10 Confessions of a Socially Anxious Introvert

For introverts like me, learning about your personality is often a huge relief. We read books like Susan Cain’s Quiet, Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage, or Laurie Helgoe’s Introvert Power and we marvel that there are other people like us. We’re not alone anymore. All our weirdness finally makes sense.

Except, introversion didn’t explain everything about my personality. Those writing about introversion were careful to point out that it isn’t the same thing as shyness. I was shy, though, so how did I fit in? Learning from Elaine Aron’s books that I’m a highly sensitive person helped explain why certain environments and situations feel overwhelming, but it didn’t explain the racing heart, sweaty palms, and anxious thoughts that followed me into interactions with people.

I had my first panic attack in a Blockbuster when I was about 14 or 15 years old. That was when I realized there was something going on other than just shyness. Another 15 years later and I now know that I struggle with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression. I won’t get into all that here but if you’re curious you can click to read “My Anxiety Story.”

One of the good things that has come out of all this is that I can write about introversion, social anxiety, and what it means to have both. I can’t speak for everyone, though. Our personalities and anxieties are highly individual and if you’re socially anxious it’s going to be a different experience for you than it is for me. There are commonalities, however, and I think there’s a good chance you’ll identify with some of my confessions as a socially anxious introvert. Read more

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Personality Type Myth-Busting: Are All Introverts Quiet?

I think most people would tell you that one of the defining traits of introverts is that they are quiet. It’s even the name of one of the most popular introvert books — Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This also happens to be the book that first got me started on studying and embracing introversion, and it’s still one of my favorite books.

But in the midst of this “quiet revolution” that’s pushing for greater acceptance of introversion, we might get the idea that all introverts are characterized by being soft-spoken people who rarely talk. However, that’s not entirely accurate and that’s not what really what Susan Cain meant when she named her book Quiet.

Confusing Introversion and Shyness

One of the most common mistakes regarding introversion is to assume it’s the same thing as shyness. But introversion is simply a description of how about 50% of the population’s brains are “hardwired.” It’s a preference for the inner world and a need to recharge in solitude. Shyness, on the other hand, is related to social anxiety. Read more

Could Unselfishness Be The First Step To Overcoming Shyness?

Once again, I failed to introduce myself to someone. I’m 27 years old — by now I should have mastered the incredibly complicated art of walking up to someone visiting my own church group and simply saying, “Hi, I’m Marissa. Welcome. What’s your name?”

It would probably come out more as a squeaky “Hi” followed by awkward silence as I frantically tried to come up with words resembling normal small talk.

*sigh* So much for INFJs being “the most extroverted introvert.” Perhaps some INFJs are, but I’m not. I’m shy. I thought it was getting better, but apparently I still need more work battling my social anxiety.

click to read article, "Could Unselfishness Be The First Step To Overcoming Shyness?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Viene and friends” by Barry Pousman, CC BY via Flickr

Introversion is healthy for introverts. Shyness … not so much

Despite Google’s antiquated definition of introvert as “a shy, reticent person,” shyness and introversion are far from the same thing. “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments” (quote from “Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does It Matter)?” by Susan Cain). Shyness produces anxiety in social situations, while introversion means you lose energy when around other people. The traits often go together, but extroverts can also be shy.

Introverts who aren’t shy still prefer the inner world of thoughts and ideas to the outer world of people and things, but they’re capable of socializing and even enjoy it. Extroverts who are shy want to spend their time in the outer world, but they’re scared of people.

One of the most genuinely friendly extroverted women I know was once shy. For her, the turning point from shy to social was when she realized her fear of talking was rooted in self-focus. It was about “I’m scared to talk with people,” or “Socializing makes me nervous,” or “What if they don’t like me?” Read more

Walking by Faith (and next e-book announcement)

I just got back yesterday from an incredible  service-themed Young Adult weekend. It didn’t start out all that well for me, though. The day before I left I started feeling nervous (which is normal for me going into social events) but then by the time I left on Friday I had a shaking-crying-hyperventilating panic attack (which is becoming less and less normal/frequent for me).

I was really caught off-guard by this. I knew several people there — not just as acquaintances, but as friends — and I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks. I chalked it up to my too-active imagination combined with uncertainty about Friday evening’s schedule, breathed deep, prayed, turned Fallout Boy up, and started driving …

… and hit heavy traffic and rain (my two least favorite things to drive in). That left me running 20 late to met the people I was supposed to be car pooling with to the house I didn’t have an address for. Thankfully, one of the people I was meeting is also one of only 2 out of 100+ people at the weekend with my phone number, and he texted me the address. I proceeded to enter said address in my GPS and it took me to a house with no cars in the driveway.

It is either a testament to my stupidity or my faith that I walked up and rang the doorbell. Turns out, my friend accidentally sent me to another church member’s home (whose name I recognized, though I’d never met them) and they fed me cheese, gave me the correct address, and sent me on my way. Oddly, that’s when I felt a sense of peace for the first time all day. I was late, I was temporarily lost and yet God showed me that these worries coming true weren’t anything He couldn’t handle.

Walking by Faith | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: Dan4th Nicholas, CC BY via Flickr

Saturday brought a great round of seminars and an excellent sermon on foot washing and Passover. Nothing to worry about, until game night happened. I’m sure I’m in the minority judging by how many people said they had a wonderful time, but any sort of game that involves doing something in front of other people or in a group or on a team makes me intensely uncomfortable, especially if you add competition. The first two games were mixers where you asked someone a question and their name. I literally remember nothing from meeting people this way (does it even count as a “meeting” then?). Next was that game where you tie a balloon to your ankle and try to keep it from getting popped while popping everyone else’s balloon. I could have kissed whoever it was that popped my balloon the moment the game started.

That’s the last game I “played” (I stepped on my own balloon when they started round two) and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my evening talking with two other people who saw no appeal in participating. Give me a deep conversation with someone over competitive and/or rambunctious games any day. Now that’s how to meet new people. (Side-track back to the topic of social anxiety: game night continued throughout my conversations and there was a Bag of Doom from which they were drawing names to participate in a novelty challenge which you had to do while standing in the center of a room surrounded by 80-something people watching you. Can anyone say “introvert’s worst nightmare”?)

I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this weekend was that my fears were either 1) groundless or 2) didn’t have the power to hold me back. The fact that I had a panic attack before leaving turned into a blessing because it gave me the choice between either canceling my plans or praying through it and trusting God. I chose the later, and I kept encountering situations that could make me feel nervous and which reminded me to stay in prayer all weekend. Every single one of the things I was worried about worked out for the best, and the only part of that I can take credit for is that I took the step to go to the weekend and start a few conversations. The rest was all God.

This brings us in a very round-about way back to the topic of the weekend — service. Specifically, “Unlocking Your Desire To Serve.” As many of you know, I consider this blog a sort of ministry and it’s been growing in ways that amaze me and make me want to do more. One of the big things that holds me back is my own fears, including my fear of panicking when it’s important that I talk with people about my faith. So for me, blending this weekend’s focus on service with a need to rely on God for help working through my anxiety was a powerful experience.

  • If you gave up reading that long rambling post and started scrolling, here’s the e-book announcement:

Something I haven’t shared with many people is that in my local Messianic congregation I’ve been receiving words, prayers, and hints from brethren for the last several months along the lines of “God’s going to do something big in/with your life soon.” I even finally have a hint as to what that might involve after I came back from services a few weeks ago with a title for an e-book in my head which I promptly sat down and outlined. I’ve barely worked on it since, but this weekend was exactly what I needed to reconfirm that God wants me to be sharing my gifts through writing and that He’s more than capable of overcoming deficiencies on my part.

My first step is officially announcing the project here on this blog. The working title is “Rise Up, My Love” and the focus will be on reigniting the church’s passion for God (so, basically this blog in book form). I’m not committing to a release-date quite yet (it would be lovely to have it out by Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this fall, but I think a full year might be more realistic judging by how long it took to write The INFJ Handbook). I’ll keep you posted on details.

 

Dancing the Night Away

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me and my sister

This post will be a bit random. I’m writing on Sunday, after a few hours sleep following a dance we got back from just before 3:00 in the morning. And that was after staying up past midnight the evening before talking about Myers-Briggs with someone who just learned he’s an INFJ. Dancing and typology being two of my favorite things, I’m happy. Add the fact that many of my good friends were at the dance, and I’m delighted.

On the topic to typing people, sometimes people online ask me, “How do you find out the personality types of so many people?” It’s really not all that difficult to bring up in conversation. When people ask what are your hobbies/interests or how you spend your time, I often bring up this blog and/or mention psychology. Then I just ask people if they’re taken a Myers-Briggs test. People love to talk about themselves, so it’s not usually all that hard from there. If they’re a good enough friend and haven’t taken the test yet, just point them to Personality Hacker. If you’re really ambitious, guess their personality once they have the result but before they tell you (the reaction is great if you’re right).

Taking this in a different direction, I think I’ve hit a personal growth milestone. My shyness/social anxiety really only showed up once last night. Once! And a week ago I raised my hand and said something in church (this is accepted/encouraged at my Messianic congregation, but I haven’t done anything like that in the 3 years since I graduated college and there wasn’t mandatory class participation). I think I’m actually starting to conquer a fear that’s been a part of me for so long. For INFJs, this sort of personal growth usually involves tapping into your secondary function, Extroverted Feeling, and I feel like I’m doing that with more consistency and confidence. The dance was a a great place to realize this, since it’s a setting which could have made me intensely uncomfortable a few years ago.

What about you? have you attended any events or had any experiences lately that highlighted some area where you’ve grown as a person?

Shy Introverts

Last week, when I wrote about reasons to homeschool introverts, I touched on the difference between “shy” and “introverted.” I said that shyness and introversion are often confused, but introversion is an inherited preference for how you recharge (alone, rather than with other people), while shyness is a fear response. We talked about how introverted children can become shy and insecure if they are told there’s something wrong with their preference for introversion, which reinforces a low self-confidence and increases feelings of shyness.

But looking at shyness this way doesn’t give a complete picture. It still assumes shyness is “bad,” while in reality the more mild forms of shyness might simply be traits of an introverted temperament. Also, for those of us who are both shy and introverted, being told that shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing is not very helpful. I agree with people who argue that introversion needs to be understood rather than overcome — introverts shouldn’t feet guilty for not being extroverts. But I’ve read articles that set out to prove introverts should be accepted just the way they are, and then turn around and start criticizing shy people for their fears and anxiety in social situations. It’s not very encouraging to be told that your introversion is okay, but you need to “get over” your shyness.

Is Shy Really So Bad?

While researching for this post, I cam across “A Quiet Rant About Introversion and Shyness” by Barbara Markway. Like this writer, I’m both an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP).  We’re also both shy, though not as “painfully shy” as we once were. Like her , I worry that we risk hurting shy introverts when we focus the conversation about shyness and introversion on the idea that introverts are not shy. Because some of us actually are.

Shyness is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just viewed as bad in current American culture. Other cultures see shyness as a sign of modesty, and treat it as a virtue (Asian cultures are typically used as an example). So for those of us who are shy, quiet, and introverted, know that there’s not necessarily something “wrong” with you. Extreme shyness becomes a problem when your fear gets in the way of you choosing to move forward with things you want to do, but a little shyness  can be a positive trait depending on how you look at it.

“the shy and the introverted, for all their differences, have in common something profound. Neither type is perceived by society as alpha, and this gives both types the vision to see how alpha status is overrated, and how our reverence for it blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise.” — Susan Cain

Shyness vs. Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is where “shyness” becomes problematic. Both shyness and social anxiety disorder are motivated by a fear of social situations, but social anxiety is more of a phobia-level fear. It’s often accompanied by a physical response (nausea, sweating, heart racing), and a person with social anxiety disorder might not appear shy all the time. It’s much more complex than simply an exaggerated form of shyness, as illustrated in the essay “Social anxiety is not the same as excessive shyness” by Chris Alaimo. I recommend clicking over there and reading what he wrote if you’re interested in this topic.

“Many people are a little bit shy. If you’re shy, you might be somewhat uncomfortable in situations such as going to a party where you don’t know anyone, but you do it. You give yourself a push, you go to the party, after a while you relax and talk to people. The social phobic person, at the prospect of the same party, would be overwhelmed by such anxiety that [he or she] would have a physical reaction — perhaps nausea, sweating, heart racing, dizziness — and would avoid it if at all possible. It’s a matter of degree.” Rudolf Hoehn-Saric, MD, head of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (as quoted on WebMD).

I actually didn’t know about this distinction until someone asked what the difference was and I did some research. Now, I’m not sure anymore whether I qualify as shy or socially anxious. Using the above example, I do experience the the heart-racing, nausea, and panic-attack reaction to going to an event, but I usually go anyway (often because a family member pushes me out of the house. Literally, sometimes). So do I have mild social anxiety, or extreme occasional shyness? I suppose it doesn’t really matter, since WebMD says the typical treatment is anti-depressants and I’m not going to do that for something that’s not having a more drastic impact on my life.

I think it’s something worth thinking about, though, for people who are very shy. One of the reasons I like type psychology is because when you know yourself, you are better able to plan for and cope with your weaknesses, as well as utilize your strengths. Along the same lines, wven if you don’t plan on seeking medical help for shyness or social anxiety, knowing there’s a name for what you’re dealing with can help make it seem more manageable, and it helps you track down information like Must-Have Coping Strategies for Social Anxiety.