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« Social anxiety and introverts, by Rachel Green »

Written by Rachel Green. Your smart emotions coach: Helping people find positive outcomes from uneasy emotions. Director of The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She has cured herself of panic attacks through meditation.

Social anxiety and introverts

People with social anxiety have a FEAR of social situations, social interactions and meeting people. This fear produces symptoms of anxiety which are sometimes severe, and people with social anxiety may become socially withdrawn as a consequence.

However, does the term social anxiety also apply to people who don't have such a strong fear of social situations and who have a milder anxiety about meeting new people?

Maybe not. One of the grey areas of social anxiety diagnosis is deciding whether a person has a "normal" degree of social awkwardness or whether it is a medical pathology. The severity of the anxiety and the extent of social withdrawal would be significant parts of that difference. But when is social withdrawal acceptable?

Only when the fundamental reason for rejecting social invitations is based upon a fear of the interactions and the people involved do I think it is social anxiety.

Meet the introverted cousins of people with social anxiety

Let's consider the difference between people who have introversion as a personality type, and people with social anxiety as a disorder. I'll use the personality types on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is based on the work of Carl Jung, as a reference point.

According to the MBTI, introverts get their energy from spending time on their own, going inside themselves and thinking things through. They benefit from having peace and quiet in their lives each day. In order to stay healthy introverts need to take time out for solitude, regularly. They may also prefer to shun large social engagements because they find them draining.

How do introverts compare to people with social anxiety? 

I know a significant number of men and women who don't accept social invitations to functions or parties, but not because they are people with social anxiety. Usually it is because they are sensible and managing their time well. 

Or they may simply prefer not to go to parties and to instead spend time doing their hobbies or talking 1-1 with people or spending time doing meditation, reading poetry or being in nature. Does this make them people with social anxiety? I think not. They are more likely to be healthy introverts.

Having social anxiety can also leave you feeling worn out, especially if you are always on the look-out for possible occasions to fear. Introverts can also feel worn-out when they are forced to extravert for too long or can't find enough peace and quiet. Similar symptoms, different reasons.

Is this you, do you feel worn out? If so, you may benefit from meditation. I recommend our "Happy not hassled" MP3 recordings to you. The meditations are the ones I used to help me overcome my panic attacks and which I use daily to keep my energy levels up.

MP3s $29(US) Add to Cart

Could introverts be wrongly perceived as having social anxiety?

Certainly introverts can feel they don't fit in. They can be considered secretive, withdrawn or negative by the more flamboyant extroverts. They can be called geeks, nerds and oddballs, when in fact they are being quite normal introverts.

Someone who wants to stay home on a Saturday night, or have a whole weekend to themselves, can be ridiculed by their class mates, colleagues or even friends. "What's wrong with you, you loser" will have been heard by many an introvert. This doesn't mean they have social anxiety though.

There are a number of significant differences between a person with social anxiety and a healthy introvert.

Healthy introverts may be very emotionally resilient in their own space. They do not use most of their peace and quiet worrying about other people, or about people being critical of them, or experiencing anxiety. Instead they can be refreshed and re-energised by the time alone.

In contrast, the person with social anxiety, introvert or otherwise, may spend most or all of their quiet time worrying about the next person they'll meet, planning to avoid any projected negative consequences of an upcoming interaction, or planning to avoid social situations.

They may also be filled with the fear and dread of future social engagements. People with social anxiety may find that being on their own is far from peaceful; there is always a conversation to plan for, an interaction to go over, and negative thoughts to disturb them.

If healthy introverts have to go and meet other people they can do so without a major outbreak of anxiety. They may not want to go, they may not like to go, but their heart doesn't pound at the thought of saying "Hello" to someone.

Who cares whether it's social anxiety or introversion?

It matters to the people with social anxiety who are tortured by it.

They want to understand what is happening to them and why. They also deserve to be correctly diagnosed and to receive appropriate anxiety treatment.

Severe social anxiety can be a very debilitating disorder requiring psychiatric help and even hospitalisation. The teenage son of two of my friends has had it this badly. He helped me write this article by talking to me about his difficulties.

On the other hand, there is a need for introverts to know that seeking solitude and time alone can be a very normal and healthy thing for them to do and that, in fact, their emotional health depends upon it. This knowledge can help them to fend off and deflect the unkind retorts that may be said about them by the more extraverted members of our society.

The number of people with social anxiety appears to be on the rise. It is important therefore that we gain a clear understanding of all aspects of the disorder.

I welcome your comments and experiences. Are you an introvert? What is this like for you?

Do you have social anxiety? What is this like for you?

If you are finding your anxiety is exhausting you and stopping you sleeping or thinking straight, you might like to learn how to meditate. If so, I recommend our "Happy not hassled" MP3 recordings to you. The meditations are the ones I used to help me overcome my panic attacks.

MP3s $29(US) Add to Cart


NB: Any information contained in this article is not provided as an alternative to the obtaining of psychological advice from an appropriately qualified practitioner. Rachel is not a psychologist, Dr or psychiatrist. If you have significant anxiety or personality problems please seek professional help and do not rely on this for the diagnosis or treatment of any psychological problems.