Am I Introverted or Socially Anxious?

At long last, introverts are having their day. Over the last few years, being quiet and inner-directed has become not only acceptable, but downright trendy.  But introversion often gets mistaken for its more restrictive, self-conscious, but treatable cousin, social anxiety.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #97

Difference #3: With social anxiety, you feel incapable. You think you don’t have anything to say, won’t know what to say, and assume that people will overlook or misunderstand you anyway.

By contrast, with introversion, you feel pretty confident about your social skills and can turn them “on” if you need to. And even though it might take some effort to be “on,” you can recharge by reading a book on the couch the next day or going out to brunch with your best friend.

No matter your personality, you care what people think—at least the people you love and respect. 

Difference #4: Introverts and socially anxious individuals both care what other people think, but on differing levels. Let’s be honest. No matter your personality, you care what people think—at least the people you love and respect.  I know, I know, every chart-topping megahit from Shake it Off to Let It Go to Roar tells you to be yourself and not let others’ opinions hold you back. But if you really didn’t care what anybody thought, you’d be a psychopath. We’re social animals, so of course we care what people who matter to us think—introverts and extroverts alike.  

But social anxiety is caring what other people think, supersized.  In social anxiety, you care what almost everybody thinks, assume most people are thinking negatively about you, and have the nagging sense you don’t measure up.  A younger cousin to social anxiety is people pleasing.

See Also: How to Identify a Psychopath or Sociopath   

Difference #5: Social anxiety thrives on perfectionism. Perfectionism is often a root of social anxiety—you may believe only a perfect social performance can stave off harsh criticism.  You may think you’ll be judged unless you come off as the paragon of effortless social banter, which instead just makes you clam up. The socially anxious among us rehearse our fast food order while waiting in line or talk ourselves through that customer service call before we dial the number, which robs us of the chance to realize the fast food guy and the customer service person have probably heard it all, from drunken life stories to sketchy confessions, and don’t care if we stumble over our words. By contrast, with introversion, perfectionism isn’t an issue. Why? There’s no performance involved.

Recognize yourself? You're not alone: social anxiety affects up to 15 million Americans.  For more, check out 6 Ways to Beat Social Anxiety. Let me know how you deal with social anxiety on my Facebook page.

how to be yourself ellen hendriksen bookOrder Ellen's book HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. Get even more savvy tips to be happier and healthier by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or get each episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

For free, helpful downloads to fight social anxiety and be your authentic self, visit EllenHendriksen.com.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.