The concept of introverts and extroverts dates back nearly 100 years, when psychology giant Carl Jung posited that all people can be divided into two categories: those who direct their energies inwardly, and those who direct it outwardly (per Positive Psychology). Unlike the social butterflies in your circle, who are clearly extroverts, if you self-identify as an introvert, you may prefer time alone, and if given the choice between a dental cleaning and a social invitation… well, it would be a tough call. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to withdraw to your lair with some Netflix to binge and your phone on “do not disturb” mode, some experts say that the actual “introvert” label isn’t doing you any favors.
That’s because when you call yourself an introvert, you give yourself a pass at avoiding social interactions — which isn’t always a good thing, communication expert Celeste Headlee told MindBodyGreen. “Texting back and forth is no replacement for embodied communication,” she pointed out. “It becomes a vicious cycle,” she said. Sophia Dembling, who writes the column “Introvert’s Corner” for Psychology Today, agreed. “Staying home alone is the easiest default for most of us, but too much of that is simply not good for us,” she wrote. But what if you really, really hate socializing? If that’s the case, your issue might not even be introversion.
Being an introvert isn't the same thing as social anxiety
If the idea of interacting with people makes your stomach drop, it might not have anything to do with being an introvert vs. an extrovert. Instead, you might have social anxiety, according to Victor Schwartz, the chief medical officer of the Jed Foundation. “Introversion is a character style. The person may not like or may take time to warm up in social settings and might experience some manageable anxiety in social settings,” he told HuffPost. “The person with social anxiety has more severe and acute anxiety when faced with or even thinking about social situations, and this will very likely cause functional limits.” While being introverted is a personality trait — a.k.a. something that you were born with — social anxiety is something you likely learned as a child, due to a negative experience in which you were criticized by peers, according to The Scientific American.
So think about why that couch is looking so much more appealing to you than happy hour. If you just feel like being alone, perhaps you should suck it up and go out. But if you’re paralyzed by fear, working through your anxiety in therapy is worth looking into. “There’s a line between victimhood and doing something about it,” commented psychotherapist Perpetua Neo.
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