Category Archives: Shyness Blog

Helpful new book on shyness

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I have not been posting on this blog recently due to work commitments, and I hope to do more in the future. I do want to let you know about a new book by Michael Tompkins that I think is very helpful for people struggling with shyness. He describes very carefully the costs of avoidance, and focuses on the rewards available when you accept and tolerate anxiety. He shows you how to take manageable steps every day to increase your contact with other people and do what you really want to do. It is really worth the read and I think can make a difference. Here is the review that I posted on

Dr. Michael Tompkins has written an incredibly helpful and accessible book for those who struggle with anxiety. One of the outstanding features of Anxiety and Avoidance, A Universal Treatment, is his step by step approach to reducing debilitating avoidance and unhelpful interfering anxious behavior, while accepting and mindfully tolerating anxious thoughts, physical sensations, feelings and emotions, and increasing adaptive approach behavior. He also describes the heartbreaking consequences to work, social and family life that occur when anxiety is left untreated. Dr. Tompkins’ goal is that readers become experts on their own anxiety responses. The book fulfills its promise and is the most sensible, thorough and engaging self help book in this area I have seen.

Posted by Lynne Henderson, PhD at 9:07 AM


Lynne Henderson
Director of the Shyness Institute and Director of the Stanford Shyness Clinic for over 25 yrs, Dr. Henderson is also a faculty member in Continuing Studies at Stanford University. She was a visiting scholar in the Psychology Department from 1994-2007. She studied empathic responses in shy and non-shy college students, and the relationship between “irritating behaviors” and interpersonal motives with Leonard Horowitz. She also conducted research on personality variables related to shyness, and use of technology in the shy and non-shy with Philip Zimbardo. Her clinical research has translated the results of personality theory and social psychology into effective group and individual treatment strategies for shyness and social anxiety disorder, culminating in the Social Fitness Training model. Practitioner and client manuals can be ordered at Currently Dr. Henderson is conducting a qualitative interview study of shy leaders and is investigating mindfulness-based interventions with a focus on compassion. Interest in compassion and acceptance of self and others as an antidote to shame and social avoidance has been ongoing in her treatment of problematic shyness.

Great article to check out by Susan Cain

Dear Friends,

Sorry I have been so inactive on this blog recently. Have been translating the Social Fitness Model into a model that can be used in business for conducting courageous conversations related to ethics and to the way people are treated. For example, if you see a team-mate being put down by another colleague you have a chance to speak up on behalf of your values using the Social Fitness Model. You can check out some of the first uses at

I have also been studying and incorporating aspects of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Compassion Focused Therapy into my Social Fitness Model for working with shyness and social anxiety in groups and with individuals.

What I want to do today, however, is recommend an article to you written by Susan Cain that appeared in the NY Times opinion section on September 15th. It is called, “Must Great Leaders be Gregarious?” Her answer is very similar to mine in my Shy Leaders Study, where the resounding answer is NO. She finds, as I did, and according to Jim Collins, who studied the best-performing companies going through intense change in the late 20th century, these companies were all led by CEO’s who were known for their intense determination, will, and dedication, and were also described as “reserved” and “shy”. Shyness and introversion are correlated, and it may be that, just as shyness is inappropriately negatively stereotyped in our culture, so is introversion. In fact, negatively stereotyping introversion may lead to problematic shyness, that is, a tendency to inhibit yourself because of a concern that you will be judged negatively. Susan uses a great example, this time a former Marine commandant. She also wrote a great book that I may have mentioned to you before, called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”

Check out the article. I’d love to hear your comments. It will help me get back to interviewing more shy leaders!

p.s. Good grief, I noticed that my last blog also referred to an article of hers. I really do need to get back to the shy leaders study. I want all of you who want to lead to do so, based on your values and what you care about. I believe it is the most powerful kind of leadership.

New York Times article: Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

New York Times article: Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

Dear Friends,

An article appeared in the New York Times on June 25th, 2011, called Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic? by Susan Cain. It is another in a series of great articles drawing attention to the strengths of shyness and a shy temperament, what the author describes as a “careful, sensitive temperament.” I want to draw it to your attention because the article is a piece in a growing number of articles and books that debunk ordinary shyness as a mental disorder and mentions again the role that pharmaceutical companies played in the 1990’s in pathologizing shyess in order to sell SSRI’s. Remember Christopher Lane’s book, Shyness, How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. If you haven’t read it, it is a great book. Apparently Susan Cain has a book coming out as well on introversion, which is often associated with shyness.

I use Social fitness, too, as an evolutionary metaphor, also based on the idea that shyness is adaptive, and thus has survived. We all have temperaments to manage, with different strengths and vulnerabilities, and, because social interaction is negotiated between people there is not one set of perfect social skills either. We learn by accepting each other as we are and giving each other feedback about what works well for us in social interaction and what we can do to make our interactions better. I have long believed that shyness is a valuable trait, given my experience at the Shyness Clinic where I observed so much adaptive, considerate, thoughtful behavior toward each other in groups. Clients would tell me they needed to learn social skills, but when they weren’t nervous and distracted by automatic thoughts, or very concerned about being negatively evaluated, most showed highly skilled behavior.

Given that only around 2% of college students say that they have never experienced shyness, and between 50% and 60% say they are shy currently (see Bernie Carducci’s research) it certainly seems that shyness would qualify as an adaptive trait. In fact, I believe, along with many emotion theorists, that shyness is a basic human emotion, a blend of fear and interest, that we all experience. I also think that because human vulnerability is finally becoming a topic that is more openly discussed in the U.S., and because we are beginning to accept the idea that we all are shy sometimes, particularly when things are important to us, and that we cannot be intimate if we are not vulnerable, that we all may begin to be able to disarm and truly value and appreciate each other.

Have a good day!

A helpful book for shyness

Dear Friends,

This is a brief note just to let you know about a new book for shyness that uses mindfulness techniques to help with the negative thoughts and emotions that trouble us when we feel shy. I think the book will be very helpful to those of you who struggle with shyness. I’ve included Steve Flowers’ website and ways you can order it if you like. It would also be great to know how you like it (or any other shyness book for that matter) in order to help us see what helps and to continue to improve our own shyness work.

The Mindful Path Through Shyness Book Description:

Research shows that chronic shyness has core components
of self-blame, private self-consciousness, shame, and
resentment. These mental habits operate automatically
and often unconsciously, but by bringing mindful awareness
into these cognitive and emotional states, it is possible
to regulate our attention and emotions. The Mindful
Path Through Shyness helps readers who struggle with
shyness and social anxiety begin to notice the mental patterns that
cause feelings of isolation and take steps toward change.
Readers will identify the origins of their shyness and learn
how shyness and social anxiety has increased by avoiding social
situations and dwelling on feelings of self-consciousness
and shame. Readers are then are provided activities and skills drawn
from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Insight Dialogue,
including mindfulness meditation, interpersonal meditation, yoga
and simple exercises that can help you overcome fears and judgments.

Available at
New Harbinger Publications, 1-800-748-6273 /
and, in Canada, from Raincoast Book Distribution, 1-800-561-8583

Nominate shy leaders

Dear Visitors,

I am looking for stories about people in your community who are known to be outstanding leaders who are also shy. I am collecting them for a research project. If you are a shy leader I would also be happy to hear about you. If you know a shy leader or if you are a shy leader, please email me at You can also post any stories about shy leaders here.

Thanks very much for your help!
Lynne Henderson