Shyness is a type of social anxiety that causes individuals to be overly self-conscious and concerned about how other people might assess them. Webster’s Dictionary defines shyness as “the state of being timid, easily frightened, reserved, bashful, and shrinking from contact with others.” Those who suffer from extreme shyness typically experience debilitating effects such as relationship problems, difficulty making friends, meeting people, and enjoying new experiences. Shy people may feel isolated, anxious, depressed, embarrassed, awkward, and filled with self-doubt and even self-loathing.
Most people experience shyness to differing degrees at one time or another or in certain situations. Children, for example, are more prone to shyness than adults (see Jeremiah 1:6), and public speaking can frighten people who are confident in most other social settings. Several factors contribute to shyness. A timid disposition could be associated with sinful and selfish motivations, but there is usually more to the story. Personality type (introvert, extrovert, etc.) plays a role in shyness, along with one’s family history, childhood development, and early emotional trauma.
Being shy is not a bad thing, per se. Shyness can carry inherently positive features that are viewed favorably in the Bible. Shy people are more likely to exhibit modesty (Romans 12:3), humility (Ephesians 4:2; Proverbs 25:6–7; 1 Peter 5:5), and quietness of spirit (Proverbs 29:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 1 Timothy 2:1–2; 1 Peter 3:1–4), avoiding self-adulation and attention-seeking. They may also be more inclined to demonstrate discernment (Proverbs 10:19; 17:28; 21:23; Ecclesiastes 5:2) and discretion (Amos 5:13; Psalm 39:1).
But there are cases in which being shy is detrimental. Shyness can at times be linked to pride, self-focus, and fear. Worrying about what people think about us and undue concern for the approval of men (Ephesians 6:6–7; Proverbs 29:25) might reflect an obsession with self. The Bible counsels believers not to seek the approval of humans or fear what people think or say about them if they are doing what they know is right before the Lord (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). If we are truly striving to live godly lives, we can expect not to be liked (2 Timothy 3:12). Our primary concern should be pleasing God (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 5:8–10; Galatians 6:8).
If our timidity and bashfulness come from fear, then we must remember that fear is the opposite of faith. We overcome fear through faith and dependence on God (Hebrews 11:6) and love from the Lord (1 John 4:18–19). The virtues of faith and love grow from saturating our hearts, minds, and lives with the Scriptures (Colossians 3:16; Romans 10:17). When it comes to growing in holiness (John 17:17) and overcoming fear, doubt, and confusion, the power of God’s Word is unequaled (Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
For many Christians, the problematic effects of extreme shyness can be managed or overcome through reliance on the Holy Spirit. The Bible explains this in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them” (TLB). God gives the Holy Spirit to those who place their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for their sin. As Christians, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and submitted to His control. Meditating on Ephesians 5:17–21, Ephesians 4:30, and Colossians 3:16 will help those struggling with shyness.
Besides becoming a Christian, submitting to the control of the Holy Spirit, replacing fear and pride with faith and love from God, and saturating our minds with Scripture, we can add another ingredient to overcoming shyness. The world recommends nurturing “self-esteem” or developing a better “self-image.” But the Bible advises living out our identity in Jesus Christ. Meditating on Ephesians 1 reveals all that we are in Christ. Instead of focusing on self, we must realize that our true life is centered on Christ, “who is [our] life” (see Colossians 3:4).
We don’t have to let fear and self-consciousness paralyze us. We can step out in faith and reliance on God, show interest in others, start a conversation, and express the genuine love of Christ. When we’re filled with God’s power and motivated by His love, we’ll be able to minister to people in a way that makes them feel seen, heard, and appreciated. The emphasis shifts from self to others, and we begin to live in freedom (Galatians 5:13), sacrifice (Philippians 3:8; John 12:24–25), and unselfish love (1 John 3:16–18; 1 Corinthians 13:3).
When God called Corrie ten Boom to ministry, she was determined to overcome her shyness. She enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course to develop the skills to talk to people and become a more capable public speaker and minister of the gospel. One of the Bible’s most significant leaders, Moses, also struggled with shyness, but that did not hinder God from choosing him as a mouthpiece for deliverance (Exodus 4:10–15; 6:12, 30). God often uses our deficiencies, like shyness and fear, to reveal our human inability and help us recognize the need to depend on Him.
Being shy is not the end of the story. All Christians struggle with shortcomings and weaknesses of the flesh. We “are like fragile clay jars containing” a “great treasure,” that is, the life of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7–10, NLT). Surrender your shyness to God and watch Him make something unexpectedly beautiful out of your life (see Isaiah 61:3; Romans 8:28).