Ask Dr. Ellis

January, 2006

Question: What is shyness and how can I overcome it?

Dr. Ellis answers: Shyness can be quite normal and sensible—as when you shy away from doing things you really don’t want to do but in a moment of weakness you promised to do. Or when you shy away from staying too long with difficult and boring people. Good.

Most of what we call shyness, however, results from fear of rejection and of being disapproved. Thus, you avoid approaching people who you think will find you inferior. When you are illegitimately shy, you first rationally tell yourself, “I do not like being rejected, and wish I get accepted by people I favor.” This Rational Belief (RB) and feeling leads you to avoid “dangerous” people and to try to get accepted by others. Fine. But when you are very shy, you add an Irrational Belief-feeling, “I absolutely must not ever be rejected! If I am, it’s awful, and I can’t stand it! Rejection makes me, a person, totally inadequate! Horrors!”

Your second, Irrational Belief-feeling (IB) scares you witless and drives you to avoid any people who might possibly reject you and thereby prove “your utter worthlessness.” It creates your disturbed shyness. It makes you manufacture your scariness.

If Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is correct about this, what can you do to reduce your disturbed shyness? Try the following actions:

  1. Fully see that you choose to create your shyness. It doesn’t merely come from an Activating Event or Activating Situation (A). You choose to Believe and to feel it at B, your Belief-feeling.
  2. Fully realize that you don’t have to choose Irrational Belief-feelings at B about a situation where you may be rejected. You can instead choose a Rational Belief-feeling (RB), such as, “I greatly dislike rejection but still can stand it and fully accept myself, me, when and if I don’t get it.” Give yourself, with this philosophy, Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA). Completely accept your entirety in spite of your failing to get accepted.
  3. Give yourself, in addition, the REBT philosophy of Unconditional Life Acceptance (ULA)—that is, “I fully accept my life, my ongoing existence, whether or not I get what I want. I definitely prefer, but do not need, what I want, such as social acceptance. It’s bad when I get rejected and don’t get what I want, but I can try next time to get it. My rejection is part of my life but it doesn’t equal me. I can still get a great deal of happiness in life in spite of this particular rejection. Too bad—but not awful.”

Your seeing that irrational rejection really is a choice to reject you totally when someone rejects you in part, and you see that this is an irrational choice for you to make. This will stop you from denigrating yourself if and when others reject you. Then you have nothing to lose by unselfishly trying and trying again for social acceptance.



All Out! An Autobiograpy
This candid autobiography, the last work by renowned psychologist Albert Ellis, is a tour de force of stimulating ideas, colorful descriptions of memorable people and events, and straightforward, no-nonsense talk. Ellis, the creator of one of the most successful forms of psychotherapy-Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)-recounts the memorable episodes of his life; discusses how he coped with emotional problems at different stages of life; describes his love life; and subjects his own self-description to a ruthlessly honest critique. Click here to buy the book.

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A concise booklet that outlines the ABCs of unhealthy negative emotions and self-defeating behavior. Shows how to dispute your irrational beliefs. Great for beginners and experienced REBTers alike. Download the book.

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