I frequently get asked about the difference between Social Anxiety and shyness.
Shyness is the experience of discomfort or awkwardness in social situations, particularly new social situations. It can be accompanied by reticence to engage in small talk, or to be the first to approach someone new socially. Shyness is a personality trait that at times may accompany social anxiety, but not all people with Social Anxiety are shy. Shyness is not painful and is at times something that a person is proud of, particularly f their culture prizes it. Social anxiety, on the other hand, can be experienced by people who otherwise enjoy being the center of attention, but are not able to due to Social Anxiety.
Social Anxiety feels painful and causes the person to feel, embarrassment, shame, and judgment in social or performance situations. Social Anxiety can also lead to depression because it can cause a person to feel doubtful about their social abilities, and to focus on their insecurities. In contrast, someone who is shy does not necessarily focus on their shyness as a liability or a sign that they are lacking social skills.
If your “shyness” feels painful, you may be struggling with social anxiety. Unlike shyness, which most people experience occasionally, social anxiety starts to interfere with your life. It can lead you to cancel social events, or to avoid social interactions altogether. Shyness does not keep someone from avoiding activities that they like. By contrast, Social Anxiety will keep you from engaging even in activities that you enjoy or find pleasurable.
If you are struggling with Social Anxiety, please know that you are not alone and treatment for Social Anxiety is available. If you are in the Chicago area, please give Dr. Helen Odessky a call at (847) 529-8600 to see if she can help.