No, they are not the same thing.
And yet, shyness and introversion can be connected, and they can look the same on the outside. That’s why we confuse this all the time. It’s very important, for everyone’s well-being, that we understand the difference.
Let’s clarify this…
First, Some Definitions of Introversion and Shyness
Shyness is a feeling based in a fear of being judged. That fear creates a reluctance to be seen and heard. You might feel it and still speak through your nervousness, and you might feel it and not speak. Either way, everyone has shy moments, including extroverts.
Introversion is about a natural tendency for internal thinking before speaking, and a tendency to gain energy from alone time.
Shyness is about fear, and introversion is not.
There are other reasons people might appear “shy,” but it might not be related to fear at all. For instance, there may be cultural influences to not look someone in the eye.
To add to the confusion, I’ve seen some writers and even dictionaries use these terms interchangeably. There are many opinions on the definitions. I think my definitions are in the most typical and accepted range, based on the academic reading I’ve done.
Introverts Are More Prone to Shyness
I think there are two common introvert tendencies that can lead to increased shyness.
1. Higher sensitivity to our environment
Research shows that most introverts have a heightened sensitivity to our environment. Some of us also have the high sensitivity trait in addition to an introverted temperament (two different things).
High sensitivity is a gift, to be able to tune in so well to what’s around us. It can be a vulnerability too. Yep, I relate to both sides of that coin.
My sensitivity is a key to my strong intuition that I need in my coaching work, and it can also lead to being overstimulated in a large social gathering. The overstimulation can lead to avoidance of social situations to protect ourselves. It can look like shyness and with more time in retreating, it can lead to increasing fear of social situations.
In addition, I think introverts with high sensitivity are more likely to absorb childhood stressors and turn it inward and become more shy or anxious, whereas extroverts might express stress more outwardly. Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, explains some of the research to support this theory.
In my own experience, I am an introvert and my sister is an extrovert. We grew up in the same environment but had very different responses to stress. My response to stress went inward and into shyness and anxiety, and her response seemed to express outward. (More on childhood roots of shyness here.)
2. Deep Thinking
I think another reason introverts are more prone to shyness is because of our tendency for deep thinking. It’s part of our wiring. Deep thinking can be a wonderful gift, such as being able to tap into creative thoughts and see underlying connections.
And yet that thinking can sometimes lead to overthinking, which can lead to perfectionism and self-judgement… which can snowball into being afraid of being seen and heard… which can lead to brain freeze and…. ACK!
All that deep thinking is great until we go and go and go too long. I hit those snags. (See 4 Tips to Break the Overthinking Loop.)
To be clear, I love being an introvert. It has its natural strengths, and the more I tap into that, the better I feel. I even appreciate the high sensitivity part now, although it felt like a curse for many years. I used to have chronic shyness, and now I have what feels like a healthy amount of shy moments. They no longer stop me from living my life.
Do you get the difference between introversion vs shyness? Do you get the connection?
Think about how this applies to you. Does shyness + introversion ring a bell for you?
Comments always welcome below, or in the Introvert Clubhouse (free online group).
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