I’m going to tell you about something that I find REALLY frustrating. And annoying. And sometimes outright offensive, depending on how people are reacting to it. Something that at this point I despair of ever changing, but still find myself wishing that it would.
So let me put it simply here.
Introversion and social anxiety are two different things.
Seriously. Despite the comics, the way people talk, the widespread misinformation, these things are separate. Sometimes they coexist, sometimes they don’t. Apparently it comes as a surprise to some people, but it’s actually totally possible to be both extroverted and shy/socially anxious. Really. It happens. More than you might think.
Now, you might be wondering why this is such a big deal. Why do I care so much that so many people equate the two? It’s not hurting me, right?
Here, let me put forward a little scenario; one that I think actually happens often enough to be a thing.
We have a person. Let’s call them Morgan. Morgan has severe social anxiety and so rarely ventures out of the house. Morgan is very lonely and sad and does not like being this way. Since Morgan finds socializing so very difficult, Morgan figures they are an introvert. I mean, comics like the one shown above explain introversion that way, so that must be what it is, right?
Eventually Morgan gets help and overcomes their social anxiety. As it turns out, Morgan is an extrovert! Morgan now goes out and socializes on a regular basis, gets lots of energy from being around people, and is much happier than they were before. From Morgan’s perspective, they used to be introverted but fixed that and turned themselves into an extrovert.
So now Morgan thinks they know what it is to be an introvert. Morgan knows some introverted people and maybe even has introverted friends. Morgan remembers what it was like when they were so anxious, and believes that all their introverted friends must be going through the same thing.
Morgan responds by deciding that they just need to “get out of their shell!” Drag them to enough (exhausting) social events, show them that it isn’t scary, help them be more outgoing, and they’ll be cured! Morgan feels so nice doing this, thinking they’re doing a good deed for those poor, introverted souls.
Here’s the thing. Morgan is being harmful. I have experience with both introversion and social anxiety and I can definitely tell you – they are NOT the same thing. NOT THE SAME THING. Ok? Really not.
Social anxiety is very unpleasant. It makes interactions ever so fraught; people can be really quite scary. Introversion, on the other hand, is actually rather pleasant. Or rather, it’s neutral, it just means that I take pleasure and gain energy from things that extroverts would generally find more draining. Now that my anxiety is more under control, it’s easier for me to go do social things. As in, less scary. However, it’s still draining. I still recharge with alone time, and I still have a dramatic preference for one-on-one interaction. I happen to like being an introvert and do not want to change.
When someone thinks that my introversion must be anxiety and want to “fix” me, they are harming me. If I am denied much-needed alone time, I am harmed. If I am forced into a group when I would rather just talk to one person, I am harmed. If I am made to interact after all my spoons are gone and I really need to be done, I am harmed. Whoever does those things to me, harms me.
Which means that this pervasive idea that introversion is the same thing as social anxiety is harmful. It’s harmful to me, and it’s harmful to others who are like me. Please, don’t participate in spreading this misinformation. It does no one any good.