Social Anxiety Or Introvert? How To Tell The Difference

By Anni


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? These two get confused a lot. Here's how to tell the difference...

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:

How To Find Out Your Personality Type

How To Make Your Brain Happy Based On Your Personality Type

How To Deal With Your Blind Spot Based On Your Personality Type

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. 🙂

OTHER ARTICLES YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN:

About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. Really good stuff, like always 🙂 It’s definitely difficult sometimes knowing what’s urging the great need to be home, but this is a great guide!

    One way I can see the difference is what I’m doing when I stay home — if I do something productive, like reading or writing, I just needed to recharge, but if I spend the whole evening watching Netflix it means that I was just freaking out a bit about being around all the people. It really helps though to recognize these patterns to learn what triggers I have and push through when it’s just my social anxiety acting up. Usually I’m glad I went 🙂

    1. Thanks, Erika! That’s a really good point. So ask yourself if you are doing something meaningful that is going to add happiness to your life or if you are just engaging in some kind of numbing behavior.

  2. Very helpful. Thanks! I’m both introvert and have social anxiety. I have worked so hard to conquer my fears. I’m 60 this December. I have just started to respect who I am. I’ve been trying for my whole life to be someone I’m not. It was exhausting but at the same time it did help me to excersise my weaknesses. I’m looking forward to a happier next decade respecting who I am and living accordingly. I do think it’s still healthy to push our comfort zone sometimes. It makes the solitude that much sweeter in my opinion. I’m glad I found you. Your insight has truly helped me.

      1. I’m actually working on a post on this exact topic: how to deal with feeling everyone else’s feelings. 🙂 I hope to publish it in the next couple of weeks.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Patty! I totally agree with pushing out of the comfort zone from time to time. I think the mistake I used to make with that was doing it in service of the wrong purpose and the wrong people. That used to leave me exhausted and discouraged. But when you do it in service of something that is truly meaningful to you, the outcome is much more positive. 🙂

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