I don’t particularly like the phrases “shy” or “socially awkward”. Maybe it’s because I was always called “the shy kid” growing up, but I find that these terms oversimplify what is actually going on. It took me until my late 20s to stop beating myself up about my perceived social deficiencies, and really take a deep look at my tendencies towards introversion, and more importantly, my social anxiety.
While introversion and social anxiety can go hand-in-hand, they’re very different. There is some overlap, for example social interactions can be draining for introverts as well as the socially anxious, but there’s a lot more that’s different.
First off, introversion is a personality type. Introverts have, essentially, social batteries that drain quicker around more than a handful of people. They prefer social activities in small groups, and need time to recharge. Anxiety generally doesn’t play a role, it’s more about comfort and tolerance.
On the other hand, social anxiety is more or less what it sounds like: anxiety about social interactions or events. Often, the anxiety can be so severe it will prevent the person from participating in events with more than a couple of people. It’s not so much a personality trait, but a category of anxiety disorder.
One misconception with introversion is that introverts don’t enjoy socializing, or aren’t very outgoing. However, the reality is many introverts love to socialize, many just prefer small groups, or less social time overall. It’s not caused by fear or awkwardness, but by preference.
However, social anxiety is very much driven by…well…anxiety. It’s not a preference, in fact, it’s often a hindrance preventing someone from being comfortable socializing, or from socializing altogether!
It’s important to remember, though, that these are not flaws. You’re not “weird”, or “a loser”, or whatever else you might get labelled. If you’re an introvert, live life in the way that makes you happy. If you’re socially anxious, you can overcome your fears and build more confidence with practice.