So an outgoing, socially adept friend of mine recently explained some behavior I asked him about by saying that he was shy. This caused me to realize that lots of my other friends who I don't think are in the least shy consider themselves shy. Why is this?
Here's my theory. Why is it that 75% of all people polled consider themselves to be above-average drivers? Because there are a lot of skills involved in driving, and everyone grades drivers on the skills that they think are important, which are the ones they are good at. Those who have few accidents rate themselves as above-average because they don't have accidents. Those who get to their destination a minute earlier by fast aggressive driving rate themselves above-average because of time saved. And so forth.
So I think the same thing happens with self-ratings of shyness, but (for some reason I don't understand) in reverse. Those who are outgoing in a group of friends, but quiet with strangers, consider themselves shy because of their quietness with strangers. Those who do OK in a large group, but have trouble sustaining a one-on-one conversation because they can't think of anything to say, consider themselves shy even if they do great in a large group of strangers. And so forth.
I have my shy moments, but overall I no longer consider myself shy because I'm so obviously less shy than I was two years ago, so I have a standard of comparison.
So why does everyone self-rate high on driving ability, but low on social skills? I guess this is part of the more general question "Why do so many of my friends, who are so obviously way cool people, have such low self-esteem?"