Overcoming Social Fears Through Progressive Desensitization

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Let’s get right down to it, what exactly do you need to do to overcome social fears like shyness or social anxiety?

Well, it starts by facing fear. People usually are shy or socially anxious because they avoid the situations they are uncomfortable in. They run away from fear.

Do you ever:

  • Try to avoid talking to someone you are shy around? Maybe it’s a coworker that you make sure to never walk past their office.
  • Or maybe you avoid someone you are attracted to. If you saw them walking towards you, would you be frantically thinking of ways to not walk past them?
  • Do you ever keep quiet in group conversations, meetings, or in class because you’re too nervous to speak up? This is another way of avoiding fear. In this case, you are avoiding doing a certain behaviour that scares you.

All of these behaviours do not help your social fears. They only reinforce it and make it worse.

Why? It’s because the process of overcoming shyness or social anxiety is exposure to what you fear. This is not just A way to overcome shyness, it’s THE way. The ONLY way.

How To Overcome Any Fear

Exposure is the way to overcome any fear. This means  you gradually expose yourself to what you fear over and over again until you no longer fear it. In psychology this is called progressive desensitization. You progressively desensitize yourself to what you are afraid of.

Pretty sexy, huh? Now you know why I tell people that overcoming shyness or social anxiety is not a fun activity.

You have to be willing to put yourself into uncomfortable situations that make you nervous and tense. You have to be willing to endure short-term discomfort to live a better life free of fear in the long-term.

Stop Avoiding Fear, It’s Actually a Good Thing

If you don’t have a firm conviction to overcome shyness or social anxiety, then you will run away from the discomfort and fear. This is not the way to change.

Instead, use your willpower to stop avoiding the situations you fear.

Realize that fear is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing.

Fear is a good thing because fear shows you the path to the life you want.

Think about it. All of your deepest desires are fear-ridden. All of the things that you really want to do, whether it’s making new friends, talking to someone you’re attracted to, or becoming okay at public speaking are things you are scared of right now.

If you feel fear, then you know you are doing what’s best for you in the long run.

It’s like the difference between eating junk food and eating healthy. Junk food is ultra tempting in the moment, just like avoiding fear. On the other hand, the healthy food doesn’t taste as good, but it will benefit you more in the long run, just like facing your fears.

Don’t take the easy way out.

Go back to the How To Overcome Shyness series.

Go back to the Cure For Social Anxiety series.

About the author

Sean Cooper

I study all areas of psychology, sharing what works (and what doesn't) for overcoming shyness and social anxiety. After curing my own severe social anxiety I created "The Shyness and Social Anxiety System" to help others. This program has received stunning reviews from psychologists and people like you.

Now it's my life's mission is to help 25,000 people get the confidence, friends and romantic partner you want!

Read more about me here.


  • You hit the nail on the head with the desensitizing. I feel quite certain that ive suffered with mental disorders because i have been overly sensitive my whole life and my mother was over bearing and controlling. And in saying that im being nice. I needed that reminer. Thank you

  • The advice of “Instead, use your willpower to stop avoiding the situations you fear” sounds like another way off saying “Just do it.” Cliched, vague advice that you clearly say doesn’t work. What’s the difference between what you said and the tired advice of just going to social situations without being specific enough as to HOW to face your fears?

    • everyone is different. u have to find out for yourself… the point is, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it feels, or even why. u just have to keep at it, cuz it’s the only way to get past it

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