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.
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.
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.
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