Are You Introverted, or are you shy?

introverted or shy

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Many people, when introduced to the concept of introversion, automatically think of “shyness.” Although it’s true that many introverts are shy, not all introverts are shy, and extraverts can be shy as well.

In her book The Introvert Advantage Marti Olsen Laney defines introversion as:

… a healthy capacity to tune into your inner world… a constructive and creative quality

and shyness as:

…social anxiety, an extreme self-consciousness when one is around people… lack of confidence in social situations… fear of what others think of you

She goes on to explain that introversion is who you are, and that shyness is what you think other people think you are.

I am definitely introverted, but I don’t think I am shy. Some people considered me shy as a child, but I now think they just didn’t recognize or understand introversion, as others called me gregarious. In fact I appear quite reserved, but once I start talking, I usually won’t stop until interrupted. And as I’ve mentioned before, I am not usually reluctant to share personal information if I’m asked a direct question.

Since starting my own business, it’s become necessary for me to step out of my comfort zone and act like an extravert on more occasions, such as when attending networking events, and as a result, those situations are not as difficult for me as they were in the past. What has not changed, however, is my introversion. I still enjoy working alone, can focus on a task for long periods of time, and prefer communicating by email over using the telephone, and those traits are not likely to change, ever.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The Introvert Retreat blog where this was originally published is no longer online, but if you’d like to network with other introverts, join us in The Original Introvert Retreat Group!

Casual Photo of Janet Barclay

Janet Barclay

I eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, cooking, watching movies, drinking tea, and spending time with my family.

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26 Comments

  1. Royane Real on May 22, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Hi – I find this whole exploration of shyness and introversion very interesting.

    I myself am very shy, but also very introverted. I also suffer from depression, anxiety, also have had borderline personality disorder, and very low self esteem due to a chaotic and traumatic life.

    So, it becomes very hard for me to sort things out.

    When I want to withdraw from other people, which of these many labelled conditions is the cause?

    Stress makes me exhausted and want to withdraw from other people for years at a time.

    When I don’t want to be around other people, should I be honoring that, or should I be doing the opposite of what I feel like?

    For example, is my withdrawal from others motivated by my depression? Or is it simply the sort of social anxiety?

    If I want to run away from others and the real reason is social anxiety, then I should be forcing myself to get used to being around other people more.

    That’s part of the recommended treatment for the socially anxious.

    Although I find all the information on the net about introversion interesting, a lot of it is also contradictory, from one site to the next.

    I have not come across any real discussion of what happens if you have introversion that’s also mixed with depression, and with poor self esteem, which is what plagues me.

    My social skills switch on and off, quite instantly, so many people don’t believe I’m shy, and many other people think I am strange, while some people find me warm, enchanting and wonderful.

    I am only one way or the other extreme with people.

    Like some very shy people, I have no trouble speaking without notes to very large crowds of people, and I really enjoy it.

    I know that this is somehow related to my shyness, but I haven’t figured out how.

    When I am in a small group of people, I am overwhelmed with fear and self loathing, and my mind is superbusy trying to analyze everything I say. It feels like I desperately need to do this for my survival.

    However, when I speak to a large group of people, I am happy and relaxed. My mind isn’t busy trying to analyze everybody.

    In a small group of people I worry tremendously that I am being judged, and it paralyzes me.

    When I do public speaking, I also think I am being judged. But for some reason, when I’m making a speech, I always think the judgment of me is really, really good.

    Even when I make a speech that bombs, I continue to feel confident about my public speaking ability.

    As soon as the speech is over, I run away because I don’t want to face the exhausting exercise of actually having to talk to anyone.

    All of these inconsistent reactions in me are a source of puzzlement to me.

    I wonder if anyone else ever experiences such an odd mix of reactions.

    Royane

    • Connor on January 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      I’m a 17 year old boy that suffers from anxiety, depression and I’m really introverted. Im are ally bad communicator which makes it very difficult for me especially when everyone I know is not like me. I don’t know any other introvert my age

      • Janet Barclay on January 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm

        Connor, I strongly suggest that you join the Introvert Retreat discussion group. I am sure you will find other teenagers there who are going through very similar things.

        Someone I know found the book Dying of Embarrassment really helpful for social anxiety.

        Hang in there!

        • Connor on January 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm

          Thankyoy

          • Natalie on February 10, 2012 at 9:28 am

            I felt the exact same way at your age. High school was hell for me and I couldn’t wait to leave. College was better but still challenging because I didn’t want to go out to crowded parties until 2am every night, thus I was “anti-social”. I promise it gets better though, and you will find people like you as long as you don’t pretend to be someone youre not (a pseudo-extrovert). Also, don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re weird or there is something wrong with you because you don’t fit the teenager profile that our culture defines as “normal”. I always tried to fit that mold and it wasn’t until I gave up that I made great friends and felt happy.

  2. juniper on March 7, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Yes I can relate to Royane’s description perfectly. Although I’ve done very little public speaking. Diagnosed with BPD (twice, once in a terribly traumatic period of life, then a few years later when in the throes of a severe melancholic depression) – mostly from a emotional-dysregulation level (terribly painful dysphoric states), I reluctantly accept the label, but I am puzzled to it’s being a part of “cluster B” – or the so called “extroverted cluster” – that I just can’t understand, at least not for myself personally. I’ve always been introverted, I’ve always preferred to work alone, I need an enormous amount of time by myself to be okay. I may have bpd, but almost all of the time I internalize my feelings of anger, turn them back on myself and get depressed. I can be self destructive – in subtle and not so subtle ways. I’ve hidden this diagnosis from everyone for over 12 years now. I mostly hide from everyone anyway. Except for a few rare and even rather spectacular outbursts, and a tendency to mutter in angry on bad days (obsessively ruminative), I almost always turn my negativity back on myself, and neither am I particularly impulsive – on the contrary I’d say that I lack spontaneity. How does this fit with a diagnosis of “borderline personality”? Can anyone help me understand this?

  3. me on September 6, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I think all of your replies are beautiful and honest. You’re humanness is courageous and soulful. You’re fears are instinctual but unwarranted at this point in your lives. Introversion is not an affliction but, having gone through bpd, trauma, and paralyzing shyness myself, while watching my extremely introverted mother do the same, I understand that coupled with other experiences like listed above, it may feel like one.

    Introversion is a gift. I used to fear tha tif I let myself be who I was (am – introverted) that I would be very very alone in life, that I would never meet anyone….but it was my fears running the show. Fact of the matter was/is that when I give myself the alonetime I need to do my thing, I will eventually feel like joining the world. It’s when I try to force the opposite, like someone stated above (which was recommended to me by many therapists) that I suffered more…I moved a lot so I was always new…it was tough. Learn to repect your idosyncracies, yur quirks, your younness, and you will understand other people’s….

    Always evolve, seek to understand and learn but not to dissect the past. Since opening up to the world and having gone through a scary breakup I’ve been forced to open up and it’s opening up my everything. I had a lot of anger and idealistic justice ideas about how people should be vs what happened to me….how “normal people” are vs how someone like me was….and since opening up to my own feelings and the world, I’ve begun to finally move past the barriers which caused such immobilizing depressions in the past. I allow my sadness now just as I allow others, without letting it haunt me. I’m learning how to receive compassion, not pity and how to give it as well. I suffered for nearly 20 years. Life DOES get better if you let it. But you have to keep letting it in every moment, in the beginning. When I have panic attacks now (and I still do and I still get depressed) I just tell myself, “bring it on…OK, here it is”….and it seems to be working, riding the feeling out, as opposed to panicking about the anxiety.

    I read something funny: When you are 20 you worry about what others think of you and when you are 40 you stop caring, finally by the time you turn 60, you realize noone ever thought about you to begin with. SO honestly, no need to be self conscious. IT’S TRUE!
    xoxoxo

    Keep riding the waves, dear hearts. There is a beautiful rhythm once we learn to work with nature.

    Sorry if this sounds preachy, it’s just that you’ve inspired me.

    xoxo

  4. Signi on September 19, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Although there may be theoretical differences between introversion and shyness, it’s been my own personal experience that they are connected. And they are both connected to depression and anxiety. It’s very easy to get into the which-came-first scenario. While it’s important to acknowledge and respect one’s personal tendencies, the question I find most useful is this “Is my introverted behavior/shyness/depression causing me not to participate in something that would give meaning to my life?” Unfortunately, I have found that, very often, the answer is yes. So while I respect my tendencies, I am trying to live more according to what has meaning to me–and that requires I get out of my head and out of my house! It’s tough, that’s for sure, for many of us.

  5. elle on April 21, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I am both shy and introverted. It is my belief that I wasn’t initially shy, but I became so. Possibly from people mislabeling my quiet, introverted nature as shyness. I have to say I do remember being quiet, but not afraid of people or speaking up when I was very small.
    I grew up assuming that I was just shy and that as soon as I overcame that then I would blossom into the outgoing, social butterfly that I was meant to be and that normal people are. As an adult, I have learned to be more socially adept. I have gone to cocktail parties alone and socialized, can hold conversations, etc.

    I still have issues with speaking up in large groups, but I can definitely hold my own socially whereas I could not before. But still I find that socializing is exhausting and that a lot of times I would rather read, do a crossword, sudoku or watch a movie rather than go to a party and make small talk.

    I prefer being around people when we are engaged in an activity or watching a ballgame or concert or play. I’m not much for the small talk and parties, which I always want to leave early – even if it’s fun.

    These preferences tell me that I am more than just a moderately bashful person. I’m an introvert who prefers solitary activity most of the time and is drained by socializing, whether it’s fun or not. I always hit that wall.

  6. Annie on July 18, 2009 at 5:23 am

    So much of what I have read I can relate to. My search on web sites is almost a daily event. A search for answers as to why I appear to be so different than the rest of the world. Or at least the rest of what is my world.

    I am definately an introvert. Maybe a bit shy in some circumstances. But I truly do not believe shyness is the forefront of my personality. I am my best advocate and shyness takes a back seat.

    Now in my fifties I can spend time figuring out why I am the way I am. I prefer my time alone yet there are times I am lonely. I enjoy my time alone yet I can enjoy a few hours of company. I can step outside of my daily routine and do something that takes a lot of energy, but it will mean several days or weeks to recoup.

    But, as I get older I feel emotionally used up and need longer periods of recouperation. I go through months and years of separation from people I used to enjoy.

    My children and grandchildren I always enjoy, but that too pulls energy from within.

    Working 8 hours a day is a real drain, though I enjoy my job very much and I do need to work to pay bills. Weekends for me are heaven.

    Maybe sometimes the worse part of living as an introvert is the lack of understanding by those people who I would hope cared enough about me to allow me to be me without critizism.

    I get the feeling most people just think I am an angry, unhappy individual that dislikes most people.

    Though I must admit I have little tolerance for many people, I truly love my closest circle of family and friends. I just cannot give of myself as much as they seem to be able too.

    The unthinkable events in my childhood that I live with on a daily basis probably contributed to many of my problems, but as an adult with certain degree of intelligence I should be able to put all that in perspective and not carry it with me. But too my experiences are a part of who I am today, I have to some degree embraced and accepted that fact, but at the same time wished I would or could have had a more normal childhood that I could reflect without fear.

    I will continue to search and try to put pieces of my puzzle together to be the one understanding advocate that I do need in my life.

    I wishe everyone good luck in their search of understanding.

    • Curious on August 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Annie, I’m curious, do you have a spouse? You mention that you enjoy your children and grandchildren so assume you may have been married. I wonder if being around your significant other takes up energy. And also, is your spouse an introvert or an extrovert? Thanks.

  7. Sam on May 30, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Hi.i feel myself introverted,tensed and i just think everytime.i speak less,have fear in social occasion.help me..what shuld i do to come out frm this problems?

  8. aurora on October 2, 2011 at 1:43 am

    It was very good to come across this forum. I have been getting into contact with my personality a lot lately and have finally started to realize that being introverted doesn’t mean I’m sick. I always thought that I had just had to change and felt that few people were like me. I’m also shy and very anxious person, but I like connecting with people in a meaningful way. And I also need and enjoy being alone a lot to recharge my battery. Accepting myself as an introvert has made me feel a lot less depressed out there, especially when I in environments when it almost seems like I am a misfit. Now I know that being an introvert has its merits. The only thing I don’t is if I’m ever gonna be able to overcome my shyness and anxiety so that I can make some friends. I’m also living in a foreign country away from my family and friends which is not easy at all for a person like me.

    I enjoyed reading all your posts!! 🙂

    • Janet Barclay on October 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

      Aurora, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. I can’t even image what it would be like to live in a foreign country where I don’t know anyone, so I admire you for taking whatever step you took to get in that situation. There are some good books that you might find helpful – The Introvert Advantage is especially good.

  9. Sifrina on January 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Great blog and comments. I’m a pretty strong introvert who, like many of us, must work in a fulltime plus job with what feels like a cast of thousands (ugh, I do wonder if my career choice was a total mistake). Yet I do enjoy people and humanity….but in doses I can handle. (Is it just me or is this “dose” getting smaller as I get older?)

    The “breakdown” moments for me are when there are too many events, or too many long days followed by family occasions/obligations/crises (such as recently), which require never ending contact with other people, even well meaning strangers (such as nurses in a hospital). In my heart I feel these people are good and deserving of my time, energy (and even some small talk, how hard would it be?), but yet I feel totally trapped, restless, resentful, and completely drained. Interestly, I rarely feel this way with my son and husband.

    I am somewhat shy in new situations, big presentations, but this isn’t really a problem and I’ve never lacked the confidence to do these things when necessary. The problem is how damaged I feel when I haven’t had sufficient time alone to regain my lost energy. It makes me feel badly, but I feel that the only way I can cope is to be extremely protective over my own time and to know the signs when I’ve had enough.

    Something that has helped me immensely in the past year is to have a special and peaceful Shabbat every week. I am not a religious (Torah) Jew but I do reap huge benefits from consciously choosing 25 consecutive hours of serenity and soulfulness, and abstaining from the activities that are not conducive to this.

    • Sifrina on January 17, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      Ooops, meant to say “Interestingly”

    • Janet Barclay on January 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

      Thanks so much for sharing, Sifrina. It’s great that you’ve found a way to recharge your batteries on a regular basis. Since most of us don’t have the option of avoiding those overwhelming situations, it’s important to find something that works for us.

  10. Yudith on September 10, 2017 at 2:09 am

    Thank you explaining the differences between being introverted and being shy. I am introverted and I used to be shy. I used to have lack of confidence in social situations such as presentations.

  11. Sabrina Quairoli on February 7, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    I think I am like you. I am an introvert and not shy. I also had people think I was shy as a child. I used to say if I have something important to say, I will say it. =)

    • Janet Barclay on February 8, 2022 at 1:11 pm

      You’ve made me realize, when you only know someone online, it’s hard to tell whether they’re an introvert or an extravert. Because social media is mainly written communication, we introverts are comfortable with it (some more than others) and might “talk” more than we would in a live setting.

  12. Linda Samuels on February 7, 2022 at 2:25 pm

    What an incredible conversation your post encouraged! I’m probably an ambivert. I appreciate having time without a lot of people around, but I also enjoy a gathering and groups. I am energized in both, although as I age, I find it harder to be in large groups. I can do it. I’m highly social, but I need some recoup time after.

    I remember when I was young, I felt very shy in groups, especially when I was in middle school. I used to talk with my mom about it and she was helpful in sharing some strategies for feeling more comfortable.

    • Janet Barclay on February 8, 2022 at 1:13 pm

      I love being in groups but do find them exhausting. That’s especially true now that I’ve grown accustomed to NOT being in groups due to COVID.

  13. Julie Bestry on February 7, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    Interesting. The increase in discussion about introverts over the last dozen years or so has taught me that introversion isn’t the same as shyness, and I’ve tried to consider the definition I hear the most often, about from where one gets one’s energy. Marti Olsen Laney’s, about tuning into one’s inner world is a bit of a surprise, as I’ve never heard it posed that way.

    Whether you’re looking at who I am or what people think I am, I’m obviously not shy, and I’m definitely also not an introvert in any way. But I get my energy from both the exterior world and my inner world; I have “a healthy capacity to tune into [your] inner world” and can almost always entertain myself with my own thoughts, but prefer to surround myself with fellow humans as often and as much as possible. But perhaps due to the realities of my life (being a singleton without tiny humans, not working in an office with lots of others, and a healthy fear of germs during a pandemic), I already get more than my share of time to tune into my inner world.

    This is definitely an intriguing perspective.

    • Janet Barclay on February 8, 2022 at 1:14 pm

      Thank you for sharing your personal insight, Julie.

  14. Janet Schiesl on February 8, 2022 at 7:09 am

    The best example of what it’s like to be an introvert was from my sister who is an extroverted middle school teacher. She was talking with colleagues when one said they were an introvert. My sister questioned her because she stands up in front of kids all day long and keeps them entertained & focused. Her colleague exampled that my sister, the extrovert probably goes home energized from talking and working with so many people all day (she does!) but she went home exhausted, with the need for quiet in order to recharge for the next day.

    • Janet Barclay on February 8, 2022 at 1:16 pm

      That’s a great example, Janet! It’s not that introverts CAN’T engage in groups, it’s what it does to us that makes the difference.

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