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

For the quiet types among us, “introversion” and “social anxiety” frequently get used interchangeably. Or, just as often, social anxiety is mistakenly thought of as an extreme form of introversion. But while you can definitely be a socially anxious introvert, you can also be socially anxious extrovert—for example, you may really want to go to the bar with your co-workers but worry they actually don’t want you there.  Or you may crave company but obsess about the possibility you’ll say something stupid.

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But the two terms are actually quite different. Far from being a psychological tomato-tomahto, the two are more like apple and orange—here are five big differences.

Difference #1: You were born an introvert; you were made socially anxious. Introversion is a trait, meaning it’s part of your inborn personality. But with social anxiety, while you may carry a predisposition toward it, you didn’t come out of the womb with it. Likely, a lot of learning went into its development. For example, maybe some early social rejection taught you that peers are mean and critical. Maybe your parents taught you never to ask for help because people will judge you. Maybe being the center of attention as a kid made you so uncomfortable you’ve avoided it ever since, and never had the opportunity to learn you could handle it just fine. The good news is that you can unlearn, or re-learn, those early lessons about people being judgy, disapproving, or critical.

Difference #2: With introversion, solitude makes you feel good. With social anxiety, it just makes you less anxious. It’s a fine distinction, so let’s look a little closer. Introverts gain energy by being alone, one-to-one, or in a small group of trusted confidantes. If you’re an introvert, being in solitude is refreshing and recharges your batteries.  

By contrast, social anxiety is driven by fear.  Being alone makes you less anxious, which might feel good, but it’s more a sense of relief than happiness.  You may tell yourself, “I don’t care,” about going to that party or turning down that invitation, but deep down, avoiding people leaves you lonely or insecure.  But the drive to make anxiety go away is strong.  So you may avoid events you actually would like to go to for fear of making a fool of yourself, getting rejected, or feeling awkward.

Want to Know More?  See Also: Toxic Habits: Avoidance


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.