For the quiet types among us, “introversion” and “social anxiety” frequently get used interchangeably. Or, just as often, social anxiety is mistakenly thought of as an extreme form of introversion. But while you can definitely be a socially anxious introvert, you can also be socially anxious extrovert—for example, you may really want to go to the bar with your co-workers but worry they actually don’t want you there. Or you may crave company but obsess about the possibility you’ll say something stupid.
But the two terms are actually quite different. Far from being a psychological tomato-tomahto, the two are more like apple and orange—here are five big differences.
Difference #1: You were born an introvert; you were made socially anxious. Introversion is a trait, meaning it’s part of your inborn personality. But with social anxiety, while you may carry a predisposition toward it, you didn’t come out of the womb with it. Likely, a lot of learning went into its development. For example, maybe some early social rejection taught you that peers are mean and critical. Maybe your parents taught you never to ask for help because people will judge you. Maybe being the center of attention as a kid made you so uncomfortable you’ve avoided it ever since, and never had the opportunity to learn you could handle it just fine. The good news is that you can unlearn, or re-learn, those early lessons about people being judgy, disapproving, or critical.