My time throughout being in school was spent going in circles through the same cycle: I’d be so quiet and reserved in class that people wouldn’t even notice I was in the class, only then to be loud and energetic in small groups at social events where I’d get told at least eight times throughout the event, “you’re just sooo different outside of school.” I’ve been this way my entire life yet still continuously get dubbed as ‘shy’ or ‘anti-social’ when that’s far from the truth. Shy, anti-social and introverted are three different things that most people will be surprised to hear aren’t synonymous.
The three often overlap with one another so it’s completely possible that you can be a shy introvert with social anxiety. That, however, doesn’t mean the three are completely identical, though.
Shyness is when someone has a fear of the judgement of others and all around social disapproval, especially when newly introduced. Shyness comes with negative feelings about one’s self as well as the physical effects of blushing, sweating, rapid heartbeat and upset stomach. In fact, we all experience a degree of shyness from time to time. Someone who is shy might find themselves desperately wanting to connect to others but find a hard time doing so, whereas introverts personally choose to have time alone and to themselves.
Being anti-social is like shyness ramped up on cocaine. Anti-social is commonly used to refer to social anxiety disorder, the extreme fear of being scrutinized in social situations. Social anxiety disorder comes with overwhelming amounts of unreasonable anxiety over things that might sound small to you, but are monumental for those suffering from it. Things such as asking someone for directions, ordering at a restaurant, reading a passage aloud in class, eating in public, etc.
People who have social anxiety disorder usually dread social events for the weeks leading up to it, suffer from high amounts of self-consciousness and experience physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating and nausea. On the more extreme side of the scale, SAD (geez, what an abbreviation that is) can take control of one’s life and often mingles with various anxiety issues and depression. If you or someone you know is suffering from extreme cases, there are ways to cope and reach out for help.
The terms introvert and extrovert were originally introduced by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology. Even though the broad definition of introvert is a shy person, the psychology definition of an introvert is a person characterized by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings. Extroversion (or extraversion, whichever, really) is the act of directing one’s interest outward or to things outside the self.
Extroverts need high amounts of stimuli, whereas introverts only need little stimuli externally acting on them. For example, extroverts work great in crowded social events because there’s so much going on that stimulates them so they express all of their emotion outwards onto the environment around them. Since introverts don’t need too much stimuli to emit a reaction and a feel of contentment they get the same response in a small social setting as an extrovert does at a large party. Same outgoing responses except within different settings based on their maximum stimulation needs. However, introverts are prone to over-stimulation where long social events become boring quickly and they tend to want to leave as soon as possible.
Introverts also tend to take on one task at a time while heavily concentrating on that and nothing else. This explains why there was such a noticeable contrast between my behavior in class and my behavior outside of school completely. I was in no way shy or anti-social, I was just concentrating on school work and knew it wasn’t the right time to be social.
When I tell people this, they always hit me with the “well… you still never engage in small talk, so you must be shy.” Yes, that’s right. Many introverts are wary of small talk at first and then slowly open up. Introverted people often love engaging in deep conversations once the talk progresses. Then again, is anyone really a fan of typical small talk? It always seems horribly clichéd.
People give the word introverted a bad connotation, but being introverted really isn’t a bad thing. Introverts tend to think actions through before they do them, tend to be very self-sufficient, observant, committed and are good listeners. If you think about it, nobody would want to live in a world of over-expressive extroverts. Nobody would want to live in a world of over-analyzing introverts, either. There’s a balance between the two that allows them to work well together in certain environments. The extrovert, being able to put it all out there, and the introvert who analyzes, thinks rationally and is always alert.
Just please stop labelling introverts as shy kids or anti-social and then make it known that you’re shocked when you see an introvert socializing or having fun in a small group. It gets annoying after the hundredth, “oh my God, you talk?!”