BY LIZ HAYMAN
In recent years, there has been an increase in acknowledgment and awareness of what it means to be an introvert, especially in a world that tends to be inherently extroverted. In general, I think this increased understanding and recognition is wonderful as roughly half of the population is comprised of people who are introverts. I have noticed, however, that with this, there are some teens and young people who can be quick to proclaim themselves introverts as an explanation for certain challenges. Introversion may in fact be the case but there may be something like social anxiety happening as well that could be causing distress and the tendency to isolate. Here are some ways to distinguish introversion from social anxiety.
Both introverts and extroverts can be very social.
A common misconception about introverts versus extroverts is that extroverts are outgoing and social and introverts are not. Many introverts can be outgoing as well but the main difference between extroverts and introverts is where people get their energy. Extroverts feel energized by interacting with others whereas introverts get their energy and are able to recharge by quality alone time. It's important to understand if that alone time is for the purpose of recharging or if it is more about isolation and avoidance. Both extroverts and introverts need connection and friendship, but it will look different for each of these types. Introverts are likely to be drawn to fewer friendships but those friendships tend to be quite deep and close whereas extroverts are likely to enjoy many friendships, some of which may exist on a more acquaintance level. The thing to be mindful of with kids and teens is if they are isolating from all types of connection and social situations.
Both introverts and extroverts can have all types of anxiety.
Introversion and extroversion tend to be core personality traits that are a part of each of us from a very young age. Anxiety, on the other hand, can come and go throughout the life span based on many factors one of which is circumstances. If you notice a drastic change in your child where social avoidance or isolation is happening, this could be the result of an increased anxiety of some kind.
Introversion is about preference. Social anxiety is driven by extreme self consciousness.
Social anxiety is characterized by high levels of self consciousness, and fear and avoidance of social situations. People who struggle with social anxiety tend to also have challenges with self esteem and their sense of self. They can be quick to imagine that others are judging or making fun of them and can believe that all eyes are on them in a hypercritical way. In contrast, pure introversion includes the ability to navigate and enjoy social situations, but with a preference for smaller group or individual interaction as well as down time alone to recharge.
If you suspect your child may be struggling with some social anxiety or with how to navigate being an introvert, let's find a time to chat and talk further. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. A wonderful book that I recommend is "Thriving with Social Anxiety: Daily Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety and Building Self Confidence" by Hattie C. Cooper.