I feel the biggest factor in the development of my shyness was anxieties related speech. I was born in England, and when I was 7 it was noticed I was having difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, such as the distinction between the "th", "f", and "v" sounds, and so it was decided I should be sent to a speech therapist. I only went a few times before me and my family moved to Australia, but it instilled in me a sense that I couldn't speak properly, and that when I spoke I sounded like a baby.
Upon arriving in Australia, children teased me because I had an English accent, which confirmed in me the belief I couldn't talk properly, and I spoke like a baby. From that point on, my speech was a source of great embarrassment, and I tried to avoid talking as much as possible.
This continued as I grew up. As much as possible I would try and avoid speaking to people, talk in a quiet voice, and especially avoid using the telephone.
I first became aware of my shyness when I was 28 years old. I decided to take a year off from work, and as a result had time to notice a lot of people my age were getting married, while I had never even been on a date or held a woman's hand. Dating and relationships were just one more activity in life I knew I wouldn't enjoy, and so had avoided. Taking time off from work had taken me away from my friends and colleagues and left me feeling very lonely and alone. I had a sudden sense of panic and a felt I had fallen so far behind in life, I might never be able to catch up.
I realized the mistake I had made all of these years was to spend all my energies on the academic and intellectual pursuits I was already good at (and therefore in our society rewarded for) and yet I could only make small incremental improvements at, while avoiding the things I wasn't very good such as social interaction (and therefore in our society punished for) despite the opportunity to make great improvements in these areas if only I spent a little time at them.
Since then, over the last 6 years, I have made a lot of progress in overcoming many of the barriers that my shyness and social phobia imposed. The biggest barrier for me had been a lack of awareness that I was shy, and the costs this was imposing on my life. I am learning to become more aware of the things I choose to do in my life, and the reasons I do them. To spot when anxieties are steering me away from particular behaviors and actions, and learning how to overcome them. Behavioral techniques to manage anxiety, such as controlling my breathing, graduated exposure, and "feel the fear and do it anyway", have all been helpful.
I have many good friends that helped me and supported me. Thanks to them, I can remember the first time I danced, held a woman's hand, kissed, and made love, all just 5-6 years ago. I have been able to give short informal speeches at organizations like toastmasters, and now enjoy performing improv comedy. I have had several very satisfying and meaningful relationships with some awesome women with whom I remain close friends. And last month I was in Tanzania, standing up in front of a room full of teachers and high school students, discussing human sexuality, relationships, HIV/AIDS, and demonstrating the use of condoms. This is something I could never have imagined being comfortable doing just a few years ago.
On the other hand, there are still areas of my life where I would like to improve. I am still afraid to approach strangers at social events such as parties, and am uncomfortable taking part in conversations amongst groups of say four or more people. I frequently find thinking "I can't do this" or "I'm no good at that", when looking back at my history it should be clear to me what I should be thinking is "I always used to avoid this and have never done it before, so I am not going to be very good at it the first time, but with practice I can probably excel".
I care about and would like to help other shy people.