Monday, April 25, 2022

Review: Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness, by Joe Moran

 Joe Moran's book is a nice exploration of various historical figures (such as authors, poets, and musicians) who had what he calls "shyness."  Moran alludes to his own shyness as well.  

A thematic goal of the book is to understand shyness as a part of the tapestry and variety of human life, as opposed to a pathology that requires treatment, or that is even treatable at all.  

Moran is a good writer--he's an English professor, and it is always a delight to read a book in this type of genre written by someone with a mastery of the language.  

This book is interesting as a historical or biographical journey, but I found it quite limited as a serious study of shyness from a psychiatric point of view.  First of all, "shyness" is a very limited term to describe the many varieties of anxiety, introversion, personality styles, and autistic traits likely present in some of his case studies.  

Near the end of the book, Moran encourages a position of gentle acceptance of shyness, but this acceptance seems to disparage the potential value of attempting to help people manage or change their social anxiety or avoidance using therapeutic techniques.  One chapter is even called "The War Against Shyness," which is a pretty strong condemnation of the therapeutic culture.    

There are many shy people, who have what might be considered social anxiety or autistic traits, who might find therapy helpful, to improve social skills, to find ways of facing fears more comfortably, or even to reduce anxiety a notch (including with the help of medication).   We should always have modest or limited expectations of therapy; also we need to take care to affirm an accepting rather than a pathologizing stance, particularly when social behaviour and experience always exists on a spectrum.  Yet the best of modern therapy is affirming and accepting; it just helps people to suffer a little bit less, to help people have a little bit more freedom in their lives to do things they might find meaningful, enjoyable, or essential for survival or prosperity.  

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