Shy person in hoodie leaning against wall wondering about the differences between introvert vs shy vs social anxiety

Introvert, Shy, Socially Anxious: What’s the Difference?

While introversion, shyness, and social anxiety are all interrelated, they are actually quite different. Understanding the distinctions between them is important in order to accurately identify and receive the kind of help that will be most beneficial. Once you have an accurate diagnosis, you can begin treating the root cause and managing your symptoms. Promises Behavioral Health offers inpatient anxiety treatment and avoidant personality disorder treatment in Brentwood, TN. Call 844.875.5609 to learn how we can help.

Introvert, Shy, Socially Anxious: What’s the Difference?

Not long ago, the introvert was commonly viewed as the sad, lesser flipside of the extrovert. We now know better, recognizing introverts as having unique gifts that enrich not only themselves but society as well. Still, confusion reigns as to what it means to be an introvert, mainly because the term is so often used as a synonym for shyness or to describe someone dealing with social anxiety disorder. It doesn’t help that even the experts sometimes disagree on where the lines should be drawn. In general, however, the three terms are recognized as distinct categories that only sometimes intersect. Here’s how it breaks down:


The psychologist Carl Jung first introduced the terms introvert and extrovert in 1921 as a way to differentiate between those who feel more connected to their inward thoughts and feelings and those whose focus is more on the external world. Other researchers have added and subtracted to Jung’s work over the years, and there remains no single definition, but most agree on the basics. The introvert:

  • Enjoys time alone and uses it to “recharge”
  • Needs less stimulation than the extrovert
  • Tends to have powerful concentration and prefer immersing themselves in one task at a time
  • Quickly wearies of small talk but often enjoys digging deep into a topic
  • Thinks before they speak and is often characterized as a good listener
  • May be socially adept but quickly tires of parties or group gatherings where they must be “on” for long stretches
  • Has limited social energy

How personality comes into being is not perfectly understood. Still, both environment and genetics are believed to play a role, with recent research revealing that the brains of introverts and extroverts respond to experiences differently. It’s important to note that no one is only an introvert or an extrovert; each of us contains at least a little of the other. 


People who are introverts often describe themselves (or are described) as shy, but shyness and introversion are not the same. Shyness has, at its heart, a fear of negative judgment by others. If asked to a party, an introvert might think about whether they want to expend their precious supply of social energy. A shy person, however, might think about how others at the party would perceive them. One stays home from the party out of preference, in other words, and the other from fear. Shyness and introversion do sometimes overlap, of course, especially if the introvert has been made to feel as though their low-key personality is somehow less desirable than an extroverted one. 

Unlike introversion, shyness is better understood as a response rather than a state of being. It’s the social discomfort we feel whenever we worry about measuring up or appearing out of place or awkward. And that applies to all of us; everyone experiences shyness from time to time. Some embrace their shyness, seeing it as a personality characteristic that makes them who they are, which needs no overcoming. But if your shyness is preventing you from living the life you desire, however, reach out for help from your doctor or a psychologist.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder can seem like shyness on steroids, but the two are separate conditions despite the occasional overlap. Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is an overwhelming fear of being humiliated in front of others. For some, this extreme self-consciousness means even simple actions such as eating in public or talking to a store clerk can be overwhelming. Blushing, trembling, sweating, and nausea are common, and only add to the distress level. Social events are often agonized about weeks before they arrive. Friends, not surprisingly, can be hard to find and keep. Some are affected only in certain social situations, while others find all social encounters unbearable. 

As to its cause, no one yet knows, but social anxiety disorder can run in families, suggesting a genetic link. Getting help is essential, not only because social anxiety disorder can make life difficult but because it is often associated with other anxiety issues or depression. It can sometimes lead to substance abuse by those attempting to medicate away the negative feelings. Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, has been shown to be effective in treating social anxiety disorder. Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can also help in some cases.

Understanding Avoidant Personality Disorder and Anxiety 

Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is a mental health condition characterized by feelings of social anxiety, isolation, and insecurity. People with AvPD often feel inadequate and unworthy, leading them to avoid social situations and relationships. While everyone feels shy or anxious at times, people with AvPD experience these symptoms to the degree that disrupts their daily lives. 

Symptoms of AvPD can include:

  • Feeling insecure, inadequate, and worthless
  • Avoiding social situations and interactions out of fear of being rejected or judged
  • Feeling anxious in social situations
  • Having few close friends or relationships
  • Feeling extremely sensitive to criticism or rejection
  • Having difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
  • Feeling isolated from others
  • Difficulty establishing close relationships due to fear of intimacy or being hurt

It’s important to note that symptoms of AvPD can vary by individual. Some people with AvPD may show few outward signs, while others may experience severe social anxiety and isolation. Additionally, those affected by the disorder may be more likely to suffer from other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. 

AvPD is closely linked to anxiety. People with AvPD often have a high level of social anxiety, which can lead them to avoid situations that involve contact with other people. This avoidance can cause even more anxiety and can make it difficult for them to engage in meaningful relationships. 

Additionally, people with AvPD are often overly sensitive to criticism or rejection, which can lead to further feelings of worthlessness and insecurity. For these reasons, it’s important that those affected by AvPD receive professional treatment to manage their symptoms and help improve their quality of life. 

The Benefits of Getting Professional Help

If you have been diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder and/or anxiety, getting professional help can be incredibly beneficial. Professional treatment helps to identify the underlying causes of your symptoms and works to address them in a safe and supportive environment. Through therapy, individuals who struggle with AvPD or anxiety can gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so they can better manage their disorder. With treatment, they can learn new coping strategies that will help them face their fears and challenges. Additionally, medication may be prescribed if necessary to help reduce symptoms such as excessive worry or panic attacks.

Professional treatment also promotes healthy relationships with others by helping individuals recognize how their behavior affects those around them. This type of self-awareness helps people develop better communication skills and can make social situations less stressful. By reducing feelings of isolation, it becomes easier to open up to others and build meaningful connections.

Finally, professional treatment can help an individual find a sense of peace that they may not have been able to achieve on their own. Through therapy, individuals learn how to be kind to themselves even during difficult times and how to practice self-care in order to maintain emotional well-being. Getting professional help is essential for those who struggle with AvPD or anxiety so they can work towards recovery and lead more fulfilling lives.

Break Out of Your Shell at Promises Behavioral Health

Whether you’re introverted, shy, or struggle with social anxiety, help is available. Receiving professional help and treatment for avoidant personality disorder and anxiety can be highly beneficial in dealing with the symptoms of both conditions. Promises Behavioral Health offers a variety of treatment options aimed at helping individuals with AvPD and anxiety to manage their symptoms and live more fulfilling lives. Call 844.875.5609 or fill out our online contact form to learn how we can help.

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