One is a personality trait and the other is a disorder, but it can be difficult to tell the difference.
We meet a person who does not dare to express himself or speak in public and who keeps the expression of his thoughts inhibited. This person suffers from it and finds it difficult to relate and defend their position. Why does it cost you so much? Some interpret that this person is extremely shy, while others consider that he has a social phobia. But what differences are there between one thing and another?
To this end, we are going to make a brief definition of each of the two concepts, to later focus on the differences between shyness and social phobia.
What do we understand by shyness?
Shyness is a personality characteristic present in a large number of people in which the subject who possesses it has difficulty expressing himself in public and bonding with his peers, which requires a certain effort and usually generates anxiety.
These types of people tend to be quiet not because they do not have what to say but because they are afraid to do so due to the possibility of being judged negatively.
It is not that the shy person is introverted (in fact, shy people can actually be very extraverted), but rather that out of fear they have to be extremely cautious about what they say and to whom, and do not dare to express their points of view with firmness. These people can feel insecure and uncomfortable in social situations, and they do not usually deal with large groups of unfamiliar people.
A shy person can suffer from such shyness by causing him some isolation and limitation of social life. However, shyness is not considered a pathology unless it is taken to the extreme and social situations are actively avoided or symptoms such as anxiety crisis are generated.
Social phobia or social anxiety disorder is a disorder linked to anxiety in which the subject who suffers from it has an irrational and persistent fear of exposing himself in social situations or before certain people, due to fear of being judged or performing some action that make a fool of them.
The person tries as much as possible to avoid social situations and feels a high level of anxiety if he is forced to participate in such situations, and may experience anxiety attacks. The person acknowledges that their fear is irrational, and is not due to other disorders or substance use.
This disorder can occur in a generalized way or by circumscribing panic to specific situations such as making an exhibition or a certain type of activity in public.
Differences between shyness and social phobia
As we can see from the definitions of shyness and social phobia, both concepts are similar in the core of the concept: in both cases the person suffers a fear of being socially judged for their actions or words, inhibiting their interaction with their peers in some way. degree and causing this a more or less severe limitation of expression and social bonding.
In fact, social phobia is sometimes considered to be the pathological extreme of shyness, and it is not surprising that personalities with a high level of shyness in childhood may develop social phobia in the future (although it does not have to occur).
Despite the aforementioned similarities, we can find several differences between shyness and social phobia, some of the main being the following.
1. Non-avoidance of social interaction
In the first place, shyness is a more or less stable personality characteristic throughout life, although it can be reduced as the subject’s life experience varies. But although it can produce some limitations, it is not considered a disorder.
Social phobia implies the presence of a high level of fear to confront social situations that provoke their avoidance in a continuous and persistent way. However, the shy person is capable of carrying out an interaction in social situations and although they do not feel safe in such contexts, they do not avoid them so actively. For example, the shy person may go to a party even though he doesn’t talk much, but the phobic will avoid it if he can.
2. General fear
Another point in which both concepts differ is that while the shy person tends to feel uncomfortable in specific situations or people, in social phobia fear tends to be more generalized (even if we are talking about a circumscribed phobia).
3. Physiological differences
A third point of contrast is the presence of symptoms at the physiological level. A shy person may suffer blushing, sweating, gastrointestinal discomfort and some nervousness when exposed, but in general there are no major alterations. However, in the case of social phobia, tachycardia, breathing difficulties and severe anxiety attacks can be experienced not only when facing the situation, but also when imagining it in advance.
4. The intensity of the limitation
Finally, the shy person may suffer at a certain time due to the perception of inability to relate or defend their point of view, but in the case of a social phobia fear and worry are more continuous and limit their quality of life.
Thus, someone shy may prefer to cross a street instead of the one a few meters away so as not to meet someone specific, while a person with social phobia is capable of not leaving home knowing that at that time a person that she likes comes back from work and might run into her by chance.