Are They Shy, or Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

… It could be both.

I never used to know about social anxiety. All I knew was “shyness.” It took me a long time to learn that they aren’t synonyms, even though they are similar.

Shyness and social anxiety can be confusing from the inside, so I can imagine they must be even more puzzling and vague for friends and loved ones.

My “in a nutshell” explanation of the difference between the two would be this:

I am a shy person who also has social anxiety.

One is something I am. The other isn’t.

This is the simplest way I can think to express how the difference feels from the inside.

You can have shy people with social anxiety. And shy people without social anxiety. And even people with social anxiety who aren’t shy at all.

Shyness is not a disorder, and social anxiety is not a personality trait.

The reason it’s confusing is that it’s not an either/or situation. Shyness lies on a spectrum, and so does social anxiety, and there are areas that overlap between the two.

Then why does the distinction matter?

Because it’s liberating.

It was so freeing when I finally understood that shyness is part of my personality, but that social anxiety is a disorder.

It reassured me to know that I can work on my anxiety issues, and hopefully resolve them in time, without needing to change who I am as a person.

I’m not sure if any of this is reassuring to someone from the outside looking in. Just know that if you are puzzled by a loved one who may be shy or diagnosably socially anxious or both, you’re not alone, because chances are that person is very confused about it all too.

Understanding all this helped me finally be okay with my shy nature, which in turn freed me to focus on easing the symptoms of social anxiety, which is helping my relationships with others.

I still have moments where I wonder, “Am I even shy at all, or is it ALL social anxiety?” Mostly, though, I’m actually kind of proud to be shy.

But it took a long time to get here.

I hope your shy person finds their way here, too. 🙂

(Maybe you could leave a trail of chocolate along the path.)