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Overcoming Excessive Shyness in Children and Adults
on August 24, 2001
Help is available for shy people!
Triumph Over Shyness points out that shyness is a trait that almost everyone shares to some extent. But we differ in the degree of that shyness and what causes it. For some, shyness closes off options. It may make a person nervous or uncomfortable with others, and keep a person from being able to act in the ways they would like to act. When that occurs, many people will want to become less shy. This book is very helpful for those who want to change.
Let's start with terms. "Shyness refers to a tendency to withdraw from people, particularly unfamiliar people." "Social anxiety refers to the special kind of anxiety or discomfort you may experience when you are around other people."
The causes are rooted in biology, learning, and experience. We react to situations we fear with strong hormone discharges that make us ready to flee. That saves us from danger, but becomes inappropriate when there is no danger. Bad experiences with other people may cause us to associate danger to being with strangers. That experience can become learning that triggers more hormones when the appearance of that situation recurs. Also, we can develop fear from seeing others in fear . . . especially parents and friends. So, you can get caught up on a negative cycle of self-reinforcing fear. Sometimes the symptoms themselves make it worse. For example, you may perspire when feeling anxious, and that also makes you concerned that others may notice.
People with social anxiety issues are likely to have other problems including marital discord, depression, alcohol or drug abuse, or other anxiety disorders. One-third have major depression. These issues arise with youngsters as well as adults. The book deals with both.
You can treat the problem, which is the good news. You can use self-help, talk-based therapies, and medications. The book suggests that you pick the one that best fits your situation, and try it out. Based on the results you get, then try the next logical one if you still need help. For example, those who are only anxious some of the time might start with self-help. Then, they could use talk therapy to relieve the areas where self-help didn't cause enough progress. Some medications have short-term effects, and could be used if talk therapy failed to cure a remaining few areas.
In part two of the book, you get extensive information on how to employ self-help techniques. These focus on helping you identify the source of your social anxiety problems, change your thinking in anxiety-causing situations, and change your behavior when you feel anxious. The book is filled with questionnaires, diaries, and suggestions for how to diagnose and treat yourself. I suspect that most will improve from using these methods, for at least their minor issues. There are many helpful suggestions. Basically, most people start out pretty shy and experience reduces that effect. This section is attempting to create those positive experiences and enhance your skills.
The final part of the book works on improving your people skills. Those with excess shyness and social anxiety probably are a little behind the curve here. You are given simple ideas for how to handle eye contact, smiling, listening, starting conversations, small talk, being a better conversationalist, telephone calls, criticism, praise, and meeting people. You are encouraged to set simple goals, track your progress, and keep practicing.
At the end of the book, you are encouraged to begin by deciding you want to do something, choosing a treatment, being flexible in pursuing the treatment, being patient, practicing, and opening up your life to others.
The book has a nice, gentle tone that puts you in charge of your shyness. "There's nothing wrong with being shy." Unfortunately, as the authors note, "Many people aren't happy about being shy." This book is for those in the latter category.
I have known some people who have been treated for social anxiety, and everything the book said certainly was reflected in what I observed. The book is also filled with case histories of people with fairly difficult problems, so you don't have to feel weird or unusual. If you are experiencing panic attacks and extreme symptoms of shyness, I suggest that you consider trying the medications. Many people are helped by them, and some have few side effects. With that boost, you may be able to do more with self-help and talk therapy.
After you finish this fine book, you should take an area where shyness is holding back your progress and commit to using at least some of the self-help methods to improve. Be sure to hesitate to procrastinate in overcoming any shyness that bothers you.
Imagine all the wonderful experiences you will have with people you have yet to meet! The best part of your life is ahead of you!