Why Social Shyness Is Mistaken For Arrogance (And What To Do About It)

You feel self-conscious.
You can’t hold eye contact.
You’re painfully aware of every movement.

But one thing you are definitely not feeling is confident…let alone arrogant.

So why is it common for people to mistake shyness for arrogance?

Let’s start with why shyness happens in the first place.

Extreme shyness is often caused by bullying or constant ridicule. If this happens over a long period of time, your brain’s reaction is to avoid those situations.

Your self-esteem is also likely to be very low

Self-esteem is your feeling of self-worth. If it’s low, you may not believe what you say or think is important.

This lack of self-esteem leads to a range of safety behaviours. You might find it difficult to smile at someone in-case they reject you. You don’t say much so there’s little chance of embarrassing yourself. You might avoid people altogether.

In other words, shy people become extremely good at hiding their shyness. This is hard work – which is why you probably find social events tiring. But the only way to hold it together while speaking to people in an “acceptable” way is to put on an act.

This act may have become so ingrained that you don’t even know it’s there.

But what’s left, once you’ve scrubbed clean anything that could give away your shyness, can be similar to someone who is aloof or even arrogant.

  • You don’t start conversations because you’re scared of being rejected. But some people confuse this with being unfriendly.
  • You feel extremely self-conscious so you spend a lot of time and energy on your appearance. But other people confuse this with being vain.
  • You can’t look someone in the eye because you’re too shy. But some people confuse this as a lack of interest.
  • You give short responses because you’re anxious. But some people confuse this with thinking they are “not worthy” of your time.
  • You adopt a defensive or “stay away” body language because you feel self-conscious. But other people confuse this with rudeness.

So it’s clear why shyness could be mistaken for arrogance.

However, when you look at the list closely, you realise much of the confusion comes from other people’s insecurities.

As socially anxious or shy people, we often assume everyone else is confident or happy . This couldn’t be further from the truth. People have many insecurities that they won’t even admit to themselves.

And a shy person who doesn’t say much has an air of mystery that aggravates these insecurities

“Why aren’t they talking? Do they think badly of me? Do they think they are too good for me?!”

Of course, you aren’t thinking any of these things – you’re concentrating on not embarrassing yourself.

This is obviously more common with strangers. When people get to know you, they’ll realise you are just shy – not arrogant. They’ll also realise that you weren’t thinking all those negative thoughts about them.

This doesn’t help you right now though. So here are a few tips you can use to prevent your shyness being confused for arrogance:

  1. Try to look people in the eye when talking to them. People are insecure – they need reassurance that you’re listening. Eye contact shows you are interested in what they’re saying.
  2. Try to smile more. I know, I know, this is easy to say – especially when you’re feeling extreme shyness. But even smiling a little shows you don’t think you’re “too good” for the other person.
  3. Ask a few questions. You can’t rely on questions alone in a conversation – but they show you have a genuine interest in what they have to say.

These are useful tips, but by far the most effective thing you can do is improve your conversation skills.

More importantly, you need to learn to hold a conversation even when you’re feeling anxious or shy

Once you can do this, people will almost never think you’re arrogant, because they’ll enjoy talking to you.

Even better, you’ll enjoy conversations more once you improve (I talk about this enjoyment more in my Conversation Course for people with social anxiety). It takes some time and effort. But the results are worth it.

So we’ve talked about why people could mistakenly think you’re arrogant. And it seems there are actually quite a lot of reasons.

At this point you might be thinking: “does everyone think I’m arrogant then?!”

That’s a scary thought!

But the answer, fortunately, is “no” – most people don’t think you’re arrogant. In fact, the majority of people can tell the difference between someone who is shy and arrogance.

When it does happen, this confusion is more common amongst extroverts. Extroverts gain energy from social situations – so they find it hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t want to talk.

This doesn’t mean all extroverts make this mistake. But it’s more common.

People with low self-confidence are also more likely to mistake shyness for arrogance. While they might seem calm on the outside, on the inside they are frantically analysing every conversation for any sign of a insult.

Just something to keep in mind.

Let’s summarise why shyness can be mistaken for arrogance
  • Shyness is often caused by bullying or being repeatedly put down.
  • Over time, you learn to avoid anything that could cause embarrassment. You stop looking people in the eye, adopt a closed body language, give short responses and rarely smile (at least when talking to strangers).
  • This is all behaviour that’s easy for some people to confuse with shyness.
  • You can reduce the chances of this happening by making an effort to look people in the eye, smile more and asking questions to show your interest.
  • But the most effective way to solve it is to improve your conversation skills, including your contribution, body language and mindset.

Even though arrogance is the last thing you’re feeling during a conversation, it’s important to understand why this confusion happens. Awareness is the first step.

Alex Barker

I suffered with social anxiety for over 10 years before finally finding a system that worked for me. Now, after studying psychology, the best books in the field and a range of other resources, I' m here to share what I've found. My goal is to help people like you gain confidence, friends, romantic partners and even improve your career...all by overcoming social anxiety.