On Shyness and the Human Condition
So many people held back by shyness nowadays. But what is shyness and what does it tell us about human nature?
Shyness is a common psychological trait. It belongs to mental health, but when crossing a threshold of normality, it can seriously harm the quality of life and the ability to enjoy intimate relationships. Psychologists do not seem to penetrate into the depth of shyness, and their suggestions tend to be somewhat shallow ("smile more"). In this article, I would like to present a different approach to human psychology and to show how it explains the root cause of shyness. It’s a new working model of the personality. Unlike other models, this one also offers a real solution in the form of meditation that will be discussed in future articles.
In social psychology, shyness is associated with quietness, anxiety in social situations, and feeling tense or awkward in social interactions especially with the opposite sex. Research shows however, that simply training shy individuals in social skills does not solve the problem and counterintuitively, in some cases it even makes it worse.
The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott referred to shyness as an important developmental phase and to the total lack of shyness in children as pathological. He suggested that children who do not learn to express their anger become tense, over-controlled, serious and inhibited as adults. It is as if they unconsciously struggle to keep the anger inside and hidden.
Typical of shyness is that it does not make any sense. This is especially true to the shy people themselves who suffer the pain of being perceived as aloof against their best intentions, resulting in feelings of shame and isolation. It is as if they are locked in a shell that prevents them from establishing playful, intimate, and sexual relationships. This double-edged sword cuts them from within and without. And what’s worse is that the fact that they cannot understand their inner situation makes talking about it pretty much impossible.
So what causes shyness? I suggest that the answer lies in the way mind and body are related to one another. Or more accurately, in how the mind transforms the body. what do I mean by that?
The evolution of the mind has opened up a new dimension of experience in humans. Language is so much more than means of communication. It is an expression of a world that is totally different from the the physical world. It is a mental world of abstractions and phantasies. This means that humans are the only species that live in two worlds: physical and mental which has to be brought together. The physical world is accessible through perception of the senses, whereas the mental world where the mind lives is accessible only through the “sixth sense”: intuition. The quality of your psychological well-being is dependent on how well can your personality manage living in two worlds at the same time. It is also true that the quality of your external relationships is an expression of the quality of the internal relationship between the physical and mental worlds inside you.
This situation is depicted in figure 1. The mind grows out of the body and it has the motoric control over it. The mind needs energy from the body just like the body needs food. Energizing means that physical energy needs to be mentalized and turn into mental thinking. In shyness, the mind tends to be overwhelmed in certain situations when the body is suddenly aroused and more physical energy (Libido) runs towards the mind than it can metabolize (sublimate) in "real time". In this sense, mentalization (or sublimation) can be metaphorically thought of as the digesting system of the mind and in shyness, the Libido is incredibly spicy.
Figure 1: Mind (Language) and Body (Libido)
Figure 2 depicts the core of the internal conflict that every human being needs to resolve. When physical energy enters the mind without being "mentalized" sufficiently, it disrupts the mental world and the mind becomes anxious. Since the mind is a thinking organ, it produces thoughts. And an anxious mind produces anxious thoughts. It is pretty much impossible to convince the anxious mind to change its anxious thoughts. Trying to socialize in a conflicted state of mind is like driving a car with the handbrake on. But when the energetic conflict has calmed down, these thoughts simply fade away.
Figure 2: The core conflict in humans
Another metaphor to think of mind and body is of the mind riding the body like a horse. Without the horse, the rider lacks the energy but if the horse is too wild (like in shyness), the rider is constantly afraid to fall off. He becomes timid. The trick is to be able to differentiate between fears that come from the external world and those that are triggered in the inner world.
What shy people need then is not an intellectual understanding (they are usually very smart to begin with) but the skill to energize their mind with physical energy but without being blown away. I refer to energizing the mind as mentalization and I have developed a meditation technique that promotes healing of this process. I will share more on this new approach to human psychology and how to benefit from it in future articles.