Overcoming Shyness Using IFS

Sheldon never felt quite comfortable in groups larger than two or three people. Whenever he found himself invited to big social gatherings, he made excuses to avoid attending. On the rare occasions when he couldn’t get out of it, such as his sister’s wedding, he would make the least amount of small talk possible, and then try to blend in with the background.

Sheldon finds it much easier to talk to one or two people, but once the numbers grow, he becomes nervous. He dreads the moment where someone might ask him a question and all the eyes look to him.

SHELDON: “When I was younger, I would try to fit in, but it never seemed to work. I never know the right thing to say…especially if the spotlight drifts onto me. It seems like I was always doing or saying the wrong thing, and then suffering through that awkward silence. Eventually, I just decided that I should just say as little as possible and get out with my dignity intact.”

Recently a charismatic friend, Tony, has been trying to get Sheldon “out there” to help him find a new girlfriend. They attended a cocktail party together, and Tony steered Sheldon around, introducing him to a few groups of girls. But Tony’s plan quickly hit a snag:

TONY: “Every time I would try to talk Sheldon up–saying something about his volunteer work at the animal shelter, which is a total chick magnet–he’d crack a lame joke or he’d mumble something and look away. The girls were interested, until he opened his mouth. It sucks, too, because one-on-one, Sheldon’s a great guy.”

SHELDON: “I know, I know. Tony has such an easy way with people, like he doesn’t worry at all what they think. And people seem to love him. But me, well, people take one look at me and seem to get uncomfortable. Then I feel it, and I can’t stand that I’m such a downer. I wish I knew how to be more suave and say funny little things to draw people in. Whenever I try to be funny, though, it goes over like a lead balloon.”

Sheldon decided to explore himself using the Pattern System and IFS. In the Pattern System, shyness is the Self-Effacing Pattern. When Sheldon got to know his Self-Effacing protector using IFS, he realized that it was actually trying to keep him safe by protecting a wounded child part (exile). When he connected with this little boy inside, the boy told Sheldon that he felt very embarrassed because of all the times he’d been laughed at for his thick glasses and headgear when he was little. This is the Shame Wound in the Pattern System.

SHELDON: “Seeing that ashamed little boy inside myself really helped me to understand that my shyness wasn’t a curse or some kind of deformity. That urge to be quiet and stay out of the spotlight was coming from my Self-Effacing Part, which wanted me to avoid further hurt. Now I have more compassion for myself about all those awkward moments.”

When Sheldon got invited to a party through his buddy, Tony, he decided to practice the Social Confidence Capacity using Self-Therapy Journey. Social Confidence is the healthy capacity that transforms the Self-Effacing Pattern. Sheldon took some time on his own to sit down in a calm mood and listen to the child part burdened by this Shame Wound, who said, “I don’t want them to laugh at me or point their fingers.”

SHELDON: “I told him, ‘First of all, that’s really not going to happen. I wear good-looking glasses now, and we don’t have headgear anymore. And I’m a man, not a boy anymore. If someone laughs at me, I know how to take care of myself. I won’t let them hurt you.’ I think he liked that.'”

On the day of the party, Sheldon noticed he felt a bit anxious and his hands were sweaty. He took a few moments to say positive statements to himself, such as “I have the right to belong in this group,” and “I know I’m okay, and so everyone else will think so, too.” He also took a moment to check in again with his Shame exile, just to let that young boy know he was paying attention and cared about how the boy felt. He reached out to his Self-Effacing protector part, too, who Sheldon saw as a hushing librarian. He reminded this protector that he was watching out for the boy, and he’d like to work on being present at the party, rather than having the protector take over.

SHELDON: “It was funny, talking to that protector part. I told him what I wanted, and it’s almost like I could see him lifting an eyebrow in my mind’s eye, like he was saying, ‘Well, I’m willing to give it a go, but I’m skeptical.'”

When Sheldon got to the party, he found Tony in the midst of a big group of listeners. Tony, spotting him, yelled, “Hey, there’s my buddy! Ladies, you’re gonna love this guy!” Sheldon took a breath and smiled, reminding himself that he was okay and he was just as good a person as these people staring at him. He thanked Tony for the compliment, then looked at the other people around him, and said, “Tony’s always trying to help me meet people, but I’ve been pretty shy in the past, so it hasn’t been easy.” Tony seemed surprised at Sheldon’s speaking up and sharing this, but only for a second. Then he laughed, and said, “Yeah, I’ve had my work cut out for me. But I’m glad to see you here now, man. Hey, have you met my cousin Rhoda?”

SHELDON: “I could see that a few people had turned away, but most of them were smiling at me and seeming interested. I could feel my protector wanting to come forward and pull me back into quietness because of those few people who looked put off, but I asked him to give me room instead, and said to him, ‘Don’t forget this is a party. People are doing all sorts of things and aren’t really that concerned with judging me. Now let’s interact with Rhoda and find out more about her, because she definitely is paying attention to me right now.'”

Rhoda and Sheldon talked for a little while, long enough to find out that she was usually a little shy at big parties, too. Sheldon’s protector and his wounded child part felt reassured at this information, and gave Sheldon more room to keep speaking to her with warmth.

SHELDON: “Rhoda was actually pretty easy to talk to. She seemed to understand how hard it can be reach out to new people, and she actually seemed kinda grateful that I was talking to her. We made a date to go on a walk the next day, where it wouldn’t be so loud and crazy.”

While he didn’t always feel he had the “right” things to say at this party, or others, Sheldon’s practice with his Social Confidence started to pay off. He found it easier to hang out with Tony and his friends, and eventually to be a regular part of the gang. He discovered that women were not that hard to talk to and that they appreciated his patience and thoughtfulness. He still has his awkward moments, but Sheldon is learning to treat himself with kindness, and even sometimes, loving laughter. Parties will never be his favorite place to be, but now he is feeling more and more comfortable in these kinds of social settings.  

For help with shyness: Self-Therapy Journey is an interactive online tool for psychological healing and personal growth that has a module for shyness.