Being shy and being introverted are often clubbed together.
But the truth is the two do not go hand in hand.
In fact, being shy is not the same as being introverted — even though they can sometimes look similar from the outside.
Am I shy or just introverted?
This article explores how to definitively tell the difference.
Can you be introverted but not shy?
Nobody would consider me shy, but I am most certainly introverted.
Because introversion is essentially about whether you focus more on internal feelings than external sources of stimulation.
The concept of introverts and extroverts was first used by psychologist Carl Jung in the early 1900s.
It all boils down to whether a person’s energy is focused on either the inner or outer world.
So it’s understandable why people can confuse being shy and being introverted. Because shy people also tend to be very inward-focused.
The difference is that this stems from anxiety and insecurity. Whereas an introvert simply functions better this way.
Shyness is a mild form of social anxiety and involves a fear of being judged negatively by others.
Introversion is about getting overstimulated around other people and needing time alone to recover.
Signs you’re not shy, you’re just introverted
1. You like being alone
The ‘like’ part of this sentence is very important.
Shy people may not want to be alone. They might simply feel too insecure or anxious to put themselves out there.
Introverts on the other hand relish this time.
It gives them a chance to recharge and to process and consider their own thoughts.
Whilst the idea of this may unnerve an extrovert, an introvert genuinely enjoys it.
They do not automatically feel lonely when they are alone.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t also value relationships and connection, they do.
It’s just that hanging out on your own also sounds like a good time for an introvert.
2. You prefer to hang out in smaller groups
Ok, so you like your alone time.
But it’s not that you don’t enjoy company too.
But when you spend time with people you would rather it be in smaller and more intimate groups.
That way it’s easier to give people your full attention and dig a little deeper in conversation.
The thought of bigger groups can feel more overwhelming.
It’s noisier for starters, which can lead to some sensory overload (more on that later).
Introverts are not anti-social, despite what some people think.
It’s more that they are selective in how they prefer to socialize.
It’s not that they feel particularly nervous hanging out with others, it’s simply that they want to do it in a way that feels good to them.
3. You enjoy quiet nights in more than nights out
The type of activities you enjoy may differ if you’re an introvert, compared to if you’re just shy.
A shy person might secretly long to go out and party if they had the confidence to do so.
But an introvert might well describe their ideal night as a small dinner party at home, or being curled up on the sofa with a special someone.
In fact, because introverts are built differently from extroverts, they tend to lean towards more low-key activities.
Our next point digs deeper into this.
4. You’re more of a thinker than a doer
So-called ‘thinking introverts’ spend a lot of time doing just that.
They can fill their time doing very little other than contemplation.
They enjoy inward-focused pursuits and hobbies, such as arts and crafts, writing, reading, etc.
In fact, they tend to be generally quite creative.
They don’t feel the need to always be busy doing something, they find it stimulating enough to be with their thoughts.
Introverts rarely get bored.
Introverts are more sensitive to dopamine (one of the so-called happy hormones).
They need less of a hit to feel perfectly satisfied. This is why quietly reading a book is perfectly satisfying to them.
Whilst extrovert brains have an energy-spending nervous system, introvert brains operate an energy-conserving nervous system.
5. Your battery drains quickly around people
What I mean by battery, is your energy levels.
A good way to figure out if you are shy or introverted is to pay attention to how you feel around other people.
Does your energy quickly start to drain when you spend too much time with people?
If so, there is a good chance you are introverted.
Research has shown that introverts process stimuli differently. Which is why it can be tiring to hang out too much.
As highlighted by Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage, introverts have a longer neural pathway for processing stimuli.
That means it’s more complicated for them to process the interactions they have.
If you are simply shy, you may not feel drained in the company of people, especially once you feel comfortable with them.
6. You have fewer friends
And you like it that way!
Let’s face it:
Modern life can quickly feel like an endless popularity contest. We get validation from the “likes’ of strangers on social media.
So it’s tricky to not fall into the trap of thinking that more is always better.
But for an introvert, that’s not the case.
They may not have the capacity to nurture endless connections. So they prefer to focus on a smaller number of close friendships.
But think of it like this:
You go deep rather than wide in your connections.
Research has shown introverts prefer long-lasting deep connections over having lots of superficial relationships.
If you simply don’t see the point in having acquaintances, you may well be an introvert.
7. You can become overstimulated in noisy or hectic environments
Introversion is more than just a preference, to a certain extent it’s biological.
Studies have identified that as much as 50% of this personality type comes down to genetics.
Like I said earlier, you react differently to stimuli when you’re introverted.
Studies from psychologist Hans Eysenck have shown how introverts don’t need as much stimulation from the world to feel alert.
It also means that too much stimulation can be pretty overwhelming.
If you are introverted, rather than shy, you might find it difficult to concentrate in busy environments.
There are too many distractions all around you.
8. You suck at small talk but enjoy deep and meaningfuls
Introverts can find small talk not only tedious but quite challenging. But that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy talking.
It’s just that they just prefer discussions with substance.
On the other hand, shy people might feel uncomfortable with either.
That’s because shy people generally feel inhibited around others.
It doesn’t feel safe to be themselves or express themselves.
We can all fear the judgment of others, but for shy people, this takes over and causes them to retreat into themselves.
They often feel very self-conscious, which leads to feeling uncomfortable and tense.
So they protect themselves by avoiding conversation or the spotlight being on them in any way.
9. Meeting new people feels ok, as long as it’s not too many at once
This one links back to the big group versus small group point earlier.
The same goes for meeting new people in general.
Shy people get stressed or nervous at having to meet new people. They worry about how they will be perceived.
But for an introvert, these insecurities don’t plague them.
It is only the environment in which they meet that becomes problematic.
They can handle one-on-one or even small groups. But anything more might be overstimulating.
10. You’re sometimes mistaken as rude
When people have a habit of retreating into themselves, it can be misread by some as rude.
Especially when they seem otherwise fairly confident.
The reality is that it’s still an extroverted world.
Research estimates that extroverts outnumber introverts three to one. And the unfortunate reality is that people still don’t always understand introversion.
If someone is shy, then other people can be quick to explain their behavior away because of that.
For example, they’re quiet because they are shy, they are staying home tonight because they are shy, and they are leaving early because they are shy.
But people can be quick to label introverted behavior as anti-social if they don’t think of you as a shy person.
For example, if you are introverted you may have had people assume you are aloof or even arrogant.
People find it hard to get to know you, not because you are shy, but simply because you need to be protective of your energy.
To conclude: Personality is on a spectrum
Although we’ve talked a lot in this article about the clear differences between introversion and shyness, it’s important to recognize:
You can be both shy and introverted. You can even be shy and extroverted. Just like you can be introverted and outgoing or extroverted and outgoing.
Most of us tend to be a mixture of things, rather than fit neatly into one box or another.
The importance is understanding yourself and knowing what makes you tick.
That way you can learn to support yourself and give yourself what you need most in order to thrive.