The terms ‘introversion’ and ‘social anxiety‘ often get conflated and are used interchangeably by the general public. Some people that may feel they identify with the concepts may not be able to tell whether they are in fact introverts, have social anxiety, or both. Are the two the same thing or is there something that distinguishes them from one another?
The main difference between the two is that in introversion, decisions are made by choice whereas in social anxiety they are formed due to fear. For example, an introvert may leave a party early because they are feeling overstimulated and would prefer to spend their time alone but someone with social anxiety may leave a party early because they are afraid that people are judging them harshly. The introvert would genuinely rather be alone. The socially anxious individual may wish to stay at the party, but their fear is too overwhelming.
Another critical difference is that introverts are born introverted but social anxiety is a learned response. An introvert usually prefers solitude from a young age, but they feel no discomfort when they are around other people. They can often socialise well but may need to do it in smaller chunks of time. The socially anxious individual, however, may have learned through experience that people are judgemental and will treat them poorly if they do not fit in. Their parents may have been overly concerned about what others think, causing the child also to be worried about judgement. The child could also have been a victim of bullying, which clouds their future interactions with others. They may wish to be around other people but have difficulty doing so.
Although introversion and social anxiety often go hand in hand, extrovert can also have social anxiety. These individuals may crave social interaction, but find themselves feeling anxious and inferior when they are around others. There are also introverts that are confident. These individuals may be quiet but do not judge themselves and feel inadequate for being this way. They may also be quite good at socialising but prefer to have time to recharge alone.
These two concepts are significantly different from one another despite them seeming similar on the surface level. Once we dig deep and look at the motivations for behaviour, we can see introverts and socially anxious people are a world apart. If you feel you may have social anxiety, there is help out there! Please talk to a professional. They can help you lead the life you want.