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Introversion vs. Shyness: Understanding the Differences

Are You Shy or Introverted?

Introversion and shyness might seem similar on the surface, and while they do share some similarities, they're very different things. For starters, not all introverts are shy. Similarly, shy people can be introverted, extroverted or a combination of both.

According to Louis A. Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, "Though in popular media they're often viewed as the same, we know in the scientific community that, conceptually or empirically, they're unrelated.”

If you've ever thought of yourself as shy or introverted, or would like to better understand how to support others in your life, continue reading to learn more about the key differences.

What is shyness?

People who are shy can be introverted, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. The American Psychological Association defines shyness as, “... the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. Severely shy people may have physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, a pounding heart or upset stomach; negative feelings about themselves; worries about how others view them; and a tendency to withdraw from social interactions.”

The vast majority of people will feel shy at some point during their lives, regardless of whether they are introverted or extroverted.

What is an introvert?

When someone is an introvert, they become emotionally drained after spending time with other people. The amount of time introverts can spend with others before feeling drained varies, but they tend to enjoy alone time and will feel “recharged” after spending time with themselves.

So, an introvert might decline a party invite because they'd rather dig into a good book at home. A shy person would decline the invitation because of (sometimes crippling) anxiety about socializing with other people.

How to overcome introversion and shyness

First, recognize that introversion isn't a psychological disorder that requires fixing. Introverts might struggle with certain social situations ( like networking ), but they don't typically fear interacting with other people. If you are an introvert who fully understands how it impacts your energy and mood, you can maintain good relationships in your personal and professional life.

Shyness, on the other hand, can be more damaging. Relationships fulfill essential human needs like connection and belonging. We all crave deep bonds with others, regardless of introversion, extroversion, shyness or any other label. If shyness prevents you from forming meaningful relationships, it's time for a change.

Fortunately, overcoming shyness is doable. If shyness has become a limiting factor that prevents you from living your best and most fulfilling life, there are things you can do to increase your comfort during social encounters. To get started, be sure to read this helpful article: Overcoming Shyness: Forming Relationships Even if You Feel Shy .