In between blabbing about writing, I’ve written about introversion and social anxiety because they’re a huge part of my life outside of writing. Somehow, even when I’m not really thinking about it, they factor into almost all of my decisions and the way I spend my time. And for the most part, I’m okay with that.
But I’ve been trying to figure out where to draw the line between my natural introverted tendencies and my struggles with social anxiety—mostly to help explain my choices to other people. And to know if my choices are my own, or based in fear.
It’s hard to tell the difference between not wanting to do something because you’re introverted (and thus it’s a natural and perfectly acceptable part of who you are and probably wouldn’t ever change), and not wanting to do something because of social anxiety (which can still be okay to listen to, but ultimately it is something you could address if you wanted to try).
I think what it comes down to is fear—and what it would take to do it anyway.
When something comes up, whether it’s a telephone ringing or an invitation to go out, you might feel a sense of unease, dread, and a desire to avoid. Some of this could definitely be just who you are and what you like; the way people feel about going to the dentist, or going to the opera, or eating spicy foods—sometimes people just don’t like doing something.
But could you do it anyway? We all know going to the dentist can be awful, but we do it anyway because it’s important for our health. There are people out there who cannot go without horrible panic, and I would guess that those people have anxiety about that experience. The level of that anxiety, or just how much it would take to get there (medication? Therapy?), depends on the person as well as the reasons why they have to go at all.
So, for me, I know that my anxiety is acting up when I’m having a disproportionate response to something (generally in anticipation of it), or when it would take a lot of energy for me to do it anyway. When my thoughts spin and fixate on something, it takes me a lot more energy to face it, because I know I will spend a great deal of the time leading up to it fighting off those thoughts and fears. When I just would rather not do something, but could do it if I had to, then it’s probably introversion.
What’s important for me to work through as I move forward in my life is when my introversion or my social anxiety is holding me back from something I need. If it’s my introversion, then I just need to do it anyway. If it’s anxiety, then I probably need help working through it. And I’ll always be dealing with the question of what I truly need—because I might not need things that other people do. But the trick is to make sure that isn’t just the anxiety talking.
That’s something I have to do on my own. But that doesn’t mean I’m alone.
I have been struggling with this recently because I have always been someone who likes solitude but I have also been having panic attacks for over half my life, so the lines do get blurred.
Last year I couldn’t leave the house and now I can push myself to most things, working through the months of anxiety (seriously, I hate wedding season) or the panic I get when I am there if it feels necessary in terms of my own values. For a while I would push myself for the sake of other people and the company they needed, or because they thought I was “isolating”, and then have to deal with the stress that would bring and the resentment I felt for being “made” to do something that I didn’t need or care to do.
There are lots of areas I still struggle with but for the most part I know I can put myself into a majority of situations, it’s just that I don’t want to.
Short version – I can relate.
Thank you so much for sharing! It sounds like you’ve worked through a lot and learned how to deal with it your own way, which is so awesome. 🙂 I know someone who suffers from more extreme anxiety, so I can appreciate just how difficult that can be.
Knowing yourself, what you want, and what you can handle is the most important thing, because I think life is too short to worry so much about other people. Somehow, though, I’ve found they still want to worry about you (I’ve gotten the “isolating” thing, too; I just generally prefer books to people, what’s wrong with that?). 🙂 And lately, I’ve been better able to express that I don’t want to do something because of who I am, not because of anxiety.
Thanks for your comment!!
This post really resonates. I’m just starting to realize there’s a difference between the two. I always thought I liked alone time because it was the only relief from the fear of socializing (because everyone is supposed to crave socializing all the time). Really I ended up feeling guilty all the time for wanting to be alone and then spent a lot of my alone time feeling bad that I’d given in to fear. Now I’m trying to force myself to be in social situations that push the boundaries of my comfort zone but also allowing myself plenty of alone time for my mental health. Still very hard to not feel guilty for turning down plans or spending a few days alone.
I feel the same way. The guilt is almost as bad as the anxiety (though to be fair, I don’t suffer anxiety nearly as bad as others, so I shouldn’t assume I understand that experience). I just try to look at what I really want (or need), what’s truly important to the people around me (such as whether or not they’ll even notice if I’m not there), and whether or not the experience is worth the anxiety. One “trick” I’ve personally found is when I turn down an invitation to something I really don’t want to do, I see if I can offer my own invitation to the person for something I would want to do, so at least they know it’s not them (or for example, I hate phone calls but don’t mind e-mails, so I try to redirect them there).
But I do think society is rather unfairly obsessed with socialization–I just started reading this book Quiet by Susan Cain that’s all about introversion in this extroverted society. More and more, introverts are working to claim their own space for their own sanity, and hopefully that will continue to get more press so some of that omnipresent guilt associated with solitude will go away.
Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂
Yes I agree the guilt is terrible! I do the same thing when canceling plans, I almost never follow through if it involves a group. I also don’t have it nearly as bad as other people (like I sometimes pass as having neither of those qualities) but it’s always there. That is a really good trick! I have read Quiet and it was very empowering. It has made me feel like neither of these qualities are inherently bad, it’s just that there’s not much space for us to just be us without feeling ashamed or making a massive effort to pretend we don’t have those qualities. That is so much extra anxiety to deal with!
Neither introversion nor extroversion is a bad thing–I think my biggest struggle is to make people understand that introversion isn’t something that needs to be changed or medicated; it’s natural (and not something that I need to “loosen up” out of). And that’s where society recognizing that wanting solitude is not mental illness would really help.
I also really loved the book The Introvert’s Way by Sophia Dembling. A shorter book with a more anecdotal style than Quiet’s more scientific basis, but great for feeling like it’s okay to be who you are and be happy.
Thanks for commenting!
Thank you for sharing this, I found it useful as I have trouble knowing when it’s introversion or social anxiety affecting my choices 🙂
I definitely still struggle with this all the time!
Thanks for your comment! 🙂