Introversion, Extraversion and their Surprising Relationships to Social Anxiety and Shyness

If you’re an Introvert, then chances are you’ve been called “shy” on more than one occasion. In fact, you may have referred to yourself as shy, to explain your reticence to attend parties or engage in casual conversations with coworkers or strangers.

While many Introverts can be classified as shy, however, the two concepts are not exactly the same. This is especially true if we’re talking about the more serious form of shyness known as social anxiety disorder (SAD), a condition that affects 15 million Americans (including this writer).

Shyness is a side effect of social anxiety, and when that anxiety reaches the clinically diagnosable level it is a life-changer. You would never use the word ‘suffer’ to describe the feelings of an Introvert. But you absolutely can use it to describe the personal difficulties that people with social anxiety disorder experience on a semi-regular basis.

Surface similarities aside, introversion is not shyness and shyness is not introversion. Social anxiety exists independently of introversion, and that means that every personality type, including those who fall under the extraversion umbrella, could conceivably suffer from its effects.

It may sound like a contradiction, but shy Extraverts do exist—in fact, you can find them everywhere. If we assume shyness is distributed evenly across the population, up to half of all shy or socially anxious people may actually be Extraverts, despite appearances to the contrary.

Shy Introverts: Where Introversion Ends and Social Anxiety Begins

If you’re introverted and also chronically shy, it may never have occurred to you to see the two as distinct. This is understandable, since people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and those who test out as Introverts on a personality type assessment do share numerous behaviors and characteristics.

Compare a person labeled ‘shy’ to the typical Introvert (I) and you’ll likely discover that:

  • Each prefers to spend a good amount of time alone.
  • Each was known as an unusually quiet child.
  • Each generally avoids socializing with strangers at parties, in grocery store lines, on buses or anywhere else where they might encounter new people.
  • Each has a tendency to blend silently into the background when they’re out in public.
  • Each has a reputation for being mild-mannered, soft-spoken and better at listening than expressing their opinions.
  • Each has solitary hobbies that don’t require others to participate or be present.
  • Each has a relatively small circle of close friends or family members they speak to frequently.

Despite such similarities, there is one major difference. While Introverts choose their lifestyles and behaviors of their own free will, shy/socially anxious people are simply doing their best to cope with their stress and limit their exposure to situations where they fear being criticized or judged. Excessive self-consciousness is the number one hallmark of social anxiety, and that is not a trait associated with introversion.

Shyness and introversion may seem to be in harmony but they really aren’t. Even the most naturally introverted social anxiety sufferer will tell you they often withdraw from social situations not because they want to but because they have to, in order to protect themselves from disaster.

That sentiment may be hard to understand for those who’ve never experienced significant social anxiety. But if you suffer from any type of phobia—an extreme fear of heights, water, spiders, clowns, elevators, you name it—you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the same rush of frightening and disabling symptoms that social anxiety disorder victims experience in many social situations.

Sometimes it really is that bad, and this type of strong emotional reaction to other human beings has no connection to the personality trait of introversion.

Shy Extraverts: Living the Contradiction

Extraverts who suffer from shyness often carry a heavy burden, since social anxiety is clearly and irrevocably in conflict with an Extravert’s inclination to seek out other people as sources of joy, inspiration and energy.

One issue for shy Extraverts is actually realizing and acknowledging the truth about who they really are. Many shy Extraverts just assume they’re Introverts, buying into the societal myth that shyness and introversion are two sides of the same coin.

These men and women confuse their inhibitions with their desires, and they will remain alienated from their true natures as long as they continue to make this mistake. Depression often co-occurs with social anxiety disorder, and shy Extraverts may be especially at risk if they fail to understand how much they truly need social contact in order to find fulfillment.

During episodes where social anxiety takes control, Extraverts won’t suffer more than Introverts. The latter also desire meaningful human contact and a self-consciousness-free existence, and when they don’t feel safe or free to pursue new relationships or express their true feelings, they can hurt intensely because of it.

Nevertheless, shy Extraverts experience the frustrations of social anxiety in a broader range of situations than Introverts with the same condition. Their self-induced repression takes on a chameleon-like quality, changing colors to obstruct their chances for happiness in a variety of circumstances.

Shy Introverts vs. Shy Extraverts: Who Has it Worse?

Since Introverts have a tendency to avoid human contact, it would be easy to conclude that shy Extraverts are worse off than shy Introverts.

On the surface this view seems valid, but I don’t think it’s accurate. When people are forced to organize their lives around shyness, they’re aware of the limitations it places on them every single day, and they never stop wishing things could be different. This is the case whether you’re an Introvert seeking a few intimate relationships or an Extravert desiring a greater level of immersion in the social milieu.

Introverted or extraverted, when you find yourself in specific situations that trigger your social anxiety, you’ll be agonizingly aware of what’s happening and you’ll never stop hating it, no matter how many times you experience it.

If social anxiety is a part of your reality, you’ll never be at peace with it and you’ll always be looking for strategies to overcome it. You may:

  • Take courses on self-esteem enhancement or public speaking.
  • Experiment with all sorts of mind-body healing techniques (meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, Tai Chi, etc.) trying to learn how to manage your stress responses.
  • Join Internet forums or sign up for online romance/friendship sites where you can meet people yet still preserve your anonymity, at least until you’re comfortable revealing more.
  • Bring close friends (if you have any) or family members along to social events to boost your confidence level.
  • Read numerous self-help books and search for real-world opportunities to apply the authors’ suggestions.
  • Make appointments with therapists who specialize in social anxiety treatment, or even take medications for SAD prescribed by psychiatrists.

In the end, I doubt shy Extraverts have it worse than shy Introverts, or vice versa. No matter what your personality type, social anxiety is hard to live with. If you experience it strongly and chronically, you’ll spend years struggling to rise above it.

But escaping the clutches of social anxiety is always possible, if you’re patient, persistent and refuse to give in to self-doubt. Accept the fact that change takes time and time will be on your side, regardless of where you fall on the introversion/extraversion spectrum.

Nathan Falde

Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.

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Dana G (not verified) says...

So then ... how do you go about overcoming SAD?

Smriti Lal (not verified) says...

Its pretty amazing how less we know about ourselves... Shy extraverts?!? Never would have thought there is something like that! Thanx for all that insight into personality.. Although im still not sure of the difference between shy introverts and shy extraverts...

PatrickP (not verified) says...

In grade school (I'm 60 now) I took a handwriting test at the fair. Somehow it could tell I had a few close friends, as opposed to many "acquaintances". I originally thought that was a good thing, Having close friends is, but, well, you know. After reading this, I'm confused more now. I am truly shy, though I'll talk casually with someone in line for a cashier, etc. I really WANT to have friends as I'm sure most do. I'm married to a bi-polar who seems bubbly and outgoing in public, everyone likes her, but they don't know what the other side of the coin is when we get home. I'm too scared to go strike out on my own. It's easier to take the ups and downs from her, and live with at least someone in my life (close friends from earlier times have moved, now have grandkids, their OWN lives). I feel totally alone, and just wish I had someone who understood me. Too often I come across as complaining, and no one wants to hear that, and I don't blame them. There's just nothing good in my life. I'm in no way suicidal, and never would be, but getting hit by a bus? Even though that might be good for me (seemingly), I hate for whomever to deal with whatever problems I'd leave behind. Mortgage stands out. Here I am complaining again, sorry. On a positive note, this article has made me rethink, or want to find out more about shy extroverts. I really want to be around people, they just usually don't want to be around me. I'm not gross or anything, I just don't relate somehow. SAD

__Sarah__ (not verified) says...

Hello Patrick, 

I hope you are well and safe in these God forsaken times. I'd like to tell you that my brother too suffers from Bipolar Affecitve, and being in isolation with him has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I hope these times have been easy for you and your wife. 
About wanting to be understood, I deeply feel what you mean there. I have had 'friends' and 'distant friends' for most of my life, but I really don't think they understand me. Sure they know me and know some secondary traits about me, but no one truly stands out. I have a feeling books have been an escape for you.
I sincerely hope you find someone that understands you and your thoughts, who knows what is important to you and what you hold dear. Reach out to me should you wish to do so.

Take care

ANDRE FIERENS (not verified) says...

introvert and extravert is an invention of Carl Jung, before it didn't existed. People would say: "He likes to read a book" or " He likes to sit alone"  or " He doesn't like loud music "

Meg1517 (not verified) says...

I have always considered myself an extrovert. Thinking back to my behavior as a child all the way to my early twenties I can think of so many examples of my extroverted tendencies. Now at the age of 26 I find myself behaving in a way that I would consider to be more introverted, and I’m having a bit of an identity crisis because of it. I hadn’t considered that possibility of being a shy extrovert! I have had some big changes in my life in the last 3-4 years that have affected my social circle. I’ve moved to a different country and learning the language has proven to be challenging. Lots of changes have added up to more stress and anxiety and to top it I am removed from my safe and comfortable social circle. Reading this has really helped me reflect on what’s going on! I am interested to know if the writer or other readers can suggest an online forum for shy extroverts like me? Possibly specifically for expats or people who have moved away from their social circle? 

Nu (not verified) says...

Uhhhh.... that's why I don't know what's my type is. For now as long as I haven't recovered from shyness my type is HSFJ (sHy Sensor Feeler Judger)

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