Social Anxiety Or Introvert? How To Tell The Difference
Pet peeve: Sometimes I’ll stumble upon an article or book about social anxiety, and after reading for a bit, I’ll start feeling like the goal of the author is to turn me into an extravert.
Thanks, but no thanks.
I don’t want social anxiety to hold me back from living my best life, but my best life doesn’t look the same as that of a typical extravert. So I don’t need help becoming a party animal. 😉
Social anxiety and introversion get confused a lot. This is sad because:
- If you are an introvert, but you are convinced you have social anxiety, you might deny yourself the kind of lifestyle and the kinds of activities that will make you truly happy.
- If you have social anxiety, but you are convinced you are an introvert, you might (again) deny yourself the kind of lifestyle and the kinds of activities that will make you truly happy.
- If you are an introvert with social anxiety, you might have a hard time figuring out what’s healthy and what’s not. When are you “introverting” and when are you showing signs of social anxiety?
So let’s clarify and talk about the difference between social anxiety and introversion.
Social Anxiety Or Introvert? How To Tell The Difference
What Is Introversion?
Introversion is an orientation to life. Introversion is a preference. Introversion is how you like to be and what you like to do.
Introverts prefer to turn inward and pay a lot of attention to their inner world of thoughts and ideas. It’s not that introverts aren’t able to deal with the outer world of people and things, but they simply have a natural preference for the inner. They were born this way.
Introverts are often more quiet and reserved than extraverts, and when it comes to relationships, most introverts would take a few close friendships over a large number of acquaintances.
Introverts like to think before they talk and often take longer than extraverts “to process” conversation.
Introverts need more quiet time to recharge than extraverts and tend to enjoy a variety of solitary activities.
According to the Myers-Briggs personality type theory, there are eight different types of introverts. If you know or suspect that you are an introvert, but you don’t know your specific type, you might be interested in the articles below:
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is fear.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety is “the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.”
Unlike introversion, which is something you are born with, social anxiety is learned. We learn to think that there is something wrong with us. That we are not good enough. And we are terrified of someone pointing it out – ridiculing or reprimanding us – so we start avoiding social interaction.
How To Tell The Difference
First of all, to tell what is what, you have to be brutally honest with yourself.
Second, you simply need to pay attention to your feelings.
Introverts are pulled toward solitary activities because they enjoy them. Doing things in solitude puts their brains in flow. They will lose themselves in a book or playing an instrument or writing or gardening or solving a math problem or just thinking about life.
Socially anxious people are pushed toward solitary activities because activities involving other people are too painful. They are afraid or uncomfortable around other people and engage in solitary activities in order to avoid social interaction.
Are you pulled toward solitary activities or are you pushed to them?
It’s a subtle difference that we could go around and around debating for days.
But at the end of the day, all that matters is your happiness.
If you are happy spending lots of time by yourself or with a small inner circle, then go for it.
If fear keeps you from engaging with other people as much as you would ideally like, then it probably makes sense to do some work to address your anxiety.
If You Are An Introvert With Social Anxiety…
For me, personally, one of the biggest benefits of overcoming social anxiety has been the freedom to embrace my introversion without the fear of being judged. Instead of feeling pressured to act like an extravert, I’ve grown comfortable with my authentic introvert self and learned to live my life in alignment with my personality.
- If I send my husband and kids to a birthday party without me, so that I can have some alone time and work on my writing, it’s okay.
- If I don’t feel like participating in small talk, I don’t have to.
- If people view me as quiet and reserved, I don’t care.
- If I can’t keep up with the conversation, because the extraverts are jumping from one topic to another too quickly, it’s fine. I’ll find someone more like me to talk to.
- If I’m a little awkward with strangers, whatever.
- If people think I’m a weirdo, that’s just their opinion.
To thrive as an introvert with social anxiety requires constantly seeking balance and constantly checking in with yourself. It requires satisfying your need “to introvert” while simultaneously overcoming your social anxiety to the point that you get the number and kinds of relationships you need.
So the goal for an introvert with social anxiety is not to turn into an outspoken, boisterous person who is a small talk wizard and wants to interact with other people all day long.
The goal for an introvert with social anxiety is to:
- Be able to express your authentic personality and not let fear of judgment stop you from being the “true you” around other people.
- Be able to meet enough new people that you can find the few among the many, with whom you can form the close, deep connections that you crave.
That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. 🙂