When people throw out conversation advice, they often mix up the terms introversion and shyness.
The truth is, they are completely different concepts that cannot be used interchangeably. But I do feel they are related in several ways, which I’ll go over later.
If you aren’t happy with your social life and want to talk to more people with confidence, this is important information to know. It helped me realize the type of person I am and the type of socializing that works best for my personality. And that allowed me to feel less critical of myself and meet new people using my strengths instead of trying to be something I’m not.
First, What is Introversion?
Introversion is a personality trait you’re born with and it doesn’t go away. So when people ask, “How can I change from introverted to extraverted,” they’re asking the wrong question. That can’t be done.
The important thing to realize here is, nothing is wrong with you if you are introverted!
First, the difference between introversion and extraversion (or extroversion) is mainly about energy and where you get that energy. See, an introvert gets her energy from being alone with her thoughts. The world of ideas and concepts give introverts their Mojo. On the other hand, an extravert gets her energy from being social. Talking to others is what juices them.
So to be social actually drains an introvert and being alone drains an extravert. The introvert will need to spend time alone to “recharge” after a long time being social.
Researchers seem to think the distinction comes mainly from introverts being born more sensitive to external stimuli. Since being social and talking to people is such a highly stimulating experience (emotionally and mentally) it wears introverts out sooner.
Scale of Introversion vs Extraversion
The other important thing to note is no one is fully extraverted or introverted; we all have elements of both. If you think of introversion and extraversion as a sliding scale from left to right, you’ll fall somewhere along that scale. No one is really all the way to one side or the other.
Being more in the middle of the scale means you’re an ambivert.
What all this means is an introvert can want to spend time alone but also crave being social. Also, someone more extraverted can still crave alone time.
Common Introversion Traits
Introversion is marked by a number of different sub-traits:
- Very self-aware and thoughtful
- Enjoys understanding details
- Interested in self-knowledge and self-understanding
- Tends to keep emotions private
- Quiet and reserved in large groups or around unfamiliar people
- More sociable and gregarious around people they know well
- Learns well through observation
- Tends to have a smaller group of friends
- Typically chooses friends much more carefully
- Closest relationships tend to be profound and significant
- Prefers to interact 1-on-1 rather than in large groups
- Finds “small talk” tedious but enjoys deep, meaningful conversations
- Thinks about things before talking to have a full understanding of a concept before voicing an opinion or offering an explanation
Don’t Feel Ashamed to be Introverted
What I realized by finding all this out is it’s okay to have these traits.
- Don’t feel ashamed if you prefer a smaller group of close friends
- Nothing’s wrong with your style of thinking ideas thru before speaking
- Wanting to keep emotions to yourself is natural for you
So don’t let anyone tell you something is wrong with you for being the way you are. In my experience, people who are more extraverted have a hard time understanding introversion. Many assume being social and outgoing is the natural and only way of things.
They can’t imagine why someone would want to be alone.
But now you’re prepared. You’re armed with the knowledge that you have just as much right to crave your alone time as extraverts crave being social.
Introvert Tip: Keep in Mind the Consequences
While it certainly isn’t wrong to be an introvert, there are consequences to completely giving in to your introverted nature. Like it or not, humans are a social species. That’s how we interact and how our status is determined. I mean obviously humans can’t read minds (that I’m convinced of at least), so communication is necessary.
So extraverts have an advantage in that they more naturally play the human social game. The consequences of being TOO introverted are that less people get to know you, so you have less opportunities.
So while you shouldn’t strive to be extraverted ALL the time (that would just wear you down and be fake), it is helpful to take on extraverted traits from time to time. In moderation, qualities like talking to people just for the sake of socializing and speaking without thinking as much can do wonders for introverts.
Why Shyness is NOT the Same as Introversion
Shyness is not something you are born with. It is learned from your environment and experience. Shyness is fear-based. It’s a fear of people judging you or being embarrassed in social situations.
It’s understandable shyness gets confused with introversion because, if you’re anxious about a social setting, you’ll likely avoid it. So similar to an introvert, a shy person avoids being social. The difference is the shy person does it out of fear, while an introvert does it out of a genuine urge to be alone.
As researchers Louis A. Schmidt and Arnold H. Buss of the University of Texas state in their book “The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal”:
“Sociability refers to the motive, strong or weak, of wanting to be with others, whereas shyness refers to behavior when with others, inhibited or uninhibited, as well as feelings of tension and discomfort.”
Scale of Shyness
Also just like introversion, shyness lies on a scale.
- If you are bold, outgoing and confident in all situations, you’re at one end of the scale
- If you’re only slightly uncomfortable talking to strangers and only in certain situations, you’re toward the middle of the scale
- If you have uncontrollable physical symptoms like shaking and extreme anxiety in most social settings, you’re at the other end of the scale
This kind of severe shyness is usually referred to as social phobia. For example, agoraphobia, or the fear of leaving your house, is one type of social phobia.
As for social anxiety, most sources I’ve seen describe this as a more severe form of shyness, yet not as intense or debilitating as social phobia. In other cases, I’ve seen social anxiety and shyness used interchangeably.
The Cause of Shyness and How to Beat It
There are SO many experiences that can cause shyness.
- Maybe your parents were shy, so you simply learned to act like them growing up
- Maybe you were teased as a kid because you were different than everyone else
- Maybe you had an embarrassing experience or several and were criticized
- Maybe you just lost your job so you question your identity and feel ashamed
These things can happen to anybody. And the painful memories can stick for years or decades, all the while affecting beliefs and behavior.
Take for example being criticized or teased, especially when we’re younger. This might make us believe we aren’t good enough. Or that if we reveal who we truly are to others, they won’t like us. Or any number of convoluted beliefs.
But notice something. Those beliefs aren’t valid. They’re distorted, unrealistic and limiting because they either don’t make sense or they’re exaggerated.
When you think about it logically…
- There are probably plenty of people in the world who would like the real you
- You’ve probably done well socially sometimes
- And what does “I’m not good enough” mean anyway? You’re still surviving now aren’t you? You could help another human being in need if it came down to it couldn’t you?
How Shyness and Introversion ARE Related
So hopefully I’ve convinced you introversion and shyness are not the same. You can be introverted but NOT shy. You can be extraverted and very shy. It just depends on your experiences in life.
But I do think shyness and introversion are linked in at least two ways.
1. Introverts Tend to Get Less Social Practice
Introverts tend to spend more time alone than extraverts. Because of this, they get less “social practice” throughout life.
Think about it. Extraverts are drawn to being social from an early age. This doesn’t mean they’re good at it from the start. They bumble along and make social mistakes like anyone else. It’s just they make those mistakes when they are children. So by the time they’re adults, they’ve got a good handle on social etiquette.
Introverts on the other hand don’t get as much social practice. So by the time they are adults, their social muscles may be less developed. Because of this, they’re not as comfortable being social. So they shy away from certain social situations because they don’t feel savvy enough to handle them.
2. Introverts Are Misunderstood
Introverts are often seen differently than extraverts. Since introverts tend to be quieter and hard to read, many people consider them conceited.
Also, some introverts “march to the beat of their own drum” because they’re often in their inner worlds. They just don’t mix with the crowd as much so they don’t conform (NOT to say all extraverts DO conform, but at least they’re more likely to speak about their differences so others understand them).
Because of this, introverts might get criticized for not fitting in, especially in childhood. So as I mentioned above, the introvert has these negative social experiences which cause painful memories and limiting beliefs. Beliefs that make him less likely to be outgoing in the future.
So in those ways, I think introversion sometimes leads to shyness. But that’s just my opinion.
So what’s the take away from all this?
- While you can’t necessarily get rid of your introversion, you CAN manage it. You can be social and outgoing (more extraverted qualities), but just realize it will wear you out faster. Remember to take the time to recharge by being alone for a while. You can do this while you’re still “out and about” too. Just walk outside alone for some fresh air or go to the bathroom for a few minutes.
- If you would like to be more social but feel anxious about meeting new people, this is a result of shyness. You don’t have to become extraverted to overcome shyness. But you can learn to be more outgoing and confident socially so you get your social fix. That’s just a matter of learning better social skills and overcoming limiting thinking about yourself in relation to others.
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(image courtesy of Angelo Gonzalez via Flikr)