Shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness especially when a person is around other people. This commonly occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people. Shyness can be a characteristic of people who have low self-esteem. Stronger forms of shyness are usually referred to as social anxiety or social phobia.
Shyness is most likely to occur during unfamiliar situations, though in severe cases it may hinder an individual in their most familiar situations and relationships as well. Shy people avoid the objects of their apprehension in order to keep from feeling uncomfortable and inept; thus, the situations remain unfamiliar and the shyness perpetuates itself.
The primary defining characteristic of shyness is a largely ego-driven fear of what other people will think of a person’s behavior. This results in a person becoming scared of doing or saying what they want to out of fear of negative reactions, being laughed at, humiliated or patronized, criticism and/or rejection. A shy person may simply opt to avoid social situations instead.
Shyness can mean feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, nervous, bashful, timid, or insecure. People who feel shy sometimes notice physical sensations like blushing or feeling speechless, shaky, or breathless. Shyness is the opposite of being at ease with yourself around others.
The initial cause of shyness varies. Scientists believe that they have located genetic data supporting the hypothesis that shyness is, at least, partially genetic. However, there is also evidence that suggests the environment in which a person is raised can also be responsible for their shyness. This includes child abuse, particularly emotional abuse such as ridicule.
Shyness can originate after a person has experienced a physical anxiety reaction; at other times, shyness seems to develop first and then later causes physical symptoms of anxiety. Shyness differs from social anxiety, which is a broader, often depression-related psychological condition including the experience of fear, apprehension or worrying about being evaluated by others in social situations to the extent of inducing panic.
The expression of such an inhibited temperament early in life does not guarantee that such individuals will grow up to be shy adults. Even if it did, all it would mean is that such individuals would have to make decisions about how and where to socialize that would take into consideration their temperament (e.g., go to a poetry reading instead of a loud bar). The notion that people are born shy is simply a belief about shyness, not a fact, about shyness. There are many things shy individuals can do to control their shyness instead of letting their shyness control them–biology is not destiny.
Shyness may come from genetic traits, the environment in which a person is raised and personal experiences. Shyness may be a personality trait or can occur at certain stages of development in children.