Is It Introversion or Social Anxiety?

College Student Pausing from Busy ScheduleIs it introversion or social anxiety? Yes! And no, not at all!

Often when people come in for counseling for the first time, after talking about how they’ve managed life so far, they label themselves by way of explanation: “Well, I’m in an introvert, so …” Or sometimes they’ll write on the intake sheet: “I’m anxious around people I don’t know.” My follow-up question is usually the same: “How do you figure?” It’s how a person answers that question that makes all the difference in how we proceed.

Introversion and social anxiety often get scrambled together, but for therapists they generally describe two different parts of a person’s being or functioning. Introversion is considered a trait—you rolled out of the womb with it. When you were a wee one, you might’ve preferred playing in the sandbox, thinking about where shadows come from, to joining in raucous games of tag or being on the jungle gym with a bunch of kids you’d never met. In school, you may have had your tribe of close friends and preferred to hang with them rather than join the big table of loud yakkers.

As you grew older, you may have learned you need some downtime to rekindle your energy after teaching a class, being in meetings all day, or hanging out with friends. You might prefer singular, interesting activities over small talk-laden cocktail parties. It’s how you roll. With work’s constant demands, kids’ busy schedules, and the accessibility mobile technology has thrust upon us, introverts often don’t feel that they have the recharging time they need. The constant demands for interaction can make an introverted person feel, well, nuts. It may be that people who are more introverted are just exhausted from trying to balance all the demands on their dwindling downtime. This can be especially difficult if they have an extroverted partner or children.

Introversion is not a given for those who experience social anxiety. Both extroverts and introverts can be socially anxious. Social anxiety is a mental health concern that, with help, can be managed. Like all anxieties, social anxiety often makes a person feel less capable and seemingly shrinks his or her world.

Here are some ways social anxiety affects people:

  1. Intense fear of social situations.
  2. Self-consciousness on steroids: Kicks up persistent worries about being judged by others, a preoccupation about what others think.
  3. Replay: Constantly reviewing interactions with others and negatively critiquing one’s performance.
  4. All knowing: Believing others know one is anxious, either via noticing physical symptoms or by mind reading abilities. And believing one will be judged harshly for it.
  5. Avoidance: Since social humiliation is obviously right around the corner, why go there?

It seems social anxiety may have some sort of biological loading. Often there’s a problematic anxiety issue lurking up the genetic line. This lineage seems to dovetail with experiences creating conditions for a social anxiety to show up all shaky, worried, and unbidden on a person’s proverbial doorstep. And because there are so many other humans wandering the world, social anxiety can really get in a person’s way.

As a socially anxious child you may have wanted to be at a friend’s birthday party but feared what might happen if you were around other kids. In school, you may have avoided certain classes and majored in accounting instead of communications. At work, you may white-knuckle it through the day, ascribing thoughts to your coworkers: “I know they think I’m not as smart as they are.” You may be an extrovert and want to hang out with coworkers after work but think they don’t want to hang with you.

If you feel like social anxiety is an issue for you, seeking a therapist trained in anxiety could be quite helpful.

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  • 34 comments
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  • adeline

    adeline

    September 29th, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I guess that the big way to know the difference will be through understanding if these social situations actually make you feel a little sick at the thought of having to interact with other people or if you just truly enjoy being alone a little bit better than you do being aorund other people.
    I don’t guess that there is a cure for introversion, and that most people can pretty easily handle the situations where they have to be with others.
    But if it is social anxiety then I would recommend seeking the help of a therapist or someone who could help you process thos efeelings in a way that is more manageable for you

  • Barley

    Barley

    July 29th, 2017 at 7:02 PM

    Quite a few of the traits discussed in this rambling discourse have nothing to do with introversion or extroversion. In fact, before you got to your list of signs it might be social anxiety, you mentioned things people do as “introverts” that you later show as “social anxiety”. So, to whoever wrote this copy, don’t quit your day job. You contradict your article INSIDE of the same article, and you still get it wrong. Your versions of “introvert” and “extrovert” wander around with shifting definitions as the artcle progresses. Go back to using an outline when you write, and ypu desperatly need a copy editor.

  • donna

    donna

    September 29th, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    If I know that I will not know most of the people in a particular social setting then you can forget it, I am not going. IT makes me so tense to even have to think about going bsomewhere where there will have to be introductions and such that I can’t hardly even think about having to face it.

  • Frankie M.

    Frankie M.

    September 30th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    You know, no matter what it is, anxiety or introversin, we all need to do our part to make others feel comfortable in situations where we know that they are not. Sometimes you can just see that one person trying to hide from everyone else, and wouldn’t it be easier to go up and try to engage them instead of leaving it up to them? That could be the hardest thing in the world for someone who experiences this, to initiate conversation with someone that they don’t know, but if you take the first steps for them, then it may not be so bad for them.
    Nothing will completely ease the tension and fear that they are feeling but it might hekp a little to see that there is someone who is actually willing to step in and make them a part of the program.

  • Rosemary

    Rosemary

    February 12th, 2015 at 1:17 AM

    This is such a kind and thoughtful way to behave. Wish more people thought this way. Introverts like me often long too be extrovert.

  • Kevin

    Kevin

    September 9th, 2016 at 3:53 AM

    Wrong approach Frankie, despite what Rosemary and many “normal” people may think about it being kind and thoughtful. If the person is “trying to hide from everyone else”, they very likely have social anxiety and are not just an introvert . Social anxiety has a very wide spectrum of severity and triggers, very dependent on the individual. That being said, for a large percentage, what you are suggesting would be akin to going up to someone with a deadly fear of spiders and dumping a box full of them over their head.

  • Katie Cashin Therapy

    Katie Cashin Therapy

    September 30th, 2014 at 4:03 AM

    Thank you for making the important point that both extroverts and introverts experience social anxiety! This seems to be a common misconception.

  • Extrovert with social anxiety

    Extrovert with social anxiety

    July 15th, 2015 at 4:49 PM

    I’d love to take all my 200 friends out but I’m afraid people will think I’m too social.

  • kris p

    kris p

    September 30th, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    I guess that it does not really matter which it is because you could be hurt by both. I also think that it is good to point out that anxiety can happen for anyone regardless of what type personality you have. Soemtimes it can come from nowhere and there may have to be a little exploration to figure out where it could be coming from.

  • alisa

    alisa

    September 30th, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    Because of my up bringing I really don’t know if I am an introvert or extrovert. I know I avoid public speaking because of intense fear of it. But I can go to public functions or even clubs alone and dance but I do need a lot of alone down time. I have general anxiety but not sure it is social anxiety. I am kind of a loner but enjoy people. Hmmmm

  • Kevin

    Kevin

    September 9th, 2016 at 4:03 AM

    Social anxiety has a wide spectrum, some people have one or two things that trigger a response (public speaking is a common one) and are “normal” otherwise, others have fairly extensive lists of triggers. Part of what makes social anxiety hard for society as a whole to “accept”/”understand” is in a lot of people they can do X, but are not able to do Y, and don’t understand the brain can/does respond differently to the two (think Marshawn Lynch from the NFL- he could play/perform in front of 50,000 people, but had great difficulty in doing interviews).

  • Kelly Byrd

    Kelly Byrd

    October 1st, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    How this happened I will never know but I have ended up with a man who hates to go out, hates to really be aorund other people any more than he has to and we don’t really go out except to eat and back home.

    I am not sure what happeend to the fun loving man that I married because I am so outgoing and we used to go out and have fun all the time and now he is nothing like that, wants to sit at home and mope I guess.

    As I type I realize that there could be something deeper (depression)? going on with him but to even try to bring that up feels like a challenge. I feel stuck, and I don’t want to leave him this way but at the same time my needs are not being met and I feel more and more frustrated daily with our relationship.

  • Peter

    Peter

    October 1st, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    Kelley,

    Thanks for your article — particularly for demonstrating that introversion and social anxiety are not synonyms.

    To me, the difference between the two boils down to fear. Social anxiety involves a FEAR OF something. Example: Not going to a party for fear of looking and/or feeling foolish with a bunch of strangers. Conversely, introversion simply involves a healthy, natural PREFERENCE FOR something. Example: Having a preference for recharging in quiet solitude sometimes just because it feels good.

    In other words, I don’t need to “work on” my preference for introversion. I don’t need to “face” it but, rather, embrace it. Yet I might well need to “work on” my social anxiety. Indeed, it is something I can and should work on.

    Thanks again for your piece, Kelley.

    Peter

  • Zachary

    Zachary

    October 2nd, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    Can being anxious in certain social setting be something that starts later in life or is this something that is generally seen in the individual all of the time.? The reason that I ask is that I kind of feel like I have become more and more withdrawn over the years, and where I used to get great pleasure going out and being with other people, there are times now when I almost feel like I am going to have a panic attack if I have to go out in public. Phobia or anxiety or something else going on here?

  • nicole

    nicole

    January 9th, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    Zach, I am right there with you….been social till recently….46 yoa….total introvert now…

  • Ruben

    Ruben

    April 16th, 2015 at 6:16 AM

    Nicole, do you mean socially anxious? Since my awareness of PTSD, I have experienced social anxiety not from being judged but from perceived lack of control of the many uncontrollable factors that could lead to a possible threat.

  • Kenneth K

    Kenneth K

    October 3rd, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    I was deliberating this same subject earlier this week (with myself -_-). I don’t mold well with others because of my view of myself and the world. I overthink introductions all the time, when it’s as simple as a hi or how are you today? Only people I can talk to are the elderly or middle aged folks. Thank you for this piece and nicely written comments, they gave me some needed information to get me through this dilemma.

  • molly

    molly

    October 4th, 2014 at 6:07 AM

    The statementabout how this type of anxiety shrinks your world is dead on accurate. It does make you feel like you live in this bubble almost ebcause honestly there are only so many places where I feel comfortable.

    It limits the people that you meet and the places you are willing to go, and that in and of itself really narrows down your opportunites.

  • Travis

    Travis

    November 12th, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    I’m not sure if you call what I experience as social anxiety or not because it seems to be gender biased. I feel comfortable in professional settings or when it’s just guys, but introduce women to the mix and I either head for the door or a corner somewhere away from the females. My fear is the the women won’t like me, will embarrass me or insult me. So, when it comes down to parties, I usual either don’t go, drink too much or I leave as soon as I can. My thought about why I’m this way is because women have always been mean to me, rejected me, etc. when I was growing up due to my chronic, untreated depression. Since getting on medication, I don’t experience the rejection so much, but I still shy away from social interaction with the opposite sex, have intimacy problems, trust issues, etcetera with women. How do I fix this? I don’t know how to change this behavior, but it affects both my personal as well as professional life in a negative manner! I try to not talk to women and just communicate by text or email, but that’s not always possible. How do I remed this situation?

  • mel

    mel

    April 16th, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    Raj on the Big Bang Theory ;)

  • MA

    MA

    July 22nd, 2018 at 8:36 PM

    I think a good therapist, one with thorough knowledge of exposure therapy, will help you. This approach will give you small tasks to do weekly to help you overcome your fear of rejection. You need to ask the therapist if they had extensive training in ERT (exposure response therapy). Some therapy will say they can practice it,but only hav had a few lectures about it. The therapist with longer training is best.

  • Jane

    Jane

    January 3rd, 2015 at 2:28 PM

    I think there are many reasons for social anxiety. Many can be rooted in family of origin experiences. To simply label something as a genetic predisposition or a biological problem does not empower the people to have it to work through it. Satir would certainly have more to say about the topic which is the kind of information I was hoping to receive when I signed up for this blog. Sorry but I am disappointed.

  • Debadyuti

    Debadyuti

    February 17th, 2015 at 10:40 PM

    I suffer from this condition that makes me behave in a certain manner whenever I am surrounded by new faces. I struggle to open up and don’t feel like being a part of or refuse outright to participate in any fun activities. I think a lot about how others are evaluating or assessing me. I get into the groove of this severe social anxiety and I am always worried about how others would react if I speak in front of them especially when I am in a new organisation.

  • Mahendra T.

    Mahendra T.

    February 25th, 2015 at 1:01 AM

    From personal experience, I highly recommend exercise. Researchers have identified that running in natural surroundings is very effective for reducing anxiety and mild depression.

  • Julia

    Julia

    March 7th, 2015 at 1:20 PM

    I thought this was a good article but wondered where the rest of it was… like when does General anxiety turn into social anxiety and does that predispose you to agoraphobia and other panic attack situations? Thanks

  • John L

    John L

    April 17th, 2015 at 11:41 AM

    I am very introverted, but I think that has caused me some social anxiety because I come across arrogant and stuck up because I dont make eye contact. Then this leads me to fear social situations because of the awkwardness. I am around lots of people every day at work and I try to avoid interaction all the time to avoid making me and others feel awkward. If I could only have a couple of beers at work then I would do much better. Hahaha

  • Lindsay

    Lindsay

    June 7th, 2015 at 1:07 PM

    It gets to the point that I’ll sit with a bunch of people out at a bar and feel like no one would want me to talk or wants me there. After sitting there for a while, I forget people can actually see me. It’s an awful, miserable feeling and I try to avoid it anyway I can. Doesn’t matter whos sitting at that table, I end up sitting there trying to find something to look interested in. It’s seriously terrible.

  • Guy

    Guy

    November 24th, 2015 at 8:17 PM

    I am very introverted too. I think that my social anxiety has caused me to become an introvert because I always think about someone judging me. When I’m talking with people in a group, I feel like they don’t want to listen to what I have to say and that they talk to each other more and kind of cast me out. I feel anxious when I’m meeting a friend for dinner because I don’t want to appear as a turn off.

  • Jerry (female)

    Jerry (female)

    March 6th, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    I don’t know what I am. I am happiest when I am completely alone or alone with my dog. When I go to a place where there are more than three people I feel very uncomfortable. In large groups like church, etc. I tend to overcompensate by trying to be an extrovert. Most groups that I belong to, or large groups of people I know, would never know that I’m so uncomfortable. As a result I become too talkative, say things before I think, and block out the people around become I’m afraid they may not like what I’m saying. When I get by myself, I’m totally exhausted. I hate myself for not keeping my mouth shut.

  • dee

    dee

    April 1st, 2016 at 9:39 AM

    I’m actually a level above introvert.I actually do not interact socially with anyone except immediate family I have no desire to engage in conversation with outsiders and will not respind to them …….daughter son grandkids daught,son in law.I just find people so fake and manipulative that i no longer engage anyone that I don’t know personally.I ddi

  • Jerry (female)

    Jerry (female)

    April 1st, 2016 at 4:09 PM

    Dee, I may be one of those people you find fake because, like I said, I’m so uncomfortable, I put on a smile, grit my teeth and go full steam ahead, and that’s when I pretend not to be nervous and make it through.

  • Mohamed .J

    Mohamed .J

    November 30th, 2016 at 11:43 AM

    Hello everyone, I have a social problem and I can’t determine whether it is introversion or it is just social anxiety. Since my childhood, I tend to be alone most of the time, i don’t like to talk to people or answer phone calls from people I don’t know, even my brothers I sometimes don’t speak to them too much, i feel really miserable being not able to communicate with my colleagues at work, or have friends . I don’t like to attend parties or events of any kind, I may have friends for sometimes but i lose them soon. please tell me, am I introvert or socially anxious?, i am ready to answer your questions to make my condition clearer.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    November 30th, 2016 at 11:56 AM

    Hi Mohamed,
    This article applies to some of the experiences you mention here, and we thought we’d pass it on in case it is helpful to you: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/dear-gt/do-i-need-to-be-more-social

    Wishing you all the best,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Anon

    Anon

    April 11th, 2017 at 3:21 AM

    Hey Mohamed .J, I was just curious, do you know why you don’t like attending parties and events, and talking to people? I’m just giving random examples here but like is it because it’s uncomfortable, feels like a lot of effort, you’re too tired to face people, you’re scared of being judged, or you feel you have nothing good to say, etc. Thinking about this may help you or help others to help you (that was a lot of helps).

    I find that I experience both introversion, SA and am possibly a highly sensitive person. If I’m at a place where there’s lots of talking going on, like a busy restaurant, I tend to feel a little dizzy because there’s too much stimulation and I can never be fully comfortable around people, even family, which I’m guessing is because of SA.
    Take your time figuring these things out. It took me a looooong time to even get just an idea of what was up with me.

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