Skip to content

When You Are Painfully Shy

February 20, 2023

Another Way for week of February 10, 2023

Editor’s note: Third in a five-week series on friendship.

I remember an office friend who said her four-year-old girl announced before they went somewhere, “I’m going to be shy tonight.”

That may sound cute but it infuriated her mother (child hiding in her mother’s skirt, etc.) and I forget now why her parents thought she made those announcements. Possibly attention-getting? As parents we sometimes prod our small children into saying hi or even hugging someone they barely know or don’t like.

In contrast, most of us as adults don’t purposely decide to be shy on a given day or encounter. If we are introverts and find it hard to make small talk with people we don’t know well, we may feel unliked, unwanted, not valued.

True shyness creates all kinds of inner turmoil: blushing, perspiring, butterflies in the stomach, an increased pulse, a pounding heart. We might note that sometimes people use the term, “painfully shy.” In some cases that is actually true. Unfortunately, sometimes that emotional pain is compounded when shy persons are maybe seen as aloof, snotty, bored or even condescending—looking like they think they are “better than you.”

My parents were both avid conversationalists and frequently talked to people after church or other gatherings. They also had church business matters to pursue with various other members. I would often go hide in the bathroom—yes—sitting in a stall until I thought they would be ready to go home. Or sometimes I would just go wait in the car. I also remember slumber parties when my friends would prod me to talk: “Come on, Melodie, why don’t you talk? What do you think about Joe”? Or Sue. Sometimes by the time I thought of something to contribute to a conversation, the others had moved on to another topic. I was a listener.

My best tip for opening conversation with someone you don’t know well is to ask a question about themselves—most people don’t mind talking about themselves. Their family, or something about their job. But of course try not to ask questions that have a conversation-killing one word answer or are too personal. And if someone acts like they are not interested in talking, don’t be a nuisance.

Some other conversation starters might be simply giving a compliment—that you like their outfit or jacket. At a party or meal, ask the host for the recipe for a dish you genuinely liked, or talk about his or her cooking in general. Help to clean up after an event and you might find yourself in conversation with another helper.

As with any other skill, it takes repeated attempts and effort to become someone comfortable in conversation. At first the practice may seem artificial, just like doing scale drills on the piano is an artificial way to play piano. With time and practice these skills will become more natural and part of your own personal style. You could start with sharing a genuine smile with someone you don’t know, and say hi or hello. Then pat yourself on the back for reaching out even in this small way.

Sometimes our bodies communicate more than we realize, such as standing with crossed arms or keeping a distance from others. This has been a hard element of the pandemic, to be friendly and welcoming while not feeling free to shake hands or give hugs. But smiles and thumbs up are ways to be friendly without being overbearing.   

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Last week was Valentine’s Day. Take some moments to feel good about and love yourself as well! Pause to focus on the gifts God has given you—whether it is being a good listener, a good helper, or thoughtful friend. When we feel good about ourselves, it is easier to reach out to others and maybe help them feel good about themselves also.

We’ll explore more about the keys to being a true friend next time in this short series on friendship.


Your tips or experiences, especially as a child?

Or how do you work at being friendly?

Comment here!

Or write to me at Another Way, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834, or email

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of ten books, most recently Memoir of an Unimagined Career. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Elaine permalink

    I am a listener, Melodie. 🙂 I often feel like I don’t have anything much to contribute to a conversation especially in a group. ( I am 77 so I don’t think I’ll be changing much anymore) but I will relate something that still has me puzzled but very thankful. My last job before I got married was working in the credit department at Sears. The head cashier next to our office befriended me and we would go out together for lunch often. She was not a Christian but super nice, so she would often talk about her friends and their social life. It was fun to hear her share, but I would have little to contribute because my evenings would consist of going home to a good meal my mother had made, maybe reading the local newspaper and listen to records. Then going to bed. ha, ha. (I grew up in an anabaptist home, so that explains a lot. 🙂 I am so thankful for her friendship during those two years I worked there.

  2. Elaine permalink

    p.s. I’m pretty good at getting people to talk by asking questions about themselves and I find their stories interesting. Yes, it doesn’t take much especially with older people.

    • I love your story, Elaine, I can understand where you were coming from (Anabaptist background). How nice to have lunch with someone that way!
      Thanks for sharing!

  3. It seems North American society values extraversion and (sometimes) shames people who are naturally shy. That seems wrong to me.

    My mother modeled friend-making skills though I remember being shy in high school, partly because I was plain and the mainstream was “fancy,” a quality I craved. Busy day today, so I don’t have much time to connect the dots. But I suspect you can, Melodie! By the way, I didn’t receive a notification of your blog this week. Maybe I need to re-subscribe. Hmmm. . .

    • I can’t connect my dots either because I do not consider myself shy anymore, even though I struggled with it mostly in high school and college.
      And regarding receiving notification, I went back and checked to make sure I had pushed “publish” which I had, but perhaps you were thrown off expecting my usually posting time at some time over the weekend. The long awaited baby girl arrived over the weekend and even though I had finished my column, I didn’t publish it until Monday after we got home. So your subscription probably still works! …. and more about our new baby granddaughter in a few weeks (but no online pictures, parental cautions!)

  4. Notification of your blog this week has shown up, a good thing.
    I look forward to new baby granddaughter–how exciting, a girl in the family!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Jennifer Murch

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. -Twyla Tharp

Trisha Faye

Cherishing the Past while Celebrating the Present


To walk or tramp about; to gad, wander. < Old French - trapasser (to trespass).

Tuesdays with Laurie

"Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing." —Laurie Buchanan

Hickory Hill Farm

Blueberries, grapes, vegetables, and more

The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ

The Website & Blog of David D. Flowers

Cynthia's Communique

Navigating careers, the media and life

the practical mystic

spiritual adventures in the real world

Osheta Moore

Shalom in the City

Shirley Hershey Showalter

writing and reading memoir

Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Harmony, grace and wisdom for family living.

mama congo

Harmony, grace and wisdom for family living.


Harmony, grace and wisdom for family living.

Roadkill Crossing

Writing generated from the rural life

%d bloggers like this: