4 tricks to overcome adult shyness and boost social confidence

Adult shyness can make social interactions challenging. We delve deeper into what causes it and how to overcome feelings of discomfort and awkwardness.

Being shy as an adult can be tricky – it makes certain social situations awkward, whether you are giving a presentation at work, attending a party full of strangers or simply trying to make small talk.

In a world that often requires you to be somewhat of an extrovert, what are some coping strategies for dealing with shyness?

What is adult shyness?

Typically, shyness starts in childhood and, for some, it can continue into adulthood.

“Generally, adult shyness can be underpinned by feelings of unworthiness, low self-esteem, self-consciousness, and a negative sense of self,” psychotherapist and Seaway Counselling founder Julie Sweet says.

“It’s fear-based; therefore, shyness is rooted in fear of rejection and judgment.

“People who are shy may feel uncomfortable being in the limelight or having the focus on them.”

What causes adult shyness?

Psychologist and Australian Association of Psychologists director Carly Dober says shyness is often a combination of biological and environmental factors.

No one is born shy; however, a child may have a temperament to be quiet or reserved, but parenting and life experiences build upon that scaffolding, which can foster shyness, Carly says.

This can then extend into adulthood.

Adult shyness can also be rooted in life events, such as a new job or a first date.

“Big, significant life changes can trigger a change in sociability or becoming more self-conscious and having a more negative self-preoccupation because that fear of judgment and rejection is a core part of being shy,” Carly explains.

Shyness v social anxiety

Shyness can be on a spectrum, Carly says, with those experiencing it having it manifest to varying degrees.

There is often a misconception that shyness is the same as social anxiety, and while the two are connected, they’re not technically the same thing.

“Shyness is a response to fear or self-consciousness around what people are thinking, and social anxiety – which is a diagnosable mental health condition – is a disproportionate fear of being evaluated or humiliated or criticised,” Carly says.

So, she explains, shyness and social anxiety tend to exist at the same time.

4 ways to shake off adult shyness

Develop self-compassion

“Shyness is not the sum of a person’s identity, it’s merely an aspect,” Julie says.

“Compassion is essential … both personally and from others.”

That said, it is also important for someone to acknowledge and understand their shyness so they can address it.

Practise making small talk

Julie says addressing shyness in social situations can be done by practising eye contact and making small talk, which can be a fear for some individuals.

Carly says you can go so far as practising a few conversational topics on your own, in preparation for a social situation.

Build self-confidence

As shyness is fear-based, Julie says it is also worth learning how to develop your self-confidence and silence your inner critic.

“Think about what might go right – if we’re thinking about shyness as being related to fear, remember our brain isn’t always correct (about what we’re scared of),” Carly says.

Seek professional support

Julie says it is important to seek resources and support if someone persistently feels that their shyness hinders their ability to feel safe and secure in relationships.

“If a person’s coping mechanisms for challenges affect their mental and physical health, seeking professional help can be a useful option,” she says.

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Written by Tania Gomez.