Many people confuse introversion with shyness— the hallmark of social anxiety. Introversion and social anxiety may coexist, sure, but they’re not one and the same. At a very basic level, introversion is an aversion to social interaction, whereas social anxiety is a fear of it.
Nature vs nurture
One thing to consider when comparing the two is that you’re born with one and develop the other. Social anxiety may be a byproduct of a mental illness you’re born with, but the illogical fear of judgement is often learned and reinforced over time.
On the other hand, introversion is just a way of thinking. Introverts’ brains work differently, but they’re not hindered. They don’t keep quiet during meetings because they’re afraid of saying something wrong– they’re just processing what they’re hearing. They don’t fumble nervously during speeches– their “ums” and “uhs” are placeholders while they think out what they want to say. Introverts aren’t worried about not being perfect, about saying or doing something stupid or not fitting in. They’re only worried about how much social energy they have in their reserves.
Introversion doesn’t need a treatment
I’ve experienced both social anxiety and introversion and they the way they make me feel is very, very different. Social anxiety, for starters, indicates mental illness. For some it’s full fledged social anxiety disorder, and for others it accompanies another illness (general anxiety disorder, PTSD, etc.). It comes with symptoms– the feelings of distress during social interactions the constant worry of being judged– can severely impact a person’s life. Socially anxious people may start to go out of their way to avoid doing because their fear of judgement is so intense. It can manifest as physical symptoms, like blushing, trembling or shortness of breath.
Whether it’s medication, talk therapy or as part of another mental health issue, social anxiety can– and should– be treated. Introversion, however, is simply a personality trait. Introverts don’t suffer like those with social anxiety because stimulation tires us out. Introversion doesn’t need to be treated because it’s not an illness.