to ask that special someone out on a first date.

But all of this can be learned. Let’s look at how you can bolster your self-esteem in order to close the gap between how you see yourself and how you really are.

"Most socially anxious people are intensely disturbed by the idea that they won’t make a good impression on others."

Accept Yourself

The first and most basic tip for overcoming shyness and gathering the strength to ask that special someone out boils down to one word.

Acceptance.

That’s right. We’re talking Buddha-levels of acceptance here—the ability to see the world as it is, flaws and all, accept it without judgment, and move on.

That means accepting the fact that you’re imperfect.

Yep—you read correctly. You’re imperfect. You have flaws. Not every sentence that comes out of your mouth is going to be perfectly joined to the last. Sometimes you won’t make sense. You’ll stutter. Your eyebrow will arch at the wrong times. It’s all going to happen.

Most socially anxious people are intensely disturbed by the idea that they won’t make a good impression on others. Release this.

But you know what? It’s going to happen to your crush, as well—he’s imperfect, too! We’re all in this big, imperfect mess together.

Release your perfectionism and dwell on the fact that you are, in fact, going to mess up, but that no one is going to care. Endeavor to “bumble freely” as Dr. Barry Schlenker, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, advises.

Make an effort to simply talk freely without self-judgment, and you’ll be on your way to overcoming shyness.

Practice Saying Yes

This next step is the terrifying one. You’re going to get out into the field and do what terrifies you most.

You’re probably accustomed to saying no to social situations—party invites, outings, maybe even dates. It’s time to change that.

Start saying yes. This is vital. Say yes to those outings. Spend an hour or two at the party.

And when you say yes, treat each opportunity like an improve class. Don’t plan. Don’t obsess over what you’ll say. Don’t fret over the position of your hands. Just speak—remember the advice to “bumble freely”? Take it to heart.

Eventually, socialization will begin to get easier and easier the more you practice and succeed—and you will succeed.

Remember—no one looks at you with the distain that you might believe they do. They’re too busy thinking about their own problems.

Once you’ve practiced, it’s time to say the most difficult yes—asking him out.

It’s All in the Eyes

Once you feel ready, start a conversation with your crush. Don’t ask him out yet—just talk. Let him get to know you, and you, him. After all, he may not be what you expect!

In these conversations, meet his eyes as much as you can. Eye contact is one of the biggest factors in establishing a personal connection with someone—it’s hard at first, but it actually cultivates a more comfortable environment. It is better to endure a few moments of discomfort in order to obtain subsequent ease than to simply remain uncomfortable.

Now it’s time for the hard part. You’re going to go for it, but remember these three tips as you do.

Don’t overthink. Overthinking leads to fear and paralysis. Even if he says no, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve learned to accept, remember?

Have fun. Go into this situation with a positive attitude—you’ll come across as comfortable, which will put him at ease. Remember, he’s likely just as nervous as you are.

Finally, be direct. Don’t beat around the bush or play games with him in order to avoid directly asking him out. This is confusing. Instead, you’re going to ask him what he’s doing tomorrow or this weekend, and you’re going to tell him you’d like to go out with him.

Bam. It’s that easy. And that hard.

Realize Your Value

Since shyness is, at its core, linked to a lack of self-worth, realizing your own value can set you free from social anxiety, leaving you to pursue love at your leisure.

But, remember—these tips aren’t an instant fix. You might have to practice for months. You might even wish to attend counseling sessions to help speed you along the road to valuing yourself.

But however you get there, get there. The risk of missing out on that one special connection is simply too great to allow a little shyness to get in the way.

So say no to shyness, and a big yes to love.

more from beliefnet and our partners