On Being An Introvert, Social Anxiety, Shyness et al

earthgarden's picture

I'm an introvert and a very shy person. On top of that I have flares of social anxiety. This last flare-up was combined with depression and was really bad, now that I'm out of the worst of it I would say it was a mini-nervous breakdown. Anyway! The thread on playdates bought of lots of talk about being an introvert and social interaction and stuff. A good point sebsmom made was how people who are not introverts don't understand that it's not a choice, it's simply the way we are naturally wired.

I have this great book on personality development I'll have to look for, it really went into detail on the major differences between extroverts and introverts and it explained something about myself that seemed/seems to baffle most extroverts: Why I like to spend lots of time alone, why I crave peace and quiet, why I tend to prefer low-key socializing over boisterous parties, and stuff like that. It's because introverts are naturally high energy and naturally have nerves set on edge and on the excitement high point, so even just being around other people can be too much and overwhelming for our nerves let alone loud situations. Whereas extroverts tend to be low energy and to have nerves set on the low point, so they naturally tend to seek excitement outside themselves; to like being around other people, loud exciting parties, going vibrant places, being in a large crowd. I thought this was very interesting.

I don't mind being an introvert but I do wish other people didn't take it personally...for example at schools and jobs and stuff, wanting to just sit quietly and read a book or go for a walk alone or even sit in my car (because the lunch/break room was just too noisy) is generally taken as signs of standoffish behavior by extroverts. I suppose it doesn't help that my outside doesn't match my inside; for some reason people tend to expect me to be all loud and outgoing and the life of the party or something. Often folks don't believe I am shy and just keep at me and at me to be this extroverted person they've decided I am. That is very annoying and even quite a bit scary sometimes.

Another good point sebsmom made was that while many introverts have social anxiety it's not always the case nor is the reverse true, that every person with social anxiety is an introvert. but yah I'd like to talk about ways in which we deal with this if you do have social anxiety. In addition to therapy I take St. John's Wort and 5-htp, both OTC supplements you can buy online or at most drug stores in the states.

some things to think on/talk about if you're an introvert:
How do you meet new people?
Is your SO/ex SO an introvert?
Are your kids introverted?
Do you also have social anxiety?
Do you consider yourself to be shy also?
What helps you; how do you deal?
How do you feel when people you don't know talk to you?
How do you behave at parties?
Do you have close friends?
Is meeting/making new friends something you want to do?
How often do you socialize?

Comments

turtle's picture
Submitted by turtle on

Yeah, I was going to wade into that discussion but then there was too much! I was a little overwhelmed!!! hahaha

It's funny. I am an introvert, definitely. In terms of the definition that I 'recharge' by being by myself. I like reading, doing stuff on my own or with my husband & baby.

I'm not *particularly* shy in that I'm fairly comfortable in talking to people I don't know, as long as it is in a small group and I can make eye contact and there aren't a lot of distractions. Once I get to know you--- I will talk your freakin' ear off!!!

BUT I do suffer some social anxiety- walking into a room full of a BUNCH of people I don't know is really hard for me! This is a problem for me now that I am a mami. Cos the friends I already have don't have kids. And I feel the need for a mama/parent community. There's a fairly good, in other words, developed alternative-y, attachment parent community here in the Twin Cities and even a place to meet up and a number of playgroups. But I have to force myself to go. And I often come home and cry cos no one talked to me and I didn't do a good enough job talking to a bunch of people who already seem to know each other. But there is still definitely a tension between wanting mama/parent friends and feeling like I don't want any more friends.

I tend to be very close to a very few number of people- I've never done the whole lots of acquaintances/casual friends thing.

I deal with it...um...I dunno. I guess I don't deal with it/do anything to help. I'm thinking about taking some herbal stuff but I have to think about it, talk to my naturopath, etc.

I dislike parties with an intensity, unless I already know most of the people there (like my wedding! LOL!). I will only talk to people I know. Most often my husband or best friend if they are there. I get all stressed just thinking about parties.

Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough. -- Emily Dickinson

You want to do what you think is right and what matters to you, and if other people don't like it, as my father would have said, they can go fuck themselves. -- Amy Bloom

turtle's picture
Submitted by turtle on

Oh, and my SO-- he's an extrovert and shy. According to him.

Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough. -- Emily Dickinson

You want to do what you think is right and what matters to you, and if other people don't like it, as my father would have said, they can go fuck themselves. -- Amy Bloom

springy's picture
Submitted by springy on

How do you meet new people?- I can talk to people in small groups (2-3 others) or one on one. If I'm at the neighbourhood playground I might ask "so, do you live around here?" or how old someone's kids are.

Are your kids introverted? I believe so.

Do you also have social anxiety? I used to but it's not so bad now.

Do you consider yourself to be shy also? Yes, but not as much as I used to be.

What helps you; how do you deal? I gave myself bravery lessons a few years ago where if I was too nervous to do something I'd pretend I was brave and do it anyway. I also give myself downtime and don't overschedule things as I get frazzled easily and need quiet time to regroup. I stay in hotels when I can when visiting people instead of at their homes. I carry a book.

How do you feel when people you don't know talk to you? Sometimes alarmed, especially if what they've said doesn't make sense to me at first and I feel anxious and insecure. Sometimes I don't mind, talking to someone can help time pass by more quickly when you are waiting around sometimes. I'm also reassured by the knowledge that most people are friendly, and cheered up by a friendly social interaction.

How do you behave at parties? Akwardly. I hate parties. I always thought it was because I was too ____ (shy, overweight, clumsy, whatever I was feeling insecure about at the time), but I am realizing now they are just not. for. me. Even if I'm feeling content and happy with everything in my life a party is an obligation for me to get through. Ugh, parties.

Do you have close friends? Yes! I need friends, they contribute a lot to my mental health.

Is meeting/making new friends something you want to do? Occasionally but not often. I tend to have a close group of friends and then I don't really feel like I need more. Sometimes it's hard enough to find time to spend with the friends I do have, schedule-wise.

How often do you socialize? Hmmm, hard to say.. I have acquaintances and coworkers I chat with every couple of days, but I usually try to spend time with friends a couple of times a month at least.

I once heard that you can tell if you are an introvert or an extrovert from this kind of scenario: You come home from a long day at work and you are exhausted. The phone rings and it's friends who have gotten together and want you to go out with them. Do you think "yeah! Be right there!" (extrovert) or "oh no, I just want to stay home!" (introvert).

I've heard of similar theories of introversion vs extroversion and the energy you talked about. What recharges an extrovert can overwhelm an introvert. I've also had people assume I was stuck up when I was shy as well.

What interests me is that I've heard that in some cultures calling someone shy is considered a compliment and here it is sometimes considered more of a difficulty.

I kind of like being an introvert. I think it's a good thing to be content to be alone at times.

Looking forward to this discussion.

sebsmom's picture
Submitted by sebsmom on

How do you meet new people?
Usually through mutual friends or acquaintances. In this case I do much better meeting one or two new people at a time. If it's a larger group of people at once - especially if they all know each other already - that's really stressful for me. Sometimes, depending on the person, even hanging out with a friend and one other friend of theirs stresses me out. For whatever reason I find some people super intimidating while others I just "click" with right away.
I think there's a few categories that most new people I meet fall into: Intimidating- these tend to be people who I perceive as being elitist in some way; like anyone who thinks they're too cool for school. It's not that I have any interest in being cool or accepted by those people but when I'm around folks like this I feel like I'm being sized up to see if I'm sufficiently hip to even talk to. And it's ridiculous because I really DON'T care (at least not consciously) for their approval. In fact, I know that by not talking (which is what I do when faced with this kind of person) I will automatically be dismissed as them as uncool/boring/whatever. I think it's 'cuz I'm so sensitive. I've been in situations where I have put myself out there with these kind of people- tried to relax as best as possible and just be myself and have ended up feeling ridiculed or something. As much as I'm not interested in meeting some dumb superficial standards it feels like total crap when you're talking and trying to be yourself and people regard you as a wierdo or a loser. I'm sure a lot of this is also pent up stuff from adolescence. From around 5th through 8th grade I had a lot of really shitty "friends". They were groups of girls who would CRUCIFY anyone for saying or doing the wrong thing - particularly me because I think I made an easy target. I wanted friends so bad that I would apologize to these girls for getting mad at them after they had teased me mercilessly about something or other. The sad part is that I just thought that's what friendship was until I got to high school and actually made some true friends. To be fair, sometimes people I find intimidating initially are not nearly the elitist assholes I imagined them to be in my head. I know that there are times that I unfairly make this kind of assumption about someone.
Next are people I just feel awkward around. I'm not intimidated by them but I really suck at small talk - especially if it's with another introvert who sucks at it just as much. I put all the pressure of carrying on a conversation on myself and get super stressed out. With these people I will go into an almost panic if, for instance, I saw them on a bus or something. If they're a friend of a friend or whatever I will feel like I should say hi because I don't want to feel rude but then I know I'm going to be subjecting myself to an excruciatingly awkward few minutes (at least) where we will stand around with nothing to say. I've seriously turned around and walked the other way on the street or ducked into a store if I spot on of these people that I sort of know. To people who don't have these issues I'm sure it would seem like I'm being an asshole for doing that but I really just hate awkwardness THAT much. This sort of thing isn't nearly as much of a problem with the intimidating folks since I usually assume that they won't notice me or really care if I say hello or not.
Finally there's the rare people who I have a natural rapport with. I am just naturally and almost completely at ease with them from the beginning. I can't fully explain what it is about these people that makes it so much easier with them than everyone else.

Is your SO/ex SO an introvert?
NO WAY. BD is one of the most extroverted people I have ever met in my entire life. I think it was part of his appeal for me. This extroversion is definitely part of what made him one of those people who I was immediately at ease with. He's very good at engaging with almost anyone. It's one of his best qualities (not that extroverted = good or better than introverted but in BD's case he genuinely likes most people and makes it apparent he likes you from the moment you meet him).

Are your kids introverted?
I think it's too early to tell. Sebastian only just turned 3. Sometimes we'll be out at the store and he can't stop saying hi and trying to chat it up with strangers. And lately this is especially true with kids. He will often want to approach other kids and talk to them. At times he seems super extroverted like his dad - like we'll be at the park and he'll go up to a kid or group of kids, spread his arms out wide and triumphantly exclaim "I'm SEBASTIAN!!!" as way of introduction. I LOVE this. On the other hand, sometimes he will ask me to take him over to talk to another kid and when I do so he gets all shy. He's excited to meet the kid, you can tell, but he'll sort of be hiding behind me for at least the first couple of minutes. So yeah... I don't know yet.

Do you also have social anxiety?
Bigtime. See above long ass answer to how I meet people. I think social anxiety is one of those disorders that a lot of people who don't suffer from it think is bullshit, like ADHD or OCD. Partially because all of these are over-diagnosed and over-used by people in describing themselves. BD had OCD really bad so I know what the real deal looks like - I also know quite a few people who will say things like they are "totally OCD" and believe that because they do some quirky things or like to have things arranged in a certain way. I'll always want to say, "yeah, I'm sure you get pretty annoyed when things are out of place but if a fork falls on the floor is it going to cause you to have a complete meltdown where you have to wash your hands for 40 minutes after picking it up? THAT is OCD. You're just anal and a little neurotic." (I don't think I've ever said this out loud though)
It is similar with social anxiety. I've heard a lot of people say they suffer from this because maybe they don't like crowded bars or parties. Lots of times it's introverted folks who believe that social anxiety is a general description for introversion. But they're totally different. Social anxiety can be an almost crippling problem wheras introversion is just a personality trait. I know introverted people who have no problem talking to anyone but they are just more introspective and prefer much of the time to be alone as opposed to extroverts who, more often than not, crave company - the more the better. It IS possible to be considered outgoing and also be an introvert.

Do you consider yourself to be shy also?
Yup. And yes, I think this is distinct from being an introvert and while I'd say all people who suffer from social anxiety are shy, not all shy people have social anxiety.

What helps you; how do you deal?
I used to deal with this with alcohol. Any time I was thrown into a social situation with people I didn't know (to the extent it was possible/appropriate to drink) I would get PLASTERED. For a while when I was in college I would say I was borderline alcoholic. Obviously that's not the best approach. I rarely drink these days... I don't know... I guess I deal by CONSTANTLY telling myself that my fears are irrational and that it's not the end of the world if I can't connect with certain people. I try to accept it about myself the best I can but it's hard. This is especially difficult at work. I will do almost anything to avoid having to talk to someone on the phone rather than send an e-mail. Usually this is okay but sometimes I NEED to actually speak to a person and I will put it off for way too long. Or fear of approaching my boss or a co-worker to ask a question has led me to make stupid mistakes that could have been avoided. I've often thought about going on meds but I'm already on zoloft for anxiety/depression (which helps with general anxiety but not really the social aspect) and adderall for ADHD (which I also totally legitimately suffer from). I don't want to go too crazy with the psych meds. And funnily enough it's my social anxiety that prevents me from asking my psyciatrist if he thinks I could benefit from a different anti-anxiety/depression med that will also help with the social anxiety. I WANT to broach the subject with him but can never make myself do so.

How do you feel when people you don't know talk to you?
It depends on the person and the mood I'm in - my internal response varies widely based on these and other factors and I've already gone on way too long!

How do you behave at parties?
I'll usually try to stay as close as possible to any friends I have there. It's much easier for me to be social with a friend there as a sort of support. Whenever I've gone to parties as the guest of someone who is the only person there I know I need to make a real conscious effort not to stick desperately like glue to that person for the night but it's hard and I can't always help it. I've been in situations where I've gone into a near panic because my party companion has to go to the bathroom and I'm forced to be on my own for a few minutes. In college, as I said above, I would deal with this by getting SUPER drunk to allow myself to talk to people. And yeah, I still sometimes use alcohol as a social crutch, to a lesser extent.

Do you have close friends?
Yes, I am fortunate enough to actually have quite a few close friends. Unfortunately lots of them live far away and/or are very busy so I don't see any of them very often.

Is meeting/making new friends something you want to do?
Yes, totally. I've never had a desire to have a TON of friends. BD thrives on this. Friends are constantly entering and exiting his life... I don't want that. I get too attached to people. At the same time I can't remember ever not being open to forming new friendships and at this point in my life it's something I sometimes actively crave since I can't see so many of my existing friends on any kind of regular basis (like, more than once or twice a month).

How often do you socialize?
Almost never. At work, sometimes. But there's lots of days that I'm chained to my desk all day and the only person I have any extended interaction with all day will be Sebastian. Sometimes that really gets to me but at the same time I will do things like avoid going into the kitchen at work when I hear that there are people in there because I just don't have the energy to have to interact with anyone.

OMG... sorry for my super long answer everyone!! Obviously it's a topic I have a lot of thoughts about.

rebeccaeee's picture
Submitted by rebeccaeee on

I ask because really, truly, I used to be painfully shy. My high school yearbook is full of "if only we'd talked more..." and such. But then, at 22, I started work teaching English composition classes as part of my grad school program and it occurred to me that the students would eat me alive if I didn't come out of my shell a bit. It wasn't a conscious decision but I'm 37 now and you wouldn't recognize me as a Former Introvert. On the inside, I still think of myself that way, but I'm not. I can go to a party alone, talk to strangers, have dinner parties, make acquaintences at work and have lately tried befriending my new neighbors. However, since I think I've seen both sides, I wanted to chime in:

My SO is a TOTAL introvert. I talk to his friends and family more than he does.

So far, I think our son is an introvert. He has to be reallllly secure in a situation before he relaxes and lets go. Crowds freak him out and he doesn't warm up to strangers (kids or adults) very easily. Luckily, I was a shy kid so I think I can recognize it and not judge him or try to reform him, As you say, introverts are just wired that way.

I will say that motherhood has taken a toll on my close friend circle. Haven't kept alot of them and don't feel like I have many of them. Working on it.

Minimal social anxiety...I tend to barge in and find common ground or make small talk pretty quickly. Small talk is a godsend, particularly at social gatherings or in annoying checkout lines.

I'm generally happy when strangers speak to me and I, occasionally, will speak to strangers.

There. Hope the perspective helps. Great topic!

guava's picture
Submitted by guava on

How do you meet new people?
I usually meet new people through friends, through work or occasionally by chatting them up in the neighborhood.

Is your SO/ex SO an introvert?
My DH is a huge extrovert. He is usually the loudest one in the room.

Are your kids introverted?
No, both are already acting like big old extroverts.

Do you also have social anxiety?
Occasionally, in certain situations. I don't like being thrust into situations where I have to relate to total strangers. For instance, in my line of work I have to interview people, and I don't like doing that at all. I also dislike going to the playground. Over the years, I've discovered two main stressors for me:

1) Opening myself up to new people on a personal level. Growing up, I had terrible issues with boundaries and letting people walk all over me, use me, disrespect me, etc. It's taken years of work to learn how to assert myself, and learn how to weed out the people who aren't going to contribute anything positive to my life. I don't mean this in a snotty way or a cliquey way, but more in terms of self-preservation. I like to think I've gotten pretty good at it, at this point, though it doesn't come easy. For this reason, I am more cautious than I used to be when it comes to making new friends. Now I will take my time and really get to know someone before I get too involved. This has helped me to create a lot of good, solid friendships at this point in my life.

2) Getting to know new parents. I am still struggling with this one because I tend to find myself obsessing over things whenever I socialize with other parents. I end up worrying so much about whether the kids are getting along, are my kids being polite enough, are they judging the food that I'm offering, etc. that I can't relax and be in the moment as much as I'd like. Then there is the fear that my kid will love their kid, but I won't end up having anything in common with the parents, and we'll be roped into events that will take me away from other people. So I try not to over-commit when I meet people and they want to schedule things right away.

The other issue is that I am really protective of my "alone" time. I need it to recharge. When I'm in a group, I'm "on", but I need time to be "off" too. This is why I am careful about scattering my energies too much, because these days I tend to get burnt out very quickly, and then I am no good to anybody.

Do you consider yourself to be shy also?
No. I used to be, as a child, but now I am perfectly capable of walking up to people I don't know and talking to them.

What helps you; how do you deal?
I generally keep the conversation neutral, or try to focus on something we have in common. I will also try to crack a joke or two to break the ice.

How do you feel when people you don't know talk to you?
Usually fine, unless I get some sort of bad vibe. I have always been a psycho magnet.

How do you behave at parties?
I won't just talk to my friends, I will pretty much chat with whomever is around. I like parties.

Do you have close friends?
Yes. And I invest a lot of time and energy into those friendships.

Is meeting/making new friends something you want to do?
It's not a huge priority in my life right now, but I'm open to it. If I meet someone and I like her/him, then I'll pursue it. I feel like I have a good balance in my world right now between time for friends and time for myself and my family.

How often do you socialize? I almost always see people on the weekends, and usually meet up with one to do something once during the week.

It's funny because my friends are a mix of introverts and extroverts, and I find myself adjusting depending upon whom I'm with. I am the chatty one with my quieter friends, and the quieter one with my super-social friends.

earthgarden's picture

this jumped out at me:
Small talk is a godsend, particularly at social gatherings or in annoying checkout lines.

Why? at the checkout line, why do you need to say anything at all? I always wonder at that...I'm just there to buy my food and go, and I like the small moment of time in line to think my thoughts and muse on this or that. I'm standing there quietly minding my own business. Then some extroverted stranger behind or in front of me is fidgeting and getting agitated, it's like they feel compelled to say something or burst. heh heh I guess I answered my own question.

I know introverts can force themselves to be more social than they are naturally inclined to be, I do it all the time. It's very hard though, I liken it on good days to being the emotional equivalent of ripping off a bandaid or getting your blood drawn. Sometimes my days are filled with constant tiny pricks. On bad days...it's like crossing the street when suddenly, out of the blue, a truck comes barreling at you. It's that kind of terrible feeling. but that's probably more social anxiety than introversion...

Being an introvert and being shy are not always the same thing...while being an introvert is always a matter of hard wiring, being shy can often be caused by nurture, environment, and/or abrupt changes (like a sudden move can trigger shyness in a child). So one can be an introvert without necessarily being shy and vice versa. From what I've read and seen you can get over shyness, but whether or not you're an introvert is something you can't change.

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earthgarden's picture

I write so much I think i will have to answer each one separately heeeeeee!

My daughter age 20 and my son age 14 are both extroverts, which just has always wowed me. and I have been continually amazed at how life seems so much easier for them because of it. and by default, me too, because of them I've met people I probably would never have and gotten involved in good things I probably never have. I mean it's a long list of things. All my friends I met when I first moved to Cleveland, I met because of my daughter. I was a student at the time and would often take her to class with me, and she'd strike up conversations with people. Or I'd express an interest in doing something social like joining a bowling league or soccer team, and she or my older son would say go for it mom! and give me tips for talking to people. They both attract people and have lots of friends, and can talk to pretty much anybody, including introverts. It's probably because of having two introverted parents that they can sense introversion in others and know how to tone it down. I enjoy spending time with them because they love to talk and will talk about anything, including my story ideas or weird dreams or whatever random train of thought. They can get so animated, it's a joy to hear them express themselves so well.

My 11yr son is like me and my husband (also an introvert) but I would say he is not shy anymore, just introverted. I used to worry sometimes because he is so self-contained, sometimes it's like he's indifferent to other people...at school he's been known to go off by himself at recess (which I understand) but he can take it to an extreme, like he can really give or take playing with his friends, going to parties, things like that. But this is a good thing in middle school because his indifference to his peers also means he's indifferent to lots of peer pressure; so lots of the other kids think he's cool because he doesn't care what anybody else thinks. Middle school has bought out more of a desire to socialize in him though; he's been more outgoing at school, joined the band, joined in at sports during recess, and made new friends. He still prefers spending lots of his free time alone drawing comics or going into the woods, climbing trees and stuff, and when socializing he prefers to hang out with one friend at a time. I enjoy spending time with him because he can sit with me without being agitated I'm not talking...like we can be comfortable together in silence. Sometimes he helps me in the garden and we have such a good time without saying anything at all. When he does talk, his words are very concise and on point and have a lot of impact. I like how he expresses himself as well.

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earthgarden's picture

yah, my husband is an introvert and used to be somewhat shy. He's been a teacher for a while now, like 8ish years or so, so that has helped him a great deal to get over shyness. He tends to be quiet at home, very self-contained, but he has a wicked sense of humor and can be a very funny and loud person once he gets going. He's not very social, most of the socializing we do is at my instigation, like when we have parties and/or go to parties. Most of his friends he's known since childhood and his new friends are people like husbands of my friends, and a few folks he's known since college or met through work. He mostly likes being at home and spends his free time doing stuff around the house or riding his bike, or reading. Only very occasionally does he go out with friends though he's give all an open invitation to come out and hang with us by the fire. which sometimes happens, but usually only if I pester about it like hey call up so-and-so, see if they want to hang out.

He's a very intense person, and like myself he feels things deeply. I really love that about him.

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earthgarden's picture

I totally relate to the boundaries issue, and for the same reasons. I've wondered how I can exude a stronger sense of personal space, or boundary strength, because I seem to trigger this in people and I can't figure out what I am doing. People tend to ask me all sorts of personal questions (which I have learned I don't have to answer) and when I am friendly, tend to expect an instant friendship from me or something. and men! Men tend to come at me inappropriately even though I am married so I have learned to be very brusque and short with stranger men, because not only am I a psycho magnet I am a creeper magnet as well!! I don't even risk smiling or saying hello to some strange man passing by because they tend to take that as an invitation. Even when I've known some guy for a while (like in my writer's group) it takes a great deal of time of knowing them before I would feel comfortable saying they are my friend.

When you chat at parties, do you initiate the chatting or do other people?

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