Introvert and shy are, many times, used as synonyms of each other. People use both words to define a person who appears timid and prefers to avoid social interaction. Even in the dictionary, one appears as a synonym of the other leading us to believe that they are exactly the same thing. But, are they? Do they actually mean the same?
Shy vs introvert – a small but significant difference
Despite the fact that they both end up having less social interaction, being shy and being an introvert is not the same thing. The crucial difference is in the reason why they don’t often socialize.
A shy person is timid and fearful. Their thoughts are around what others will think of them and how they will be viewed. Consequently, they become quieter and self-conscious, fearing judgments.
An introvert, on the other hand, does not fear judgments. They’re just solitary people who prefer to observe and think about what’s around them instead of socializing. It is a matter of personal characteristic rather than fear or insecurity.
Being shy is about others; being introverted is about yourself.
“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.”
Exploring concepts: introvert, shy and social anxiety
These three concepts are usually put together as very similar things. While they have their similarities, they are, in essence, different. Using them as synonyms is a huge, yet common, misconception. Let’s clarify them.
The introvert is quiet. As we indicated before, introverts are people who like to observe. They will listen more than talk and think before giving their opinion. They are usually people with huge concentration capacities.
Their lack of interest in socializing might make them sound shy, but in fact they aren’t necessarily uncomfortable with social interactions. They usually just prefer quiet places. They are more concerned with their inner thoughts and feelings, yet, able to deal with a social situation without major fears or awkwardness.
For shy people social interaction is a struggle. The fear of negative judgment makes social interaction stressful and uncomfortable, leading them to avoid it.
Many shy people actually would love to socialize, to go to parties or take part in group conversations. They just can’t. Rather than being a personality trait, shyness is a response of discomfort that a social interaction situation may cause.
Most of us are shy in some situations. Even an extrovert who may appreciate regular interaction with other people, can feel uncomfortable in or afraid of a particular situation. The reasons are not related to their personality, but instead revolve around the moment itself and what it means to them. They may also have had experiences early in life that make them apprehensive.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Contrary to shyness, Social Anxiety Disorder is a psychopathology, and it should be treated accordingly. Also known as social phobia, it involves an extreme, uncontrollable fear of being humiliated during social interactions.
Someone with Social Anxiety Disorder feels completely overwhelmed by social interaction. They have physical symptoms of discomfort, such as blushing, sweating, nausea, etc. Their social skills are very compromised and they tend to avoid any kind of social situation. In severe cases, it can even lead to panic attacks.
Social Anxiety Disorder harms all social interaction even with friends, who are usually few and very difficult to maintain. Dinner with friends or relatives is an extremely scary event and most people get tired of the constant excuses and the avoidance of normal social interaction.
Shyness is not a personality trait
All of us can be shy in some situations. Adding the label “introvert” based on some shyness may affect our behavior for the rest of our lives. We tend to behave as is expected from us and that’s when labeling can be harmful.
Many people that are afraid of public speaking were labeled as introverts. That’s not always the case. In fact, an introvert can actually be a good speaker due to his/her fantastic capacity to focus on one topic.
This might happen for various reasons, but what is really important is that you can get better. Knowing that shyness is a behavior or reaction to a situation empowers us to overcome our insecurities and deal with the social discomfort in a more clever and effective way.
Introversion is not a disability
While shy people avoid social interaction situations and the discomfort associated with it, introverts just prefer to enjoy their time away from all the external stimuli. It helps them to recharge their energy supplies, which are usually limited.
An introvert’s personality traits make them unique listeners. They show very high levels of concentration and enjoy deep conversations about a topic.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the modern western society views introversion as a problem to solve, instead of looking for its strengths and useful unique characteristics. Rather than being incapable, introverts are perfect for certain quieter, isolated positions that demand more concentration and persistence in a company.
Knowing myself to know my strengths
Many introverts think about themselves as shy and inadequate. The constant advice they receive to change their way, to be more social and extroverts make them think they are not capable. Knowing exactly who you are and what that means is the best way to reach your full potential.
When it comes to public speaking, being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re destined to fail. There are techniques that can help you and of which we’re going to talk in a later post in this blog. In the video below, from Charisma on Command, there is a perfect example of how an introvert that can be charismatic and loved, without the need to “change his way”.