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3 Reasons Why Social Anxiety and Introversion are Often (Mistakenly) Put in the Same Basket

Social anxiety and introversion are often mistakenly considered the same thing and used interchangeably. As someone who struggled with social anxiety disorder in the past, and did a lot of research on the subject in the efforts to overcome it, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about social anxiety and introversion.

They might seem to have a lot in common on the surface, but their root cause is very different.

Introversion is a personality trait which, in itself, doesn’t make the person suffer and can’t be changed much throughout life. Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a mental health disorder that can be very distressing and can be overcome with the right self-help approach and/or therapy.

Let’s see why they might seem like the same thing, and the root causes behind each one of them, showing how they are actually two very different states.

  1. A socially anxious person and an introvert both tend to avoid socializing.

Introverts recharge their batteries when they are alone, while socializing drains the energy out of them. That doesn’t mean they never enjoy being around people. But they will pick their company rather carefully and don’t want to waste their time and energy on small talk and going to big parties. They prefer calm places and deep, long conversations with a handful of people.

A socially anxious person, on the other hand, avoids socializing because of fear of judgment and rejection, which are a consequence of a very low self-esteem and a deep-seated feeling of inferiority. Therefore, a person suffering from social anxiety disorder can also be an extrovert.

  1. Introverts and socially anxious people tend to be quiet in social situations.

As mentioned earlier, introverts usually don’t like small talk. And when you are hanging out with a big group of people, there will rarely be a deep, meaningful conversation going.

In this kind of situation, introverts are quiet because they simply don’t feel like adding anything to the conversation. But a person struggling with SAD is quiet because he/she is afraid of saying something stupid, being judged, or rejected. Once again, the underlying cause of this behaviour is fear and lack of self-confidence.

social anxiety introversion

  1. Both, introverts and socially anxious people might seem arrogant or cold to extroverts.

Let’s face it: in modern Western society, it seems like the coolest thing to be is talkative, open and energetic because we tend to equate these characteristics as a sign of self-confidence, likability and popularity.

So, when someone is just sitting there and being calm and quiet without a smile on their face, an extrovert who doesn’t understand introversion and/or social anxiety might start to wonder what’s wrong and feel like the other person doesn’t want to talk.

In reality, the socially anxious person seems serious and unapproachable because he/she is terrified and numbed by anxiety all while desperately seeking love and approval from others.

On the other hand, the introvert is simply being him/her: calm and contemplating, always up for a deep, meaningful conversation, but not too fond of loud and superficial chatter.

I hope this article clears up the difference between people struggling with social anxiety and those who are introverted. You can also be both: an introvert and socially anxious. In this case, you just need to (and can!) turn your social anxiety into solid self-confidence. This way, you can live fully and happily, embracing your introversion.

Let me know your thoughts on social anxiety and introversion in the comments below! Is there something else you would like to add? Are you an introvert struggling to accept your personality trait, or do you feel comfortable and happy about it? Are you an extrovert learning about personality traits and mental health in order to better understand those who are different from you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

 

About the author:

Barbara is an ex-social anxiety sufferer and founder of Free From Social Anxiety blog, where she shares helpful information and tips on overcoming social anxiety. She is also the author of an extensive guide “Bye Bye, Social Anxiety”.

 

 

 

Edited by Viveca Shearin

16 Comments

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    • Neasa, I hope you get rid of social anxiety! 🙂 Introversion has great sides to it though. One of the best things about it is that you’re not constantly dependent on other people in order to have a great time, and you feel perfectly happy spending your time alone 🙂

  1. When I was younger I tried to be as extroverted as I possibly could. As I got older I stopped trying to force myself to be social and embraced my introversion. I think the true meaning of an introvert is someone very content with their solitude, whereas my sister is a complete extrovert and can’t stand being alone. Being alone isn’t always being lonely, at least not for an introvert.
    I think being an introvert is pretty cool because you don’t need to seek someone else all the time to be happy. Most people who meet me say I’m very confident and easy to talk to, the difference is that usually I don’t want to talk except to a very few select people.

  2. Very interesting indeed. I’m not sure where I fit into this, as I can relate to much of both. I cannot relate by small talk, for sure. I am comfortable being alone, though, too much can be depressing. I am a stutterer, though, not everyone ever knows that. More when I was younger, I just did not talk and often feigned being stupid to avoid responding in conversations, especially in groups. My speech impediment was not repetitious, but rather completely blocked and only gurgling noises could be made. Much of this was overcome in midlife through support and facing my fears. It has returned in my senior years slightly. Still, when in groups, unless I am completely comfortable with how people may react, I just keep my mouth shut. So, I wonder, is my stuttering due to introversion or social anxiety? Or, is the stutter the cause of my anxiety? When people look to me to pick my brain for knowledge, I can speak easily, impressively, and without a hitch as long as I feel they are truly accepting, but if they are skeptical, I may struggle, though, if I get angry because of this, no speech problems.
    So much of my social anxiety seems to stem from self esteem with the person I am with or the group I find myself in. One thing to note; the hardest words to say for a stutterer is their own name, because there is no alternative escape by using a synonym. To be asked to introduce myself, and unable to respond, has been met by giggles and often the question: “don’t you know your own name???” The humiliation certainly has contributed to social anxiety and the resultant introversion / self esteem.
    Thank you for addressing these painful traits so many of us suffer from. Bill

    • Hey Bill, since you say that you talk easily when you feel accepted, it sounds like your stuttering is a result of social anxiety (which comes from fear of being judged and rejected, and from not accepting ourselves unconditionally). It looks like you are dealing with both, social anxiety and introversion. You might have become closed within because of traumatic experiences, but this is not the same as introversion. Introversion itself is not painful and is not caused by the events since it’s a personality trait you are born with. You can be an introvert and be happy, have high self-esteem and solid confidence.
      Also, I think too much solitude can be depressing for every person because whether we are an introvert or an extrovert, the need for connection, love and acceptance is one of the primal human needs. I really need my time alone, but I also need connection and some social life!

  3. This was a very brief article, but it hit the nail on the head. This describes how I feel to a T when it comes to my social anxiety. I am both socially anxious and an introvert. Thank you for writing this; it makes me feel better to know that there are others who have gone and are currently dealing with this mental illness, and that there are people who understand and can help. When I read pieces like this, it also helps me learn to be more aware of my mental illness and to be more patient, loving, forgiving, and excepting of myself and others.

    • Hi Kendall, thanks for your comment, I’m glad you liked the article and found it helpful! It always helps to know that we are not alone. When I was suffering from social anxiety, internet didn’t exist in the form we know it today (it was there, but there wasn’t much information to be found, let alone social media, forums and websites like this one), so I felt extremely alone, misunderstood and sometimes seriously wondering wether I’m going crazy… luckily I then found a very compassionate and wise soul within my family who helped me out a lot. It sounds like you’re on a good way to heal as well! All the best.

  4. I am both but I am starting to accept my introversion and just embrace it.
    My social anxiety is light, and by light I mean that i can relate to a lot of stuff people with SAD experiences but I don’t get panic attacks and things like that.
    I thought I had learned how to deal with it, but it feels like it’s turning into some sort of depression now.
    I really liked the article and it clearly showed the difference between the two “disorders/ traits”.

  5. Thankyou Barbara for taking the time to write this article. I feel that you know exactly what your talking about by the way you have explained the difference between the two disorders and it’s great how you gave a simple example of each to show us exactly that difference!
    I now completely understand that I have social anxiety and not so much an introvert personality. Thankyou again, I hope you write more on mental health issues because you have a great writing technique aswell as first hand knowledge and understanding from what I see.
    Kind regards….. Linda

    • Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, Linda! I will definitely write more articles on social anxiety, confidence, and other related subjects 🙂 I hope dissolve your social anxiety too.

  6. Oh so I have social anxiety disorder!! For the longest time I was so confused because I used to be an extrovert in middle school but since puberty kicked in in high school, I just shut up and stopped talking in large group. I think I was very insecure of my appearance and my language because I had just enrolled into a school that required me to speak in a totally different language, and was made fun of several time at school. But thank you so much for this article!!! I’ve learnt so much about myself and that is all thanks to you, Barbara!

    • Thank you for your comment May. Your story sounds similar to mine and my self-esteem was at its worst when I moved to a new country to attend the university. Then with work, dedication and decision to beat the social anxiety, things started looking up. I’m actually more introverted now than I used to be as a kid, and definitely much happier too!

    • Yes, it is possible. However, I wouldn’t call introversion a “condition” since it’s not a mental disorder but a personality trait. As an introvert, you can feel just as happy, fulfilled and peaceful in life as an extrovert.

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Written by Barbara

Barbara is an ex-social anxiety sufferer and founder of Free From Social Anxiety blog, where she shares helpful information and tips on overcoming social anxiety. She is also author of an extensive guide “Bye Bye, Social Anxiety”.

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