What is the Difference Between Introversion and Social Anxiety?

I’ve always been an introvert, and I’ve recently been proud of it.  I love the part of me that thrives under intimate, deep conversation, that cultivates lasting friendships, that is comfortable being alone.  If the flip side of these benefits is that I am uncomfortable around large groups of people, so be it.

But lately I’ve been realizing that maybe my discomfort is something other than introversion.  Earlier this week Dina said about “D,” one of the girls in our safe house: “She is scared to get her monthly metro card.  She has never done it before, and she is terrified.  She has many problems.”  (Please also understand this is a Greek woman speaking in English, so her thoughts are blunted by translation.)  Even with that caveat, however, all I could think was, “I haven’t gotten my monthly metro card either.  I thought about it on many occasions, but it always scared me and was never SUPER necessary, so I avoided it.  Does that mean I have many problems?”  (Yes, obviously, but I did not this specifically was such a problem.)

Because doesn’t everyone hate doing something new?  Doesn’t everyone get nervous interacting with customer service reps?  Doesn’t everyone avoid stressful things if possible?  Or at least, don’t all introverts?   Continue reading

The Tyranny of “I Should”

A while ago, a friend said to me, “I’d hoped you would participate more in the school activities…eat lunch with us, maybe go to chapel.”

I froze.  My mind whirred with responses, some excuses, some truths:  “The lunches are too expensive.  I forgot.  A lot of the time I’m busy!  Sometimes I’m too socially tired to leave my room because I’m scared I’ll run into someone and have to make small talk!”

Instead, I answered with a more palatable truth.  “I want home to be somewhere where nothing happens.”

My friend stared at me, and I could see their brain desperately trying to understand what I had said.  Finally, still with a confused look on their face, they said, “Okay.”

I agonized about this interaction for DAYS.   Continue reading

My Life as a Nerd

My Google Drive is full of drabbles, short pieces I’ve written and quickly abandoned before they got anywhere significant.  This one was called “My Life as a Nerd,” and I totally forgot I wrote it last summer.  I will never finish it, and I wanted someone to see it, so Here, Blog!  Enjoy.

I’ve spent my whole life being a nerd because I learned, from the very youngest of ages, that fantasy is better than reality.  It’s not like I had an oppressed, horrible life.  I grew up in a firmly middle-class family: not rich enough to fly somewhere for vacation, but rich enough to afford the newest technological gadget that interested my dad (a case could be made for inherited nerdiness).

The thing is, I was an introverted, extremely shy kid.  Life was hard for me, even when “life” just meant standing in front of the preschool to show off a possession for Show & Tell.  I would agonize about what to bring, worrying about what each possibility would make people think of me.  My stuffed animals seemed to baby-ish, I would probably lose my Polly Pocket, and people would laugh if I told them my Scar action figure was my favorite character in The Lion King.  I couldn’t handle a 30-second presentation designed to create opportunities for tiny children to make friends.

In addition to being terrified of people, I have also always been desperate to impress them.  Reading was a great way to do both.  I could sequester myself in my room for hours at a time, and when I finally emerged to socialize with human beings, nearby adults would always coo and say things like, “Wow, you read more than me!  You’re so smart!”  To prove them right, I would pick up a new book and head back into hiding.   Continue reading

How to Stress Like an Introvert

The past couple weeks have been super stressful.  This is almost entirely centered around two things:  1)  putting a lot of pressure on myself to get all my fundraising done NOW, and 2) wanting to be involved in everything all the time.  This amounts to a lot of complaining about things that I legitimately enjoy doing.  Plan a party for a retiring minister.  Yes!  Plan a massive yard sale that keeps growing with thoughtful donations?  Of course!  Work on designing and adding content to the church website?  Ooo, cool!  Five more concerned friends offering fundraising ideas?  Great.

But all of this together?  The fun starts feeling like pressure.  And as an introvert who shuts down in the face of stress rather than acts out, things usually look like this:  Continue reading

Introverts Dealing with Internet Hate

I recently had a conversation with a professor about being an introvert on the Internet.  It has been my experience, observing both myself and others, that introverts can be just as silly, crazy, and excitable as extroverts.  The main difference is the comfort level that is required for this zany side to come out.  Extroverts who gain energy from being around people can get crazy fast.  Introverts, whose energy is drained by being around people, need to feel comfortable and safe before showing anyone their interior world.

The Internet changed all of this.  Suddenly introverts could share their thoughts, jokes, and silliness from the comfort of their bedroom.  They got the intimacy of conversation without the fear attached to actually being around new people.  Of course, this is largely a facade, but it is a really great one.  It’s the reason I have blogged almost every day for ten years.  Unfortunately, the Internet is not actually a safe place.  Continue reading