Introversion vs. Social Anxiety

Charles Kiser —  May 13, 2016 — 12 Comments

I wonder if introversion is sometimes confused with social anxiety.

I’ve heard people describe their introversion as shyness or difficulty being around people or reluctance to make new relationships. 

But to describe it in that way is to misunderstand introversion. Introversion isn’t about social comfort as much as where people get their energy – how we recharge our batteries. Introverts recharge by being alone. Extroverts recharge by being with people. “Ambiverts” recharge by being alone or being with people. 

I believe that when such people are trying to describe their introversion they are actually describing their social anxiety – fear of being around people; fear of being rejected; fear of being humiliated. The former is part of their temperament; the latter is part of their heart and mind. 

Both introverts and extroverts have social anxiety (believe it or not). The danger for introverts is that they dress up social anxiety as introversion thereby opting out of social openness, gracious hospitality, and kingdom witness with their neighbors. The casualty is not only missing out on the mission but also the formation of God driving fear out of our hearts with God’s perfect love. 

The truth is that I know some +10 introverts who are some of the most fruitful evangelists, church planters, and public speakers on the planet. Their introversion is an asset rather than a hindrance for their work. 

Cards on the table: I’m an ambivert. I consistently test in the middle of the introversion – extroversion scale on Meyers-Briggs. I usually lean a bit to the extroversion side. This might surprise those who know me – that I’m not more extroverted. My wife is actually more extroverted than I am, and she is less “up front” and “in the center” than I tend to be. 

All that to say, I don’t have an agenda to shame introverts. I have too much introversion within me to do so! And I realize that it’s an extroverts’ world – lots of introverts are pressured to act like extroverts. I’m not suggesting that. 

I’m simply wondering if we would be more available to joining God in God’s work in this world if we – both introverts and extroverts – paid attention to the social anxiety that inhibits us in relationships. I think we would be. 

How do my musings compare with your experience of temperament and social anxiety? 

Charles Kiser

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Dallas, TX. Church Planter with Storyline Christian Community. Equipper and Coach with Mission Alive.

12 responses to Introversion vs. Social Anxiety

  1. 
    Diane Reynolds May 13, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Great distinction Charles. I am an introvert – all the way. But I’m not anxious about being in new social situations, they just drain me. One way I can tell I’m an introvert is that social time with friends is almost as draining to me as social time with strangers.

  2. 

    Charles you make some fine points here that are worthy of careful consideration.

    Like you I tend to test in the middle.

    My experience is that I treasure my solitude. When I am at the library alone and on WIFI then I can control my stimulus and I can respond in my own sweet time. When in person conversations do not allow for time for reflections that writing a blog post does. I cannot go back and edit word choices that were already said but I can tweak the text.

    Most people in person are not nearly as fascinating as the best videos on Netflix, You Tube and Hulu.

    I have backlog of podcasts about theology, online business and story telling that engage me far more than all the small talk I have ever done.

    My medium range plans call for my creating an online community to spark lively discussions about topics related tough questions about apologetics, theology and philosophy. This will become like an Inklings gathering in cyberspace.

    The bottom line for me is that there are huge and complex issues in this world that are related to the chronic problems of humans. (loneliness, bitterness, resentments, fears, lusts, greed, shame, guilt, worry, etc.)

    Sweet and gentle souls are suffering in much pain and hardship. At the end of the day the Lord Jesus Christ has the solution as revealed in the Bible. The theology needs to be understood then the practical applications need to pass from the head to the heart and hands. That will impact individuals, families and communities.

    Chattering about the weather, sports and celebrities never transformed a life.

    There are moments I want to just leave civilization and become a hermit. Give up totally on all social contacts.

    There are other moments I dream to live in a monastery where we take spiritual disciplines very seriously while living a super simple live and including focused service to the community.

    • 

      Charles your comment about recharging your batteries reminds me of a few things.

      Many podcasters are beating the drum about the value of getting unplugged from their phone. This can be just in the evenings or for a hour during the day. Then come the reports of increased peace and productivity.

      There are those that say that most men need times of solitude and there are lots of pix of man caves online.

      Note that solitude and going on long walks was very normal before automobiles dominated the scene. Over these 40 years of following Jesus Christ by faith I have found going on walks to recharge my batteries on various levels. There are lots of trails for walking and biking to both get physical exercise as well as pray.

      When I observe the mothers in our community I remain amazed that they have maintained their sanity with the constant demands of small children.

      Long ago I made this blog with links to options for solitude http://solitudehub.blogspot.com/ It is mostly parks all over DFW. My audience was the seminary students that were maxed out with demands on their time yet needed to also have a rich spiritual life.

      Note the policy at Pine Cove.

      Pine Cove
      http://www.pinecove.com
      Tyler and Columbus Texas
      Maps http://www.pinecove.com/aboutus/maps.php
      Pine Cove offers FREE lodging Monday noon to Thursday noon for those in full time ministry or seminary students. Meals are not included. You must make reservations. This may work well for those who need to get away to seek God and intercede for a while. This could work for individuals and married couples.
      800-225-9069

  3. 

    I guess I’m an ambivert, since I’m in the middle of the Meyers Briggs, just slightly introverted. There are times I refuel by being around others and times I need to be alone.

    Totally agree that in some ways introversion can be confused with social anxiety. I say confused because personality tests do include questions about introducing yourself, initiating conversations, etc. Those things correlate with introversion vs extroversion, at least in some definitions.

    Whether we are introverted or extroverted, God calls us to go outside our circle and invest deeply in others. For introverts the challenge is “outside the circle”. For many extroverts I’ve known, the challenge is “invest deeply”. It is very easy to flit from one person to another when you thrive on interaction. I find that I feel God’s presence and power most when I push myself a little beyond where I’m comfortable and simultaneously lean into my strength as an introvert, a person who wants to connect deeply. It’s also helpful to be in community, where you can work as a team. Extroverts make introductions, introverts follow behind, and we inspire and encourage each other to push beyond our labels.

  4. 

    I agree. As an ENFP (Meyers-Briggs) I tend to be just a little more extrovert than introvert–perhaps not quite an ambivert. However, introversion and extroversion are more about how you “charge your batteries”. As you well know, Alyssa is an introvert but a very outgoing introvert. But after a while she needs her alone time.

    There is a huge difference between introversion and shyness.

  5. 

    I’ll comment as a +10 introvert who has been an evangelist (I’m going to avoid the question of how you define fruitfulness here!) and who undoubtedly has heart and mind issues that need transformation.

    When I was taught about personality in a ministry training context, I learned to think of types (especially MBTI) as default preferences that have little to do with one’s ability to function in another way. I also learned to think of my extreme task orientation (in the DiSC) not over against a relational orientation but as a different approach to relational ministry: I have to make authentic relationships my task. Whether or not I decided to engage relationally does not have to do with ability—profound introversion and task orientation are not an excuse—but with motivation (will, heart). As I have used my extroversion and relational muscles, they have grown stronger. The choice to use them, even starting at a disadvantage because my predisposition resulted in poor social skill development, was only ever about my willingness to have my battery drained, as you put it. The question is not Can I? but Will I? So, in my experience, my extremely extroverted wife has had an evangelistic advantage for two reasons. She relates to people more naturally because her disposition has resulted in a lifetime of honing social skills and gaining EQ in I way I did not until intentionally trying to do so (as a task!) later in life. And in every interaction she gets to charge her battery, whereas in every interaction, I am being drained. It is a matter of immaturity if I let that show, but even assuming I’m super mature (which I’m not), I consider it a liability that socializing does exhaust me emotionally. I should add that I could list some advantages of being an introvert, but my point is simply that, while I think we should take the evangelistic strengths of being an extrovert for what they are, they are not an excuse for introverts to disengage. And in fact, since I’m speaking from experience, I find mission often to be a call to participate with God in ways that put my weaknesses and vulnerability right at the center of what is unfolding.

  6. 

    Quiet is a powerful book that empowers introverts to accept themselves. If this topic interests you, you should certainly read it!
    This one looks good too. It is on my to-read list.

    http://www.amazon.com/Introverts-Church-Finding-Extroverted-Culture/dp/0830837027

  7. 

    Thanks for the post and all the comments. I’ll be reading both books referenced above. It is helpful to distinguish between introversion and social awkwardness.

    As an introvert who is socially awkward, I struggle with my identify. Here’s what goes through my mind:
    * At times I feel like I’m not being a “good Christian” if I don’t want to talk to people.
    * Corporate church on Sunday mornings is sometimes weird to me. I don’t know what to say to the same 100 people I don’t really know but see all the time. I don’t need more acquaintances and I don’t like networking. I crave deep relationships but can’t get past the superficial.
    * We praise the work of extroverts. We choose socially comfortable people as our leaders. By their nature, these groups receive a disproportionate amount of attention.
    * As in all forms of diversity, we need to make extra effort to seek out and include the gifts of introverts. It is too easy to fall into the trap of being led by the most vocal (extroverted) people.
    * Being an introvert cannot be indulged to the the extreme of isolation. It is sometimes a struggle for me to make connections when it is far easier for me to withdraw into a zone of silence.
    * I struggle with being a contrarian in large groups. In a long group discussion, it comes across harsh when the only comment I have throughout the whole conversation is contrary to the group think. Sometimes I have a lot of thought in the comment and all the passion comes out in one burst. I could definitely phrase it softer, but sometimes the passion overcomes me. When the comment goes over like a led brick, I retreat into my shell and don’t come out again for a long time.

    Here’s how I balance this (so far):
    * I strategically rest in order to have energy to be social.
    * When people come into my house, I stop whatever I’m doing and be with them. Yes, this sounds obvious, but when I’m in my “cave” it takes effort for me to come out.
    * I check up on at least one of my 4 or 5 “peeps” at Sunday corporate church. Everyone else I just nod at.
    * I listen for people of peace that I might connect with, then I corner them for private moments. Sometimes this is too much for the person I’m talking to, so I have to dial it back a notch.
    * I avoid large groups where I just wither into a wall flower.

    I’m curious how others handle this …

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