People mistakenly think that all introverts are shy wallflowers when this couldn’t be further from the truth. Introverts come in all different flavors just like most personalities, but overall they are not typically shy. While there are some similarities and places where shyness and introvertedness can overlap, they are two very different things.
The fundamental difference between being shy and being an introvert is that one is fear and the other is a preference that is part of your basic personality. The idea that people are Introverted or Extroverted is part of a personality theory long held by psychiatrists like Carl Jung. The general public became more aware of personality types with the popularity of the Myer’s Briggs personality test that is often used to help people choose a career that fits their personality. Extroverts are louder, more talkative, the life of the party and thrive in social situations. Introverts enjoy a quiet environment with less social stimulation, they tend to be more reflective and enjoy doing mindful activities on their own.
Shyness is a form of social anxiety that prevents people who want to interact socially from doing so out of a fear of negative judgment. Shy people do not like to be the center of attention, avoid speaking to groups, and often skip social situations they long to be part of out of intimidation. Introverted people prefer a quieter environment and enjoy being alone but they can also elect to involve themselves in social situations. An introvert can also be a great leader and give amazing speeches at events but when the social event is over they feel drained and need to recharge with solitary time. Do you see the difference? Let’s look at a specific example.
A Tale Of Two Party Invitations:
Ryan gets an invitation to a co-worker’s party. Parties aren’t really his thing. He’d rather spend Saturday night at home drawing in his sketchbook but he decides to go to the party because the host is a friend of his. At the party, he talks to a few of his closest friends, has a drink and a few laughs. Feeling he’s had enough social interaction for one day, he heads home early. At home, he happily unwinds with a few hours of drawing in front of his favorite TV show.
Leslie gets an invitation to the same party. She longs to become part of an inner-circle at work and is thrilled that she received an invitation. She RSVP’s right away. As the day of the party approaches she starts to get increasingly anxious. What should she wear? Will people think her clothes are trendy enough? What will she say? Leslie spends an hour practicing how to say hello to her mirror image without sounding desperate. On the night of the party, overcome by social anxiety, Leslie sends a text to the party host about a family emergency and stays home alone wishing she would have had the courage to go and have fun.
These two very different reactions to a social situation perfectly illustrate a few key differences between a shy person and an introvert. Ryan chooses how to spend his time based on his personal preference while Leslie avoids a party she was looking forward to out of fear. You can work with a therapist to overcome shyness but you can’t separate yourself from an inherent personality trait like being an introvert. Moreover, introverts don’t usually want to change who they are.
What It Means To Be Shy
People who are shy crave friends and attention, they want to be a part of the world at large but they are held back by false beliefs and overwhelming anxiety. There are different levels of shyness and you can be anywhere on the spectrum from slightly shy to a full-blown social anxiety disorder. People who are shy feel very lonely but according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 15 million Americans are impacted by Social Anxiety Disorder. Some people who are shy are more secure than others or are selectively shy in certain social situations. They could be shy with strangers but not if surrounded by family or friends. Most people who are shy, wish they could change. With therapy or coaching, they may be able to overcome their shyness.
What It Means To Be An Introvert
Introvert is a word used to describe a basic personality type. Most scientists believe you are born to be either an extrovert or an introvert and it is not something you can change about yourself. Since it is part of who you are most people accept their introvertedness and embrace it, they are not looking to change. Introverts do tend to be quiet but it is not out of fear. Introverts enjoy spending time alone and feel drained when presented with too much social interaction. A person who is more introverted likes to think introspectively, spending time on their inner thoughts and feelings. While there are misleading stereotypes that depict introverts as being afraid or disliking people, these things couldn’t be farther from the truth. You might be surprised to find that many of your favorite actors, writers, innovators, and historical figures were known introverts and proud of it! Here are some examples of self-proclaimed introverts who made the world a better or more interesting place:
- Bill Gates (a quiet tech giant)
- Rosa Parks (went on to write a book on being quiet in a noisy world)
- Warren Buffett
- JK Rowling (many introverts are highly creative)
- Mahatma Gandhi (an original guru of inner peace and reflection)
- Albert Einstein
- Elon Musk
- Meryl Streep (you’d be surprised to know that many actors and actresses consider themselves introverted when off stage)
- Barack Obama (an extraordinarily talented public speaker and yet a self-proclaimed introvert and proud of it)
- Abraham Lincoln
- Mark Zuckerberg
The Confusion Between Being Shy And Being An Introvert
One reason many people confuse the two is based on a shared cultural misinterpretation that being quiet and introverted is a sign of weakness. In actuality, people who are introverted are often highly intelligent or innovative and can make great leaders.
Another reason the two are often confused is that on the surface the two can look very similar. Here is an example of what two quiet people in a room full of chaos looks like to a third party:
During a rambunctious brainstorming session during a corporate meeting, two people are sitting quietly while everyone else shouts out ideas. One person is quiet because they are too afraid to speak up, talking to groups is intimidating to them and they are afraid their ideas will be mocked. The other is quiet because they are thoughtfully thinking through their idea and will share it when the room calms down. To an outsider, both quiet people look the same, they can’t tell the difference between the shy person and the introvert simply by looking at them.
Finally, some confusion comes from the fact that the two states of being can have some overlap. What does it mean to be a shy introvert? A person can be both shy and introverted at the same time to various degrees. A shy introvert might feel conflicted between wanting to be social and wanting to be alone. Some introverts can also develop social anxiety, while some shy people can embrace their shyness and come to enjoy being alone, engaging in solitary hobbies.