How Society’s Attitude Towards Introversion Can Be Damaging

The reasons why someone develops debilitating levels of anxiety can be extremely complex and down to a range of seemingly small things. To the person suffering, it can sometimes seem mystifying; I remember being struck by the thought one day, ‘how did I end up in such a mess?’ Over the years I’ve thought a lot about my mental health journey and my relationship with feelings of anxiety: these ideas have often led to an attempt to figure out possible causes for the intense feelings of fear and discomfort I’ve experienced. One of these is the relationship between growing up introverted and society’s perception and reaction to the traits associated with this.

What is introversion?

Introversion is the tendency to focus on internal thoughts and feelings rather than seeking outside stimulation; and introverts gain their energy from time spent alone or in small groups. According to Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking‘ these are people ‘who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams’. They generally prefer to listen in groups and often like to share their ideas in writing, hence why there are so many introverted bloggers.

What does that have to do with anxiety?

You might have noticed that many qualities assigned to introverts are similarly assigned to individuals with social anxiety. This is because from the outside they can appear very similar: quietness, avoidance of group situations, alone time, etc. What’s not so clear is the relationship between the two.

As a kid, I was quickly labelled as shy. My school reports constantly berated me for not contributing in class despite a glowing academic report and always encouraged me to ‘put up my hand’. I held back from joining dance classes without having the vocabulary or grasp of my own feelings to explain why. I tended to be a listener rather than a talker; a follower rather than a leader.

These personal qualities didn’t necessarily bother me, and as I’ve grown older I’ve realised there are many ways to do things: you don’t have to be loud to be confident or constantly lively to be liked. However, even though these events or daily occurences didn’t make me see myself in a negative light, they did make me experience feelings of discomfort, of being out-of-place and not fitting in, or standing out for the wrong reasons.

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From the age at which I started becoming responsible for handling social situations – such as asking for the bill, giving a presentation in class or mailing something at the post office – the days of dealing with uncomfortable, painful and sometimes overwhelmingly unbearable feelings became more frequent and debilitating. At some point along the natural progression of having to become responsible for asserting myself in social settings, what had previously been noted as a sometimes-endearing-sometimes-annoying character trait had transformed into a problem.

No longer was it cute to get my parents to order my pizza at a restaurant; it was suddenly unacceptable to prefer to stay at home rather than go out with friends. Society’s expectations of me as a young person had of course veered away from its expectations of me as a kid, yet what I felt inside had refused to change. Society was ripping away my pumpkin costume and telling me I was too old to go trick-or-treating. Somehow I had missed the memo that Halloween only happens one day of the year and is not the way everyday life is conducted. I was now expected to be confident in social settings, despite never having experienced that before, and my punishment for not being able to conform to this?

A twisting jab in the ribs, a simultaneous frustration at society (for constantly labelling me as shy and seeing how I behaved as an issue) and myself (for being pathetically incapable at ‘growing up’ like everyone else) that stirred up thoughts that told me ‘you’re not good enough‘ and feelings that made me want to be invisible to everyone. I felt like I didn’t deserve to take up the space I did, and in fact sometimes, I didn’t really want to be occupying that space, in case someone tried to drag me into anything and turn the spotlight my way.

Of course, this is not a positive place to be in: a place of low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. It’s a place in which the potentially positive qualities of introversion, being quiet and reflective, become inextricably linked with the potentially damaging impacts of social anxiety, a fear of interacting and judgement. But how do these become so complexly muddled, and can they be unraveled from one another?

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How can we stop introverts falling into social anxiety?

This post doesn’t necessarily have answers. I think the way society views introversion can be damaging for some, and lead to feelings of social anxiety. Valuing introversion as much as we collectively value extraversion wouldn’t necessarily eradicate social anxiety, as many people’s experiences with anxiety stem from other things, but in situations like mine I think it would certainly have helped: acknowledging and attempting to change the value gap between extraversion and introversion seen in schools and other spaces kids grow and learn in, could help to make quieter children feel their way of learning and sharing ideas isn’t wrong, just different.

A better understanding and greater tolerance of these differences could lead to introverts nurturing a more confident sense of self in relation to the world they inhabit and higher levels of self-esteem; these qualities offer a brilliant buffer against developing some anxieties. If I hadn’t been given the impression that my quietness was something to ‘work on’ and eradicate from my personality, then perhaps I wouldn’t feel viscerally ashamed and inadequate in social settings; perhaps I could have developed a sense of pride in myself earlier on which could have staved off a lot of the damaging impacts of anxiety.

Our world needs a variety of people with different ways of thinking and sharing thoughts, and until society as a whole realises that then I think that more people are going to suffer than otherwise would. Not to mention the world is going to miss out on some seriously great people with seriously brilliant ideas because of a rigid favouritism towards extraversion.


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42 thoughts on “How Society’s Attitude Towards Introversion Can Be Damaging

  1. allgoodthingsek says:

    This is absolutely perfect! I felt as if I was reading about myself. It describes the way I feel (on the daily) about myself and life. Thank you so much for sharing. It helps to know I am not alone in my fears and introversion. Again, thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Llama Punch says:

    This was incredibly well written and exactly how I feel every single day. It is a tremendous help to know I am not the only person who suffers through this. I have only recently become fully aware of my social anxiety and have noticed it has gotten worse with age. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. roxie5f1 says:

    Every school report card said that I’m shy. That’s basically all the teachers felt they needed to know! 20 years later my support & supervision reports at work say the same thing. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nowheretobeproject says:

    It is not easy being an introvert in a world that demands extroversion. My job forced me to speak publicly every day and I was completely exhausted at the end of each day from “turning it on” when that wasn’t my natural tendency. I suspect that society is finally warming to the idea of introversion and perhaps we’ll begin to see a decline in social anxiety! 😍❤️✌🏻
    Dana
    Nowheretobeproject.com

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bexa says:

    This is such a well written and relatable post Alys. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I am definitely an introvert myself and really need my own time and space to recharge. I’m learning now that being quieter is okay and there is nothing I need to change. If only we were taught that from a young age. Brilliant post lovely 💖 xx

    Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alys says:

      Thank you so much Bexa! I’m sorry your comments got lost in spam, still don’t know why that happened 😦 I’m glad you see it as a positive now like I’m learning to. It would’ve been a lot easier if we had been taught for sure! xx

      Like

  6. Leah says:

    This is such a thought-provoking post. I definitely consider myself an introvert and, whilst I was growing up, I was definitely made to feel as though this was a bad thing. I completely agree that the value gap between introversion and extroversion in schools needs to be addressed – not all children have the confidence to put their hands up in class (I certainly didn’t) and it doesn’t make sense to me that such pressure is being put on introverts from such a young age. Great post, thanks for writing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. itsrachelcatherine says:

    Such a interesting post! I totally relate to this! Growing up I was ashamed for being the girl who was scared to ask for her own order, I couldn’t talk on the phone, etc, the list goes on. But society doesn’t know how to react with this well. It’s viewed more of something that we MUST grow out of in order to survive and be independent. I wonder how this might change in the future?
    Such a good read!
    Rachel, xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ruthinrevolt says:

    BRILLIANT post. There’s no less value to being an introvert than an extrovert – we have our own strengths, too, and I think putting so much emphasis on being an extrovert makes it difficult when you’re simply not like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. questionsfromateenager says:

    This speaks to me so much. As an introvert suffering from social anxiety myself, I was often faced with a lot of people’s opinions on the matter. I was told that I didn’t really have social anxiety and that I was “just shy”. People seemed to judge me before getting to know me properly and I was always introduced as “This is Fiona, she’s a little shy”. In school teachers often didn’t trust me with performing certain tasks because they “needed someone fearless”. I became quieter over the years and I definitely felt the pressure to act like I wasn’t introverted. It became this mask I would put on every single day and it took me a while to learn that I was fine, just the way I was. That I didn’t have to feel the need to change, even though I still do sometimes. What a brilliant post, Alys, and such an important message for young people to read. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alys says:

      I can completely relate to your experiences, sadly it seems to be very common. It doesn’t help when others create environments like that, with pressure to change. I’m glad you’re realising your value! Thanks lovely xx

      Liked by 1 person

  10. glowsteady says:

    This is such a great post and amazing to hear what it’s like from your perspective! I wouldn’t say I’m an introvert but I definitely go through phases when I feel more introverted (if that makes any sense). And when I’m in one of those phases it does make me feel a bit more anxious that the world seems to be happening around me and I’m not ‘present’. This was such a great read x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

    Like

  11. Nancy says:

    I never heard of introversion before and this was very informative. I know a lot of people, including myself who go through this. I know I rather work on my own because I go at godspeed with my projects often times @__@. Though you bring up an interesting point about social anxiety. I can relate to this in so many ways – people made me feel like I was missing out because I didn’t celebrate the fourth of July this year. It’s OKAY to do things on your own. You’re not a loner/loser because of it.

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lavanya says:

    Thank to the society wanting me to be an extrovert, I’ve come to a point in my life where I have zero confidence in me that I can achieve something. I’m meditating to feel better and it has started helping. I guess now I am more open to saying to people to stop pestering me about talking to other people and be lively when that’s not my personality at core. Hope one day I regain my lost confidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. hudapervez says:

    Wow! Such an amazing post and I can definitely relate to most of this! My whole life I have felt as if me being shy and quiet is something I need to be ashamed of which has led to me being worse in social situations. Even in school, when teachers push me to be more out there instead of just letting me be myself, I feel it put more pressure on me and made me feel more socially awkward!
    Thank you for scaring and society definitely needs to change the way they look at introverts! xx
    https://beaulife.org

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hannah says:

    Amen. It actually took me several years to finally get a diagnosis of social anxiety because I was convinced that it was ‘normal’ to feel this way and to have panic attacks as I was just told I was shy countless times over. Actually getting a diagnosis and realizing I wasn’t crazy was a huge step in helping me overcome it. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Kelsey Marie says:

    This was amazing! You have a great writing style and I love how you have a sort of call to action. I feel the best way to make introversion be less synonymous with anxiety is to normalize it in media. Show that shy people can still be happy and cause an impact. Have an example that being the loudest voice does not mean that you are the smartest. The biggest way to influence society is via representation. You did an amazing job with this. x

    Liked by 1 person

  16. jennyrose says:

    I love this so much Alys. I truly can’t believe how much I can relate to your posts. I’ve also noticed how a lot of bloggers/vloggers tend to be introverts. I can find so many things to do by myself, read, write, take photos, paint etc. and it seems that all the people around me find it strange, or think that I’m ‘lazy’. I’d love for us introverts to be much more normalised!
    jenny x | http://www.jennyrosee.com

    Like

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