I HAVE OFTEN wondered growing up whether I was an introvert or just shy. By definition, an introvert is someone who requires alone time to recharge, whereas a shy individual is one who is excessively preoccupied by how he/she is perceived or evaluated by other people.

It’s easier to spot a shy person at a social event than an introverted one. Shy individuals tend to linger at the edges, feeling awkward and uncomfortable as they approach social situations. You may see a bit lip, posture folded inward or other signs of anxiety and self-protectiveness. Maintaining eye contact can be difficult for a shy person.

Why do people often confuse the two? People who are shy and those who are introverted do have some things in common, which may cause some confusion. Introverts and shy people can both appear to be more private. Introverts enjoy holding thoughts and reflecting on them, whereas shy people may refrain out of fear of embarrassment.

Introversion and shyness can also trigger a withdrawal from social interaction. Both may feel a gravitational pull towards being alone.

But the reasons they may seek out some solitude are different. For the introvert, “the withdrawal is more of a ‘moving toward’ solitude and space for thought. “For the shy person, the withdrawal is more of a ‘moving away’ from anxiety-provoking situations.”

Unlike with shyness, it’s not always obvious that a person is introverted. In fact, there are certain introverts who are “accessible introverts,” who are highly social and have “a social presence that helps people feel comfortable and open up.”

While these types of introverts do enjoy connecting with different people, they have “a harder time” communicating when their batteries start to deplete and then they need to pull back.

People who are shy are sometimes mislabeled as “rude or arrogant” or that they don’t want to talk to people, which  is not the case. They may want to talk but they may not have that comfort level of mixing or mingling.

Can you overcome introversion or shyness? Shyness is much more easily treated because it’s a fear of negative evaluation by somebody else. For people who feel like their social anxiety is negatively affecting their lives, cognitive behavioral therapy can help. Anxiety is often conquerable with proper medications.

But while shyness is something people can work on and overcome (if they want), introversion is another story. That’s because introversion is more of a personality trait, and personality tends to set early and to be resistant to change and to attempts to force it into something it is not.

Introverts are “usually very good at acting extroverted, but they still recharge through solitude and reflection,” while shyness, “especially when it interferes with one’s own desires for connection, can be reduced through exposure to feared situations.”

We are learning the benefits of quieter orientations. Even shyness, which may reflect some healthy cautiousness and modesty, is probably not as big of a problem as we make it. (By Manny Palomar, PhD, EV Mail July 11-17, 2022 Issue)