As with many other concepts that come from psychology , their adoption by the popular lexicon blurs to a certain extent what they mean. It has happened before with depression, which went from being a diagnosis to being a common state of mind . Being depressed can range from something banal like a one-off slump to something more serious like a major depressive disorder that makes life totally uphill.
Something similar is happening with shyness and social anxiety or social phobia . Many times they are used interchangeably due to their obvious similarity but they are not exactly the same. Next we will see how they differ .
What do they have in common?
These are terms that we use to define a person who does not dare to express himself freely or speak to others , whether his audience is more or less known and more or less numerous.
This impediment generates difficulties in the person when interacting with others or defending their position on any issue. All this set of problems causes him or her intense discomfort and that he or she and the rest of us say that he or she is very shy or has social anxiety.
What is shyness?
Shyness is a personality trait that has also been called by other authors introversion. Shyness as a characteristic of the personality is something common that is found in people in greater or lesser quantity and that becomes more relevant or less according to the situation in which the individual finds himself. Being shy is difficult to express yourself to others or create a bond with close people.
They are people who are usually characterized by being quiet or intervening briefly in conversations. In general, they stand out for wanting to go unnoticed by causing them fear of being judged negatively .
They feel uncomfortable and insecure in social situations , sometimes out of place. Extreme caution when expressing themselves can lead to them not saying what they want or not saying anything.
Depending on its intensity, being shy can cause more or less limitations in the person’s social life . A small group of friends or ‘taking time to gain confidence’ are uncomfortable for the shy, but it is not at all pathological . Being shy is a hindrance but it does not limit your life.
What is social anxiety disorder or social phobia?
Social phobia or social anxiety disorder (according to the latest version of the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association) is an anxiety disorder where there is intense fear or anxiety in one or more social situations in which the person is exposes you to possible evaluation by others .
These social situations can be social interactions (like having a conversation), being observed (for example eating) or acting in front of other people (giving a speech). The main fear of the person with social anxiety is to act in a way that shows the symptoms of their anxiety and that these are negatively valued , that is, that it translates into humiliation or rejection by others.
Social situations are avoided with great anxiety or fear that are disproportionate compared to the situation in which they live (this irrationality may be recognized by the person). This social anxiety and avoidance are persistent and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in any area of the person’s life.
Social anxiety can appear in a generalized way , affecting all social situations, or it can be limited to a specific circumstance , such as speaking in public. It is common for it to appear together with panic attacks or panic attacks .
What are the differences?
As with most disorders, what differentiates them from what is considered normal is the intensity of the problem and the impact it has on the overall life of the person.
Despite sharing the fear of being judged by others, which limits their ability to relate, there are certain aspects that are clearly not shared by both definitions :
- In shyness there is no avoidance of interaction that exists in social anxiety.
- Shyness , as a personality trait, can vary according to the stage of the life cycle. It is known how a child can go from being very open to extremely shy when they reach adolescence .
- Disproportionate fear in social anxiety. The concerns of someone who is shy are usually closer to reality . Feeling self-conscious when being introduced to a new group of friends is not alien to anyone, but a fear that prevents you from articulating a word because you ‘know’ that they will hate you if you give your opinion is more typical of social phobia.
- The intensity of the physiological response is usually greater in social anxiety . While a shy person may experience sweating or flushing, it is not uncommon for someone with a social phobia to experience rapid heartbeat or breathing difficulties in a social situation.
- The fundamental thing is the greater intensity of the limitation . Having social anxiety disorder can range from preventing you from finding a job to locking you up at home for fear of any social interaction. Avoidance of the social situation of someone shy is limited and, in general, you learn to deal with fear.