Introversion vs. Social Anxiety: What’s the Difference?


While some qualities overlap, these are two very different things

The terms “introversion” and “social anxiety” get thrown around a lot these days, and you might think they’re interchangeable—they both mean you don’t like being around people, right? Wrong!

Although these two things do have elements in common, introversion and social anxiety are distinct from one another in a few notable ways. Read on to learn more about each and what makes them different from each other.

What Is Introversion?

Introversion and extroversion are two central personality traits initially described by Carl Jung. Introversion is basically a preference for solitude or more intimate settings, reflection, and needing time alone to “recharge”. Introverts’ “social battery” is charged by being alone, whereas extroverts feel “fueled” when they are with others.

Although the expression of these traits can vary, introverts may be more quiet and withdrawn than their extroverted counterparts. They may appear contemplative or be more likely to be reserved and deliberate in their actions, and prefer to work independently rather than in a group.

However, just like most things that have to do with personality, introversion (and extroversion) exists on a spectrum. There are few who could be considered a “true” introvert—most people are ambiverts, having both introvert and extrovert tendencies.

It’s overly simplistic to think of introversion as one blanket term describing people who have a more inward focus.

What Is Social Anxiety?

Experiencing temporary bouts of social anxiety is quite natural, however sometimes individuals can suffer from this to a degree it is considered a type of anxiety disorder known as social anxiety disorder or “social phobia”. According to some research, around 7% of people in the United States may suffer from this condition.

The core feature of social anxiety disorder is the specific and intense anxiety or fear of being exposed to possible scrutiny by others in ways that will lead to being negatively evaluated, humiliated, or rejected.

For the diagnosis, this needs to be present in one or more social situations, such as meeting new people, speaking in public, dating, eating in public or having to talk to strangers in everyday circumstances (like checking out at the grocery store) main tenet of social anxiety is the specific and intense fear of being watched or judged by others.

This might come up in a wide variety of situations—everything from meeting new people to speaking in public to dating to having to talk to strangers in everyday circumstances (like checking out at the grocery store).

These social situations are avoided or endured with significant distress. For the clinical diagnosis to be made, these symptoms have to be persistent and cause significant distress or impairment in different areas of one’s functioning in life.

Someone with social anxiety might obsess for weeks about upcoming social events and the fear of judgment or embarrassment in public is so overwhelming that it can lead to the chronic avoidance of social situations.

Similarities and Differences

Although they are completely different conditions (and the word “condition” does not actually apply to introversion), introversion and social anxiety do share some characteristics. Both might lead someone to spend more time alone, and both introverts and those with social anxiety might actively avoid social situations.

However, this avoidance stems from different causes. While an introvert might need to charge their social battery alone and have less energy to devote to social activities than extroverts, those with social anxiety disorder are motivated by deep fear of humiliation and judgment if they are out in certain social situations.

In addition, introversion is a personality trait, not a diagnosable condition like social anxiety disorder. And perhaps most importantly, introversion does not interfere with day-to-day functioning or cause marked distress, whereas social anxiety absolutely does.

Unlike introversion, which does not require any sort of treatment, treatment for social anxiety disorder may be required. This this often takes the form of psychotherapy, medications like certain antidepressants, or both.

It’s also important to keep in mind that introversion and social anxiety disorder are not mutually exclusive—an introvert can also have social anxiety disorder, and someone with social anxiety disorder can also be an introvert.

Can extroverts have social anxiety?

Absolutely. Even someone who generally enjoys and is energized by being around people can experience fear and anxiety going into social situations. In fact, even more anxiety might crop up for an extrovert because they both need and fear social situations, leaving them dealing with a catch-22.

When a Trait Is Actually a Disorder

It can be difficult to distinguish a trait like introversion from a disorder like social anxiety disorder, but there are some clues to follow.

First of all, a disorder disrupts your daily life. If your fear and avoidance of social situations means you cannot go out in public and it is preventing you from doing things you otherwise would like to do or need to do, that’s a sign that what you’re experiencing is more serious than just a personality trait.

In addition, someone with social anxiety disorder generally feels like their anxiety is beyond their control. This is different from introversion, which generally means that you prefer solitude and might feel a need to withdrawal from social situations to recharge, but you are able to engage socially when wanted or needed.

People with severe social anxiety disorder often cannot. Their debilitating fear keeps them from socializing or going out in public rather than choosing alone time over a social event when given the choice.

Could I Have Undiagnosed Social Anxiety?

If you are experiencing any of the following, it might be time to talk to a doctor or therapist about your anxiety:

*You actively avoid social situations

*Your fear of judgment or humiliation keeps you from going out in public

*Your anxiety feels uncontrollable

*Your anxiety makes it difficult to function the way you would like to

*You are having difficulty at work because of your anxiety

*Your anxiety is impacting your ability to maintain relationships

*Your anxiety makes it difficult to carry out basic and necessary tasks (e.g., going to the grocery store)

However, it is also important to keep in mind that it is completely normal to have some level of social anxiety. Many people feel anxious about certain social situations, like public speaking or talking to strangers—it is when these feelings are overwhelming and keep you from living the life you’d like to live that it becomes diagnosable as social anxiety disorder.

Although introversion and social anxiety disorder share some superficial characteristics, like avoiding social situations, they are two very distinct things. While an introvert may prefer spending time by themselves and may feel depleted with excessive exposure to social environments, someone with social anxiety disorder has a very real phobia of judgment or humiliation in certain social situations.

It’s also possible for one person to be both introverted and experience social anxiety disorder. In addition, for those suffering from social anxiety disorder, it’s important to remember that this condition can be effectively treated by psychotherapy, medication or both.

By Hannah Owens, LMSW and Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD