Introversion and Social Anxiety: They Are Not The Same

I receive a lot of emails from people wanting to know how to get over their social anxiety as introverts. Just do a quick Google search and it is clear that there is a strong link between introversion, shyness, and social anxiety.

Despite the fact that there are many studies and articles which debunk the myth that introversion equals anxiety, it doesn’t seem quite so simple. Why is this?

Introversion and Social Anxiety, Linked but not the same

School

When I was a child every single school report would remind me that I was shy. That I was quiet. That I needed to put my hand up and speak more in class.

The teachers would make a concerted effort to pick on me because ‘when he does contribute he adds very thoughtful ideas’. And I hated it.

I was always on edge, anticipating, racking my brains for something to say if I was to get called on. Or I was thinking up something to add to the conversation just so I could tick off my goal of putting my hand up for the day. Usually however, by the time I had thought of something I was happy with the conversation had moved on.

Not a Problem Until…it is seen as one

It was never something that bothered me until it began to bother me. And it began to bother me simply because I was told it was a problem. If something interested me or I was getting to understand it I would raise my hand and talk, but if it wasn’t my flavour or I was trying to get my head around it, I would happily sit and listen.

Looking back it becomes clear to me how he formative years, especially of introverts and highly sensitive people are vital to get right. How well our traits are understood, accepted and nurtured by parents and teachers is of utmost importance.

Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

Social anxiety and shyness are NOT CAUSED by introversion. Any link between them is social not biological.

1. Introversion is a Trait

You’ve always been an introvert and always will be. It’s how you’re orientated to the world with regards to where you re-energise. You naturally need downtime to rekindle or prepare your energy for large periods of stimulation.

In our modern fast paced and ‘switched on’ society it can be more difficult as an introvert to find the recharging time and space required. It may necessitate intentional effort to protect the time needed for you to refuel and feel human again.

2. Social Anxiety and Shyness are Experience by All

Shyness and social anxiety are responses to the world and can be experienced by extroverts and introverts alike. Some of the ways it can affect an individual are:

  • Intense self-consciousness (an preoccupation with what others are thinking of you and irrational worries about being negatively judged by others)
  • Feeling like it’s all hanging out (maintaining the belief that everyone knows what you’re feeling and that they are judging you to be worth less than them)
  • Continuously going over interactions in your mind and beating yourself up about what you did or said
  • Withdrawing and avoiding social situations

The difference is this:
“If you don’t want to go to a party because you’re worried about walking into the room, not knowing who to talk to, what you’re going to say, and feeling very awkward, you are being motivated by fear and anxiety.”

However.
“If you don’t want to go to a party because you would rather choose to be at home with a book, or hanging out with one or two close friends etc then that’s your temperament (natural preference) driving the decision and that is completely fine.”

3. There are Stories We are Conditioned to Believe

Then there is this middle ground, where because of the narrative we are fed in wider society introversion is not as widely accepted and understood as it needs to be.

Telling introverted children they are shy, quiet, and reserved as a damning critique. Declaring that they need to modify their behaviour to fit in with normative expectations can be damaging to their self-identity and confidence. This seemingly innocent remark can remain with a person their whole life, constantly chipping away at them.

Culture Matters

In cultures where introversion is considered normal and the needs of introverts are accepted and understood there is a much lower correlation with social anxiety.

Where and whether we believe ourselves to fit in with the world around us can fundamentally change how we interact with the world on a social level. It can either give us confidence and self-assurance, or it can strip these things away.

Where being an introvert is considered a negative thing as is in many Western cultures, it can lead us to become deeply anxious because the very foundation of WHO WE ARE is being called into question and essentially rejected.

This is why it is such an important message to spread because for those introverts and highly sensitive people not so fortunate to have their true self understood, accepted, and nurtured the world can be a confusing and lonely place.

Over to You

Did you have any teachers who really understood you (or those that did the opposite) at school? What was the impact on your relationship with yourself? I would be extremely interested to hear you own stories and thoughts on this. Please leave a comment below.

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