Skylar Burris's Reviews > Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

Shyness by Christopher  Lane
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's review
Oct 15, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: sociology, psychology
Read in January, 2009

I was interested in reading this book for a variety of reasons. One is that, as an introverted person who was at one time also shy, I have always felt that extroverts do not understand and often misjudge shy people and that, because they are outgoing, extroverts tend to set the expectations for "normal" behavior in society. A second reason is that, as I see increasing advertising for mood-altering drugs and hear of an increasing array of new disorders, I have become concerned that the line between personality and disorder is becoming blurred and that our present society, while giving lip service to the value of diversity with regard to race and religion, is perhaps seeking among its inhabitants a conformity of personality.

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Reading Progress

01/01 page 90
01/01 page 90
33.09% "An important topic: the blurring of distinctions between personality and disorder by psychiatrists & drug companies. I wish the book weren't"
06/12 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Skylar Burris Thanks, Abigail. He spends a bit of time with examples from history and literature of people who were previously simply considered shy and tolerated. What he is advocating is not that we ignore severe anxiety problems, but that we tighten the criteria for diagnosing disorders so that it catches only the severe cases and that, most importantly, western society learn to show more tolerance for introverted personalities and introverted behaviors. (Where is the disorder for the extroverted person who is afraid to be alone with her thoughts for two hours and who avoids being alone the way the shy person avoids going to parties?) Fascinating stuff, I just wish it hadn't been so poorly written overall!

message 2: by Michele (new)

Michele Good review and vital topic. Les Fairfield, former professor of Church History at Trinity School for Ministry and self proclaimed recluse, states that we live in an extroverted culture. It is not surprising that classifying shyness as a disorder has become common, though disturbing. The trouble is, introverts are not the kind of people who like a good fight. As Garrison Keillor points out, shy people don't tend to come out to the Shyness meetings in Lake Woebegone. Nevertheless, many of us introverts are good writers and that may be our field for battle.

I agree there are people with severe agoraphobia who need help, but those of us who simply thrive in a quiet environment and are stressed by the pressures of our extroverted culture, need to be recognized as whole and healthy people. We would certainly be at home with the Navajo and probably the Japanese as well as many other cultures on the planet.

message 3: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Great review Skylar. It is very disturbing that shyness is being classified as a disorder. There is a great difference between agoraphobia and shyness. Many wonderfully creative people are shy and give so much to the world as they spend time alone creating, producing great novels and works of art (like Skylar and Michele). They interact with the world through their works of art. This is perfectly fine.

I am both an extrovert and introvert. Sometimes I need to be alone for several days, then my battery is charged and I enjoy getting out and being social again. By nature, I am very pastoral and nurturing and empathize a lot for people, but when you are nurturing others, you need to spend time in solitude and prayer to get recharged.

message 4: by Skylar (last edited May 17, 2009 11:07AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Skylar Burris Thank you for your comments, Michele.

Then you're an introvert, Karen. LOL. That's the very definition of introvert--needing to be alone to "recharge" before being able to be social. You can be an introvert without being shy (i.e. fearful of / uncomfortable in social situations).

He may go too far in saying that mere "shyness" is what's classified as a sickness ("social anxiety disorder"), but the criteria for classification are sufficiently loose that they run the risk of capturing some shy people who function well in society but expereince some discomfort as part of their personality (as part of being human!).

message 5: by Karen L. (last edited Jan 05, 2009 04:01PM) (new)

Karen L. Skylar,I think deep down inside I am an introvert, true.
All those psychological tests are a bunch of malarkey! I test positive for so many things..It's scary!!! My husband says I have Attention Surplus Syndrome- A.S.S. :) LOL!I have a tendency to zone out when I am thinking.

Was this book written from a totally secular position? I mention this because I think faith in God helps so many people who are shy. I know it helped me. Actually fear can be good, as it causes our faith to grow.

Skylar Burris Yes, it was written from a completely secular position.

message 7: by Katharine (new)

Katharine I am a borderline extrovert, but I'm also the daughter, sister, and wife of introverts. I totally agree that extreme extroverts can have a tendency to run rough-shod over introverts! A friend of mine once loudly asked my introverted brother, "You don't talk much, do you?" when in fact he had made several contributions to the conversation -- she just wasn't listening.

I'm not sure I'd be able to wade through the book, though, from your description. Did the author make any distinction between shyness and introversion? Or was that your own distinction?

Skylar Burris I don't think he made much of a distinction between shyness and introversion, which was a flaw in the book in my opinion. On the other hand, the pyschiatrists who ended up putting social anxiety disorder into the book perhaps didn't make much of a distinction either; originally, social anxiety disorder was going to be called "introverted disorder," at which a great many psychiatrists, introverted themselves, objected. One said, you are basically calling half the population sick. So they changed the name, without listening to the deeper objection, that discomfort in social settings should be considered a psychological disorder at all and not a normal part of a certain personality.

It IS a difficult book to plow throug. You might check it out from your library and simply skim it.

message 9: by booklady (last edited Jan 07, 2009 02:52PM) (new)

booklady Interesting book and discussion! First, I would never have thought you shy Skylar. Since I can only read what you write, you don't sound like either an introvert or an extrovert--but one of those rare people who isn't one or the other; they just have their act together and they're just them. KWIM?

Abigail, Matthew Cuthbert was always my favorite character from that series and reminds me so much of my deceased brother who was very shy and introverted. He said very little but when he said something it was really worth listening to.

Michele, we do live in an extroverted culture but I think you're right about introverts being good writers. Now we just have to make sure we keep literacy levels up so that we have a field for battle. I do find it fascinating that so many like-minded souls seem to find one another here at goodreads...

Karen, tell your husband I love 'Attention Surplus Syndrome- A.S.S.' and I think I have it too, but always for the wrongs things at the wrong times--like books at 2 a.m. and a new book in the book store when I need to finish up the stack at home... ;)

Katharhino, Your brother's experience w/the non-listener who said, "You don't talk much, do you?" when in fact he had made several contributions to the conversation -- she just wasn't listening. sounds very familiar! (sigh)

Thanks ladies for letting me chime in!

Another GREAT review Skylar!!! Keep 'em coming!

Skylar Burris "First, I would never have thought you shy Skylar."

The beauty of the eye contact or "small talk" required...LOL. Seriously, though, the semi-anonymity of the internet removes social anxiety I think.

I'm not socially awkward in "real life" (I don't think) when I either know the person very well and have known him or her for a long time or I have a specific (usually intellectual) topic to discuss that also interests the other person (literature, economics, theology, etc.). In all other situations, however, I definitely experience real social discomfort, and I tend to minimize the frequency of things like making phone calls and going to parties. (I don't want to say I "avoid" it because that's one of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. LOL.) I've become less shy (i.e. that feeling of anxiety before and during social situations) since I've had kids (instant topic), but I'm as introverted (i.e. generally preferring to be alone or with small groups I know well) as ever.

This did spark an interesting conversation; now, if anyone here actually reads the book, I'd be interested in their opinions!

message 11: by booklady (new)

booklady Skylar wrote: ""First, I would never have thought you shy Skylar."

The beauty of the eye contact or "small talk" required...but I'm as introverted (i.e. generally preferring to be alone or with small groups I know well) as ever.

I know what you mean! I went in the Air Force to "cure" myself of being shy. I came out 13 years later having had a fascinating career, lived in two foreign countries, traveled all over the world, interacted with thousands of people, etc., blah, blah, blah, and when I took off that uniform and became just me again I found the same shy old bookworm from before. lol! You can't put braces on personality!

message 12: by David (new) - added it

David Regarding shyness: I think that it would be helpful if more people were accepting of it. However, I think that it is important to remember that, in Japan, well before the DSM III was written, people considered extreme shyness to be a problem. Morita psychotherapy, developed in Japan in the 1930s (well before DSM III) focused on anxiety (including social anxiety, so they aren't as accepting of social anxiety as this author thinks). In addition, if people think that a high proportion of the population are being characterized as mentally ill when many of them may just be normal people, consider the case of near-sightedness. Apparently, "Nearsightedness is a very common vision condition affecting nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population." Near-sightedness may be normal as humans didn't always need to see that well. However, it is more adaptive to see clearly. Correcting the problem makes sense.
In a highly social species like homo sapiens, it makes sense that shyness could be a problem. I think that the main psychotherapeutic treatments for shyness do NOT involve pathologizing all emotion. For instance, many therapists will have people face situations that bring on fear, be more accepting of the fear itself and eventually grow more accustomed to being more social (if the fear is effecting the person, which it generally is if the person is coming to therapy). This probably should have been more of a focus in the book. I think that, in extreme cases, it makes sense to try to help reduce symptoms of shyness. By the way, I've always been painfully shy and I support research to help people live with it easier.

message 13: by David (new) - added it

David Oh, also the spiritual aspect is not universal. I'm an atheist and I don't need a therapist telling me I need god or even godless religion in my life. That is like being an essentialist about religion, thinking it is part of being human. I do not think that is a fair assumption. One can assess to see if a person was religious or spiritual and if the person cares to get involved with spirituality or religion again. If the person does, fine. However, psychiatrists like Victor Frankl who wrote a book like "The Unconscious God" are way off the mark. It is hard to tell if people would have a yearning for religion if religions didn't dominate and persecute for so many centuries. Indeed, now that religions have less of a grip on societies, you see less people who consider religion OR spirituality as part of their lives. So, I do not think that spirituality needs to be a part of the book and I do not think it is a sound criticism to claim that the book contains a deficit because spirituality or religion were not mentioned.

message 14: by David (new) - added it

David Well, I should maybe clarify one thing I said regarding Morita psychotherapy in that the focus is on accepting the shinkeishitsusho disposition (a kind of nervous, anxious disposition) and the problem is actually considered self-absorption as well as clients focusing too much on the "shinkeishitsusho disposition". There are therapeutic approaches in the United States that take a similar approach (for example, planned acceptance of the anxiety and facing situations, rather than running from them). But anyway, in Japan, prior to the DSM III, the point still stands that Japanese people were not necessarily accepting of shyness. Otherwise, why was Morita psychotherapy there in the first place? Apparently, the social isolation that was there from the shyness was considered a problem in an Eastern culture.
If we can treat the symptoms, though, then the need for acceptance is not so obvious... It is just a matter of lifestyle in such a case. Either way, you're trying to find a way to deal with it. I do not think that shyness is necessarily adaptive. There are multiple ways of dealing with it. If someone blushes excessively and can alleviate that symptom using medication, for instance, that can have real helpful and practical consequences. It makes little sense to me not to help the person with the issue if it can be alleviated in such a case (then one is being rigid about "acceptance" of "dispositions").

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