Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Double Whammy: Introversion and Shyness

This post has been brewing for a few weeks now, as I've been thinking about "introversion" versus "shyness" and how they differ. It's my opinion that they are different things, but they can be difficult to distinguish -- especially when, as in my case, a person is both introverted and shy.

I don't have any scientific support for what I'm about to suggest, but here are just a few initial thoughts, drawn from my experience.

1. Neither an introvert nor a shy person is likely going to love parties or other large gatherings. A shy person will likely dread parties because the thought of having to interact with people fills her with anxiety, even fear.

For an introvert, anxiety is probably not the big issue. An introvert can probably enjoy herself by spending time with a select handful of friends within the larger group, but will become exhausted and irritable if she has to socialize for a very long stretch of time -- at the very least, she will need to retreat and "recharge."

In my case
, I have become notably less shy within the past 10 years. I have less anxiety about being among groups. However, the introverted part, while I can develop strategies to better cope with it, is unlikely to change. I am pretty sure that the "too much stimulation -- must retreat!" impulse is hardwired.

2. An introvert can be a confident public speaker or occupy other leadership roles. He may or may not enjoy such roles, but being an introvert does not, in and of itself, bar a person from seeking out and excelling at them.

A shy person is likely to be terrified of such scenarios. He might want to be able to speak publicly, but it will be a significant struggle and maybe even an impossibility. A shy person faces obstacles in such settings that will not necessarily pose a problem for someone who is "only" an introvert.

To this day
, there are settings that are fear-inducing for me -- even speaking up in a larger-than-average seminar. And I don't think I have ever, for instance, raised my hand to ask a question at a conference or lecture. At the same time, I have not avoided situations, such as presenting my work at conferences, that have required me to speak publicly. While never easy, something about my confidence in my prepared comments enabled me to feel tolerably in control of the situation and to handle the inevitable nerves. Heck, I have even preached a few times. (Yes, this was before before I became a committed PCA member!)

3. Neither an introvert nor a shy person is likely to have lots of friends. This is because, in both cases, the person feels most comfortable interacting one-on-one and forming a few, deep relationships.

I sometimes feel envious of people who have lots of friends, I'll admit. And the process of making friends has sometimes been a painful one for me. Befriending a shy introvert requires a lot of patience (with the shyness) and a lot of commitment (to the introverted all-or-nothing approach to relationship-building). In short, I can be a demanding friend, and it has taken me a long time to realize that, in my fumbling attempts to befriend people, I have sometimes had unfair expectations.

4. Both introverts and shy people are best treated just like anybody else. Speaking particularly as a shy girl, I can say that talking to me as if I am fragile (or, worse, as if I'm a little kid) is only going to make me feel more self-conscious. On the other hand, being spoken to respectfully only makes me want to rise to the occasion and try harder to relate confidently to the other person.

5. Both introverts and shy people can afford to get over themselves a little bit. It's great to understand different personality types and what makes people tick. I'm a fan of those "how to care for your introvert" lists and articles I occasionally see floating around the internet. But I've come to realize that, whether it's the introverted part of me or the shy part or both, I need to make an effort, too. I cannot expect anyone to read my mind, and it's unfair to expect to be coddled. Just as I find extroverts overwhelming at times, I have to expect that my behavior is inscrutable and challenging for others sometimes, too.

I hope this has been interesting and perhaps helpful! If you have questions, disagreements, or other quibbles, feel free to comment. I know I can't presume to speak for everyone who falls into either category.


  1. This is a very interesting post.

    When I talk with you at church I always feel that my extroversion (and little bit of social ADD) is the primary hindrance to a satisfying conversation. I think befriending extroverts is far more time consuming and difficult because we are always dividing our time and attention too thinly.

    That's why I married an introvert, who is also slightly on the shy side, but less so than when I married him. ;-)

  2. Loved Loved reading this. This was helpful to me. Now I need to go apologize to my friend April.

  3. April sent me via Facebook. I LOVE this. Thanks for translating my thoughts into words.

  4. Agreed! I am actually an introvert on the Myers-Brigg, despite my rather loud personality. This usually baffles people. It's for all the reasons you describe - a need to recharge after social settings, for instance. And the fact that I often tend to look inside for answers, not outside. :)

  5. Interesting and helpful! I always find myself regretting interactions I've had with people when I lay down to bed. I never want to miss anything, and so then I feel I've missed deep and meaningful conversations that I could have had. I have lots to learn from you Sarah!