Shyness Workbook Review – US Review of Books

The Shyness Workbook
by Lynne Henderson

book review by Boze Herrington

“We can train ourselves in compassionate behaviour, that is, to act in ways that are in our long-term interests and are compassionate towards ourselves and others.”

Henderson’s book tackles some of the negative assumptions that have accrued around shyness, reminding the reader that being shy isn’t necessarily a weakness and that some of the world’s leading personalities, such as Barack Obama and Hans Christian Andersen, have struggled with it. Shyness is a problem when the shy person becomes trapped in cycles of negative thinking, worrying that others are observing their every move and judging them accordingly. By nurturing self-hatred and resentment towards others, people risk adopting a self-sabotaging mindset that fatally constricts their relationships and makes attaining personal goals less likely.

The exercises given in the workbook employ tested mindfulness techniques to calm those destructive anxieties, taking some of the compassion that people so readily extend to others and directing it back towards themselves. Readers are invited to imagine several potentially embarrassing situations—for example, a romantic partner inviting more people than anticipated to a private engagement—and to contemplate how one might respond to those situations in hurtful and helpful ways.

Henderson is the founder of the Social Fitness center and the Shyness Institute, and she has been a visiting scholar and lecturer at Stanford. This book is written in a plainspoken and accessible manner, directed at readers without a background in psychology. The use of academic jargon is kept to a minimum. Engaging and practical, the author’s work demonstrates a real concern for the inner lives of the socially anxious and an eagerness to assist them in overcoming negative self-evaluations. At times the descriptions of concepts come across as a bit abstract without a story element to help explain them, making certain social and psychological dynamics difficult to visualize. At its best, however, this book is an informed and compassionate guide to combating anxiety, drawing on ancient mystical traditions and recent advances in neuroscience to convey the importance of self-love and positive thinking.