Shyness, it turns out, is worse than the common hesitation of barging up to Farrah Fawcett-Majors and saying "Hi, I'm Tom-Tom, let's dance."

Philip Zimbardo, a reigning expert (and he takes experts with a grain of wormwood) on shyness, feels better than he ever did before, since he's been running his shyness clinic at Palo Alto.

Here he is a 44-year-old blue-eyed psychologist who teaches a lot of classes at Stanford University and he's done all kinds of goods, he hopes, showing people how to stop being shy.

This has changed his life so much - the good feeling of helping people has given him more confidence and made him less denfensive - that now he enjoys criticism.

"I used to find arguments. Now if somebody criticizes me, I find I am often learning from them. I noticed I no longer judge people as good or bad - I say to myself I can find something in them to enjoy."

Before concluding that Zimbardo is all hung up with people who have trouble with jasmine tea (a common source of embarrassment to some), it should be said he is even more interested in murder, which can be an extreme example of shyness.

("Shyness" for Zimbardo means fear of or withdrawal from other people, and the word for him covers a lot of ground formerly bounded by neurosis, paranoia, etc.).

"The shyness clinic is not at all my main work, which is simply teaching Stanford students psychology. But I guess I am most interested in social pathology.

"Look. Suppose there were enough therapists to treat every severely shy person in the entire world. Even then, the problem would be the same in the next generation if there are, as I believe, things in the social order that make people shy.

"Did you know that at Stanford there are 500 students every year who seek professional help for shyness?I said to one of the therapists, 'What would you do if 500 showed up in a body with the same complaint?' and he said he'd figure there was an epidemic sweeping the place and would investigate. But coming one by one, as they do, he would think of how to cure the sickness in them, rather than looking at society to see why so many suffer the same symptoms."

There is a well-known sort of murderer, he went on, who is quiet, courteous, likely to get Good Citizenship awards, and who has never committed any crime, who suddenly commits a ghastly killing. Neighbors always say mercy, he was such a nice quiet guy.

"I know one such murderer who is in jail. He can't get out until he passes group therapy, and he can't take part very well in that because he is too shy.

"There's a kind of Catch-22 situation for some men like that. Their behavior gets them into a position where authorities say by God, they have got to exercise more control. But it is because they controlled themselves too much, censored their anger too much - never learned to negotiate fury, never learned how to protest or say no-that led to the big explosion in the first place.

"What they needed was less control, not more control.

"But let's say there are three groups of shy people."

None of those groups includes his daughter Zara, 18 months, who hammed steadily ("what a ham," as her father put it) through a session with the press which Zimbardo said he enjoed - he has got so he loves meeting strangers and reporters and like that.

"First, the ones that maybe blush a little.

"It's not a ruinous thing with them. They are too shy, think too much about themselves, but it's not severely interfering with anything.

"At the other extreme are the ones who are so shy they explode into violence.

"But there is a great middle group in which shyness leads to lives so circumscribed that all the zip has gone out, all the love - people who suffer that way deprive themselves of the most wonderful thing of all, which is other people. Let me say that concern for some other person is the best way out of shyness.

"But this great middle group cuts itself off from a leadership role, often cuts ifself off from sex, and lives in a churning painful anxiety of self-preoccupation."

It is here that Zimbardo runs into controversy:

"If you stop and think about it, all institutions involve managing people, and it's to their advantage for people to make as little trouble as possible. That's true at Stanford, I'm sure it's true at The Washington Post or anywhere."

Maybe anywhere, but not necessarily at the specific places Zimbardo suggests. Some places take troublemakers for granted.

Shyness, so often sung as a virtue (especially in other people) is all tangled up with narcissism, self-hate, self-indulgence, laziness, sloth and, of course, fear and general terror. Zimbardo knows of people so shy they will not go to the A&P because they can't face the checkout girl. Some are so shy they can't look in a mirror, he says. Some are so shy they have never had sex.

His shyness clinic tries to help such people and others not quite so severely touched, and he has written a book "Shyness," to help people unlearn the shyness they have so wretchedly and proficiently learned over the years.

To lead people from shyness, Zimbardo has a series of exercises. First the shy person increases his self-awareness ("Draw a picture of yourself in any way you want, nude or clothed, and give the picture a name, then ask yourself some questions: Did you fill all or part of the space, is the outline sharp or fuzzy, are parts of the body missing and if so which"; etc., etc.)

At first the shy person, already too concerned with himself, will become even more preoccupied with himself as he does the exercises in self-awareness, but he will be learning at the same time about the public image he projects. The goal, Zimbardo says, is for the shy person to accept is inner image better, while making others more accepting of his public image.

Forty per cent of all Americans, he estimates, have worked their way out of shyness, and the others can do it too.

"There are advantages," he says, in serious shyness - you don't have to risk a rebuff by asking a favor, you don't have to be under obligation to others for favors granted, and you don't have to get off your rump to pay them back. The long-term price of shyness, as Zimbardo means shyness, is a constricted if not ruined life. But the short-term rewards of being left strictly along are so great that many shy people never get around to the major-joys.

"They are too shy to make their feeling known. One TV official told me he was surprised to learn his son objected to being called Dummy, the affectionate name his father had called him for years. Imagine the father being surprised that the boy didn't like being called Dummy. But the father told me. "The boy never said he didn't like it.'"

Such nearly complete failures to express outrage at things like being called Dummy are altogether common among the very shy, Zimbardo said, and this leads to all kind of confusion and misjudgment by others. Zimbardo knows of a man who was going with two women at once. One of them said he would have to stop seeing the other one. The three of them got together and the man said he was leaving the second one. Fine. But that night he killed the first one. He was too shy to tell her his true desire, which was to continue seeing them both. It was easier for him to just lie and avoid the hassle."

But the murder was more bother than a hassle would have been, of course, and Zambardo cites this as how extreme a problem shyness can be.

It's probably hard to fool him about shyness. He had a brother so shy that in school he used to wear a paper sack over his head and pretend he was invisible. Zimbardo himself, a New York boy, went to school in California when his family moved there and suffered torments:

"I was an Italian from New York, and they didn't know any Italians from New York and thought about the Mafia and the first thing you know I was a pariah. I was the same boy I had always been, but in this new environment people didn't regard me the same - they didn't know me but they judged me from some prejudice or other, and - here is the point - all of a sudden I started thinking of myself as unpopulad and worthless. I developed allergies, and after a while I was so sick the family moved back to New York.

"In that wonderful dirty city, I improved. I was elected an officer of my class. I wasn't an outcast any more. My health improved, the allergies disappeared. It is hard for us to understand how much attention we pay to what other people think of us. There are people in mental hospitals who once they get labeled have a hell of a time getting out. Even if they're normal."