In our society, the word “shy” seems to be the go-to word for anyone who seems quiet. People notice those who don’t speak much, and instantly label them shy. However, there is a big difference in the meaning of shy and introversion. Additionally, social anxiety tends to go along with shyness, not necessarily introversion.
Shyness comes from a fear of speaking or being judged. Shyness goes hand in hand with social anxiety, or they might just be the external and internal expressions of the same thing, respectively. Being shy comes from an actual fear and physical reaction to being the center of attention, and fear of speaking out loud. A person who experiences social anxiety may experience physical symptoms of being shy; they may get sweaty, have a racing heart or feel nauseous when in social situations. Extroverts as well as introverts can each have social anxiety or shyness. It is not limited to type preference.
Introversion is a type preference in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It means that someone prefers to recharge by themselves, or at least in a relaxing environment where they can do their own thing. They also process things slowly, and tend to think before responding to external stimuli or making a decision. Their energy is drained by consistent social interaction with no breaks or recharge time. They may prefer to stay home versus going to a party with many people they don’t know. Internally, they like to think before speaking, but this does not equate to “shyness”. Introversion does not mean that someone is afraid of speaking, it is actually literally the way that someone processes external stimuli and outwardly expresses it.
The difference in the two is an important distinction. When we label people who don’t talk much as shy, we are assuming they have something wrong with them that needs to be treated. Introversion is NOT something to be treated. Social anxiety is, to the extent that we are attempting to help the person not feel anxious in social situations, and as long as they are open to treatment. The treatment does not necessarily need to be medication either. Treatment can include therapy, tools (such as breathing work or cognitive reframing) to help the person in social settings and/or in some cases medication.
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