Paula is a 25 year old call center representative. She spends all day talking to people on the phone at work. After work, Paula’s coworkers often ask her to go to happy hour but she refuses. Paula spends her time after work binge watching Netflix or scrolling through social media. Is Paula an introvert or does she have social anxiety?
Without known more about Paula it’s hard to determine if she has social anxiety or if she’s just introverted. On the outside both they both can appear the same, but inside, the motive behind the behavior is what makes the two different.
Introversion is a personality trait; it is something that we are born with. The behaviors of an introvert are noticed early on in life and will continue throughout one’s life. Introverts are often believed to have a fear of being around people, but in reality it’s a choice that introverts make to not be around people. Introverts can be social when they want to, but in order for that to happen the gathering has to be small and they need to a have a reserve of energy already built up to make it through the engagement. Also, introverts are fine with being introverts they don’t desire to change and wish people will just accept them as they are instead of trying to make assumptions about why they are the way they are. Furthermore, introverts are drained of energy after interacting with people. They need their time alone to be able to recharge so that they can continue engaging with others since that is a part of life.
Social anxiety is something that is created based on an individual’s experiences or perceptions. A person can go through a large part of their life without having anxiety in social situations and then develop social anxiety. However, it’s not something that they are stuck with; they are able to break free of the social anxiety. Those with social anxiety have a fear of being around people for a number of reasons such as not wanting to be judged, feeling they won’t fit in, and/or feeling that they may be harmed. This fear can paralyze them and keep them from engaging with others and truly living their life. Those with social anxiety have a desire to change, they recognize that their perceptions are keeping them from being their best self, but they just can’t change their way of thinking. Finally, those with social anxiety drain their energy prior to even engaging with people and continue to drain their energy even after the engagement if it actually takes place. Prior to the engagement, the socially anxious person will over think the situation, going over all the things that could possibly go wrong whether it is rational or not. Afterwards, they may spend hours or days or longer thinking about the situation, wondering what others thoughts about them, getting stuck on one thing they said that they thought was stupid. All this thinking is draining and even time spent alone will not recharge them as it does the introvert.
Looking back at Paula, so is she an introvert or someone dealing with social anxiety? Well it depends. Does Paula need to recharge after work due to talking to people all day or does she fear the social aspect of happy hour? One should not assume that they know what a person is experiencing without actually talking to them.