The two are like llamas and alpacas. They get mistaken for one another all the time, but they have clear differences that many people don’t realize.
Let’s start with a scenario: Sheri and Cassie are having lunch when a mutual friend approaches them and invites them both to a party happening later that evening.
Sheri responds hesitantly, “ I’m not sure yet. I was planning on having a night in and catch up on a couple of shows I’m behind on. I’m not really much of a party person.”
Carrie has a similar hesitation, but says, “it sounds cool but I’m not sure either. I don’t really know many people going to be there and I might just end up looking stupid showing up alone.”
Both girls may have declined the invitation, but not for the same reasons. Sheri had very little interest in even leaving her apartment and was perfectly content with spending her evening alone. However, Cassie was more concerned about how people would perceive her, which shows one of the main differences between social anxiety and introversion.
You are Born an Introvert, but With Social Anxiety
Introversion is a trait that people are naturally born with. Experiences and environmental conditions can cause someone to be socially anxious. It can start when our confidence and self-esteem takes a hit as a result of a traumatic event or our upbringing.
If you felt a lot of pressure to be perfect growing up, chances are you struggle with the idea that everyone is judging and scrutinizing us, when in most cases, they aren’t. This thought that people judge you can cause a figurative warning sign that’s flashing in your mind telling you to BEWARE, SOCIAL SITUATION APPROACHING.
That major warning sign is fear getting in the way because past experiences have convinced you that people are going to laugh, talk about you behind your back or silently judge you.
Social Anxiety Makes Choices for You and is Fueled by Fear
This brings me to the next point. That major warning sign is fear getting in the way because past experiences have convinced you that people are going to laugh, talk about you behind your back or silently judge you. Unfortunately, this fear isn’t so easy to shake. So if Cassie worked up the nerve to go to that party, it more than likely would have caused her to make a quick exit, just like anyone else battling social anxiety.
Someone who is introverted, however, like Sheri who made a quick appearance and left after half an hour more than likely made the choice herself. She wants to get back to her shows and enjoy that time to herself, or even with a few select friends. But the decision to leave was purely made because she wanted to, not because she felt afraid.
If you struggle with social anxiety there may be thoughts of doubt racing through your mind, trying to convince you to avoid certain situations.
Introverts Can Relax Before Social Outings, but Social Anxiety Restricts Relaxation
Let’s say Sheri hadn’t been out in a while and decided to accept the invitation, preparing would be a breeze. She would probably relax with a book or watch a TV show, chat on the phone or meditate for a few minutes. The only panicking that would go on is if she could put an outfit together that impressed her. The point is, she would be calm.
Carrie, on the other hand, may be experiencing a high dosage of butterflies in her stomach. Her heart may start racing for a few hours leading up to the party, and there may be thoughts of doubt racing through her mind, trying to convince her to stay at home instead. While the party scene isn’t Introverted Sheri’s cup of tea, if she’s made up her mind to go, it won’t induce doubtful thoughts and nerves. But because Carrie battles social anxiety, this is a major decision for her and the thought of people judging her can be nerve-wracking.
If you identify with Carrie as someone who experiences social anxiety or any form of anxiety, I strongly recommend speaking to a mental health professional. Social anxiety can hold you back in your career, keep you from making friends, and hinder long-lasting relationships. Together we can get to the source of your anxiety and work towards making you feel more comfortable in social situations.
Be kind to yourself, and take the steps to help you stop judging yourself more than you think people are judging you.
At CWC Coaching, our team consists of licensed therapists, life coaches, and counselors. We assist clients with self-improvement, career development, negative self-talk, psychological pain, self-sabotaging behavior, past hurts and finding your purpose.
If you are ready to increase your self-awareness and happiness, breakthrough limiting behavior and understand your purpose in life, we’d love to help guide you on this journey.