Exposure Doesn’t “Cure” Shyness

That’s my personal title for a new article by Dr. Thomas Richards that he calls “Why Behavioral Therapy Alone Does Not Work for Social Anxiety” :

Some questions: Do you still have anxiety about speaking to people even though you’ve done it dozens and dozens of times?

Are you still self conscious about speaking up in public … even though you’ve done it over and over again? . . .

Does the thought of talking to strangers and engaging in small talk still make you nervous? Haven’t you done this again and again for years and years?

We are constantly doing behavioral therapy with ourselves as we live through each day, unless we are totally avoidant. Many of us have done the things that cause us anxiety hundreds and hundreds of times…

….and we’re still anxious!

Indeed! I used to believe that if I would just go get involved in social situations and stayed in them long enough, exposing myself to being around others over and over, eventually that magical state known as “desensitization” would occur and I’d “overcome” my shyness.*

Richards also writes:

Without having cognitive strategies, skills, and methods learned, a person does not have a new way to think and rationalize. Cognitive therapy changes the way we think and feel. It changes our beliefs and makes them more rational.

. . . it is only when the cognitive therapy is learned that the behavioral therapy can be put into place.

Both cognitive and behavioral must be put together (i.e., combined) for a permanent change to occur in our lives.

Go read the whole thing if you’re interested. Years ago I purchased his audio course on CBT for S.A., and I still subscribe to the newsletter.

Desensitization may work on fears such as spiders and heights, but social anxiety is a different kind of ordeal. (Yeah yeah, I know that the physiological reactions – sweating, blushing, heartrate – are the same; but that’s not what I’m talking about.) Those of you who have gone through this know what I’m talking about. Dr. Richards’ point is that exposure alone will not help most shy people get over their fear. It takes a more complex approach, mostly involving your negative thoughts and beliefs.

* I hate terminology that refers to social anxiety / social phobia / shyness as something to be overcome, defeated, beaten, recover from, gotten over, etc., as if it’s a serious personal defect. A long time ago, I used to see it that way myself. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become a bit more accepting of it, since it hasn’t gone away (as if it’s an “it” that I could make “go away”!).

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One thought on “Exposure Doesn’t “Cure” Shyness

  1. I agree with this post. I have SAD myself. It doesn’t ever go away, no matter how much ‘desensitizing’ you try.

    …if I would just go get involved in social situations and stayed in them long enough, exposing myself to being around others over and over, eventually that magical state known as “desensitization” would occur and I’d “overcome” my shyness.

    Exactly.

    I do disagree with you on one point, though. You write:

    I hate terminology that refers to social anxiety / social phobia / shyness… as if it’s a serious personal defect.

    I personally feel that it *is* a serious personal defect, and I say that as someone who has struggled with social anxiety my whole life (and is quite empathetic to others who have the same problem). It’s certainly a defect by the standards of normal social behavior. Especially for men.

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