Somewhere between 25 to 40 percent of the population identify as introverts.
Introverts are more likely than extroverts to report feeling shy in social situations. The American Psychological Association defines shyness as “the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters.”
In unfamiliar situations, even the most extroverted of people can feel shy every once in a while. Yet, although most people experience shyness on occasion, for some, this feeling can interfere with their quality of life. At which point we understand what they are going through is much more than shyness and should be understood as Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
So, what exactly is the difference between shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder?
- Social anxiety disorder involves being unduly fearful of social situations that involve being closely observed and scrutinized.
- Examples include a first date, a job interview, a performance, or extending a greeting and introduction to an unfamiliar person. Of course, all of those situations can induce anxiety in anyone, but in a person with social anxiety disorder, the anxiety is overwhelming.
- Another aspect of social anxiety disorder is the fear that someone will pick up on the anxiety that they are feeling and that they will alienate others because of it –
- which is definitely not the case in normative shyness.
- Social interaction causes significant distress and anxiety on a consistent basis in someone with SAD.
- A person with SAD will either avoid social interaction as much as possible or when not possible, deal with the interaction with much apprehension.
- A person who is simply shy will not go to this extreme to avoid feeling awkward or to escape possible embarrassment.
- The person with SAD experiences strong negative feelings of anxiety surrounding social interaction.
- SAD significantly impairs the life of the sufferer in at least one important area, such as being able to hold a job or have meaningful relationships –
- a definite difference from simply being shy or awkward around people
This pattern of anxiety lasts longer than six months.
The above list of criteria is what doctors and mental health professionals are looking for when determining whether or not a person has Social Anxiety Disorder. While SAD tends to be chronic throughout the course of a person’s life, improvement of these symptoms is possible.
Those with social anxiety disorder can learn to improve their symptoms with cognitive behavior therapy, meditation, graduated exposure therapy, and pharmaceutical medication if desired.
Where does Social Anxiety Come From?
Researchers understand social anxiety as originating from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Difficult early childhood experiences are associated with social anxiety. Emotional abuse especially has a significant impact on the development of social anxiety.
How a person has come to interpret their childhood experiences can become a common theme in how they expect and interpret all experiences in their daily lives.
The good news
The good news is that social anxiety is treateable. It is not a set trait that an individual must live with forever. With guidance and coaching, one can learn to identify beliefs and values which trigger symptoms of social anxiety. One identified beliefs and values can be modified and replaced with healthier beliefs and self-perceptions that can lead to feeling calm and confident while interacting with others.
Social anxiety disorder is very misunderstood and often dismissed as shyness when the truth is, SAD is about much more than the occasional discomfort and awkwardness.