What Is The Difference Between Being Introverted Versus Socially Anxious?
Thanks to Susan Cain’s books (for adults: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking and for kids/teens: Quiet Power – The Secret Strengths) her excellent Ted Talk (with over 17 million views) and her Quiet Revolution movement, greater understanding and awareness is being spread about introverts.
However there is still a lot of confusion…
What is the difference between being introverted versus socially anxious?
Can someone be both introverted and social?
How can the star of the play be an introvert?
Is being an introvert the same as being socially anxious?
Let’s take a closer look at these questions…
Understanding the True Meaning of Being an Introvert
Susan Cain defines introverts as: “People who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments”.
What is important to realize is that introversion and extroversion are on the same continuum. Some people are closer to the middle and some are more at one end of the other. However, one can usually tell that they fit with one more than the other, on a more regular basis.
I like to explain introverts as people who prefer to recharge their “batteries” though solo activities – having quiet time, reflecting, and being in a less stimulating environment. Introverts tend to need more down-time than up-time.
However, this does not mean that they are anti-social – this is a common myth! Introverts still love to have friends, but usually have a few close friends versus having a lot of friends and continuing to go out and meet more new friends.
Introverts may be one of the first to leave a party because they’ve had fun chatting and socializing but are now ready for some quiet time. However, the extroverts, who prefer to recharge their “batteries” by connecting with other people – old friends and new – feel energized being with the group and will usually be the ones to stay at the party later.
Introverts also tend to be more internal and introspective. They tend to process events internally first before sharing.
So to answer the questions we started with…
Yes you can be introverted and social.
Introverts love to be social but usually with a close group of friends or just one friend whom they have known for awhile. They would also choose to spend some time alone after spending time in a group, and need some quiet time breaks throughout the day or week. They would usually choose to go away with close family or a few close friends versus several groups of families.
Yes some introverts love to be up on stage.
Some introverts love to act, sing, play a musical instrument etc. These modalities allow them to express themselves from the inside-out. However, after a performance, they would probably choose to be alone and have some quiet time.
Is Being An Introvert the Same As Being Socially Anxious?
No! Social anxiety and introversion are different.
However, you can be both…
Let’s take a look at the difference between being introverted versus socially anxious…
Socially anxious people would choose to not go to a party due to some kind of anxious fear… fear of what will others think of me…what will I be able to talk about? I will be judged negatively. I will be seen as lacking in some way. Fear takes over and creates avoidance. (This is often the case for the children we describe as shy.)
However, Introverts may choose to not go to a party because they are in the mood for some quiet time or hanging out with just one friend.
Socially anxious people tend to fall into the “thinking trap” of black or white/perfectionistic thinking. If I can’t be 100% successful talking to people then I will be 100% a failure.
Introverts prefer to have more personal conversations with people they know well but they can socialize and chat to people they don’t know without a fear of failure. Introverts are comfortable with just being themselves.
Being introverted is not a problem – it’s part of one’s personality and it may be difficult for extroverts to understand.
For example, I have been in situations where an extrovert said to an introverted child,
“Why aren’t you smiling? It’s a great day, you should smile!”
Meanwhile, the introverted child was having a great day but didn’t need to be grinning from ear to ear to express it. Many extroverts, usually unconsciously, convey the message that introverts need to be more outgoing, be more “social” which in turn closes the introvert off from them even more.
On the other hand, being socially anxious is debilitating. There is often a genetic predisposition for anxiety. Social anxiety prevents one from being able to interact comfortably and it usually leads to avoidance which then leads to greater anxiety. Fortunately, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a licensed mental health professional, often works well for treating social anxiety.
The Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences Department at Duke University has created an excellent screening tool for social anxiety and severity. There are 17 questions to answer, and you will receive a result and a rating. It can be accessed here.
If you or your child is introverted, I highly recommend that you and they read Susan Cain’s books.
One of my teen clients was so relieved to understand herself better when I explained the meaning of introvert to her. Previously, she hadn’t understood why she felt quite different from her friends who always wanted to be in immediate contact via text and always meeting up. She loves her friends and they love her, but she likes to take breaks from texting and she doesn’t always want to meet up with them. She likes to make time for spending time by herself.
I hope this has helped you understand the difference between being introverted versus socially anxious,
PS. Registration is open for my summer group to teach children ages 9-11yrs. about anxiety and anxiety management strategies. You can find out more information and register online here and then click on “upcoming groups/events”. Two spaces left.
PPS. Please share this article with anyone you know who may find understanding the difference between being introverted versus socially anxious useful. Thank you!
- I also have free ebook titled: 8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Your Child Is Anxious which you can access here.
PPPS. If you live in Vancouver and love musical theatre, Into the Woods (an award winning musical which incorporates many fairy tale characters: Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella etc.) is coming to the Kay Meek Theatre in West Vancouver, on August 3rd and August 4th. The musical theatre will be performed by talented youth ages 13-18yrs who are part of the Summer Kay Meek Conservatory. You can find tickets here.
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