I hear a lot about NLP. What is it?

NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) is a self-help therapeutic technique developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. The technique deals with using vivid mental imagery to change the way one thinks about things. Late night infomercial guru Tony Robbins sells his own brand of NLP.

Some NLP principles, while not entirely original, are inspiring and have merit. For example, the principle of "modeling" is an excellent principle for shy people to follow. As applied to shyness, it might entail watching the outgoing people you admire and observing how they open a conversation, how they fill in short blocks of time with "banter," how they smile, make eye contact, and participate in groups.

Some of your observations might be as follows:

"Shari puts a lot of enthusiasm into her voice. She shares her ideas with others but is not pushy. She listens to what others have to say and asks questions."

On the other hand, some NLP concepts are overly simplistic. For example, NLP assumes that people fall into certain categories based on the way they mentally organize their experiences and break them down into categories such as auditory, visual and kinesthetic. One way of determining what category a person falls into is by observing their eye movements. But this concept has overwhelmingly failed to stand up to empirical investigations. Nor do people talk in exclusively visual or auditory or kinesthetic terms as NLP claims.

Another NLP concept is that one is supposed to be able to establish rapport with someone by observing their mannerisms and "mirroring" them. NLP assumes that crossing your legs and holding your hands the same way another person does is more important in creating rapport with somebody than actually having something in common with them, sharing the same interests, not being argumentative, smiling, making good eye-contact, being relaxed, and listening to what they have to say. NLP puts too much emphasis on "mirroring" when that's only one part of the complex process of establishing rapport.

A good, quick introduction to NLP is the set of audiocassettes, "NLP , the New Technology of Achievement," by Charles Faulkner, et al., published by Nightingale Conant (1991).

For a skeptical look at NLP:


Does alcohol help shy people "loosen up?"

Shy people who reach for alcohol to help them in social situations may only end up feeling more anxious and tongue-tied, according to research at University of New York at Binghampton.

Researcher Stephen A. Lisman found that, contrary to popular belief, two drinks can produce marked impairment in conversational ability, and four drinks tend to seriously restrict it.

Surprisingly, however, the shy drinkers tested misjudged their own ability and believed that they had, in fact, become better socializers (this may be why the belief in alcohol as a social relaxant came about in the first place). Worse, those who had imbibed actually showed increased signs of nervousness. And alcohol can also cause people to say things they wouldn't normally say (that is, things that they might regret later!).

Alcohol seems to exaggerate the normal personality. The extrovert becomes more extroverted while the introvert becomes more withdrawn.

Booze, then, is no boon; drinking non-alcoholic beverages at parties will enable you to have the same casual, relaxed look, as well as give you something to do with your hands, that alcohol will, but without the unintended side-effects.


Does hypnosis work in overcoming shyness?

Hypnosis is the process of putting a person in a highly suggestible state through eye fixation or "fixed gaze" methods (staring at a swinging pendulum), progressive relaxation, or other techniques, and then giving him or her suggestions while in that state.

People vary widely in their susceptibility to hypnosis. This has nothing to do with being "strong-willed" or "trying hard." Some people are just more suggestible than others.

Obviously, you can't go walking around in a "trance" all the time, so the post-hypnotic suggestion is the most beneficial for changing everyday behaviors. But post-hypnotic is also the hardest suggestion to implement successfully, as it must operate long after you have left the "trance" state.

If you decide to try hypnotherapy, expect to spend quite a bit of money doing so, as you may have to try a number of different therapists to determine whether it will work for you.

An alternative is self-hypnosis, but even this is best learned from a certified hypnotherapist, who can give both training and post-hypnotic suggestions to aid in learning.

Be warned that many far-out claims are made for hypnosis. It is no magic bullet for most people.


What medications are used in treating shyness? How effective are they?

This could be a whole FAQ--nay, a book--in itself. However, briefly:

The world's leading antidepressive drug is Prozac, the first of a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that boost brain levels of serotonin which regulates moods. An older class of antidepressant, called tricyclides, block serotonin receptors in the brain but have more severe side-effects.

A new type of antidepressant, Serzone, produced by Bristol Meyers Squibb claims that it combines the best benefits of Prozac with an additional boost--fewer side-effects--and a lower price.

There are many other medications as well: Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Netazadone, Luvox.

It is impossible to say which of these medications, if any, would help with any particular individual's shyness. Everybody's body chemistry is different. The only way to find out would be to try each one, one-by-one.

Keep in mind that all medications can be expensive, especially when you take into account the psychiatrist bills that accompany them (psychopharmaceuticals must be prescribed by a psychiatrist), and they all have side effects, of which the following is just a partial list:

upset stomach/gas
night sweats
loss of sex drive

Medications may seem to work at first and then stop. Or they may require larger and larger doses to have the same effect. Or new side effects may crop up after a few months of usage.

Medications are also limited in what they can do. They may help throttle back the nervousness that often accompanies shyness. But they may do nothing to help increase self confidence, remove nervous mannerisms, or alter the other symptoms of shyness.

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