“Introverted” does not mean “shy.”

I just have a slight objection to posts like this, at Anne R Allen’s blog — a blog I like quite a bit, generally — Introverted Authors in Public: 4 Tips For Overcoming Your Fear of Being Seen

I strongly prefer the definition of introversion which includes:

— Interacting with people, especially with large groups of people you don’t know very well, is tiring.

— The desire to join in large-group activities is minimal to nonexistent.

— You have a general preference for privacy and a tendency to prefer activities that are done alone.

This doesn’t include shyness. I think there is a big, actually quite huge difference between shyness and introversion. I say that as someone who was both quite shy and very introverted, and later became much less shy while remaining very introverted.

I’m not worried about public speaking. I enjoy it. I’m fine with being on a panel at a convention. I’m fine being up front alone in front of a crowd. Obviously it depends on the topic, but I’m very confident of my ability to deliver a lecture about the process of photosynthesis at the undergrad level, explain basic genetics, demonstrate tube-feeding a neonatal puppy, or discuss the concept of a “character-driven” novel and the idea of being a “character-first” author. Nothing about that is at all alarming to me.

I don’t like going to a party with a lot of people I don’t know. That’s not particularly stressful, but it’s tiring and not very pleasant. If I get into a nice conversation with one specific person at the party, whether I know them or not, that’s much more enjoyable and also a lot less tiring. I guess I would say I can rest during that conversation and feel much more able to handle the large party setting later. But it’s easy for me to go to a convention, while it’s hard for me to attend a party at that convention.

I think this is introversion rather than shyness. It’s not fear-based. Therefore, headings like: How introverted authors can overcome their fears” seem wrongheaded to me.

Also, equating introversion with shyness and fear incorrectly treats introversion as a type of pathology. It is not. It is a perfectly valid personality style, despite the modern assumption that Extroverts Are Better.

Anyway, if someone is SHY and wants to overcome that problem to some reasonable degree, then sure, the linked post may offer useful tips. I guess.

None of those suggested tips has anything to do with how I personally got a lot less shy, by the way. If someone out there has a kid who is struggling with shyness AND likes pets, well, getting a puppy is what worked for me. I went from “too shy to speak to strangers” to “offended if that stranger doesn’t tell me how cute my dog is and asks can he pet my dog” in nothing flat. Interacting with people around dogs was much easier than in any other context I’d ever encountered, and joining a dog training club and volunteering at the local shelter and so on rapidly followed. If I’d known how getting a puppy would change the feel of personal interactions, I’d have gotten one earlier in my life — though it’s a lot easier to deal with a puppy as an adult than as a child, so there’s that.

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6 thoughts on ““Introverted” does not mean “shy.””

  1. For me, the biggest thing that helped with public speaking was practice – low stakes talks just for my department at work, and then being a teaching fellow in grad school and having to go up in front of students every week. That latter felt easier for me, I think because I really was confident that I knew this material, and that I was more expert than the people I was talking to – that I belonged there, giving those lectures. After a couple years of doing a lecture every week, it just wasn’t that big a deal anymore – now I can do a conference talk in front of hundreds of people without fear (although obviously I prep a bunch).

  2. SarahZ, yes, students assume you know that material, and if you do know the material, then the whole experience is generally very straightforward. I feel kinda the same way on panels, although it’s obviously different in a lot of ways.

  3. Ha, ha, my family of introverts has conversations about this all the time! My brother in particular has a bug in his ear about Extroverts are Better and will bring up counter arguments at the least provocation!

    I’ve always liked the definition that introverts get their energy from being alone and use energy to interact with other people, and extroverts are the opposite. Whatever the definition, introversion has nothing whatsoever to do with shyness. And shyness and fear of public speaking are entirely different things as well.

    I’m like you, have never had a problem speaking in front of crowds, but hate carrying on one-on-one conversations with strangers. And people assume that because I’m comfortable with public speaking I will be equally comfortable in social situations. I just never know what to say to people that I don’t know I have something in common with. Small-talk is boring and draining. A puppy would definitely give you something interesting to talk about with any and all! (Certainly I get into lots of conversations with strangers while walking my grandpuppy! (Bernese Mountain Dog: 5 months old and the size of a Labrador!))

  4. Kim, YES, I should have said, fear of public speaking and shyness are completely different. I don’t know why I didn’t think to say that in the post. That’s got the be the case, as hordes of non-shy people are afraid of public speaking.

    I am SO GLAD I am not dealing with really big puppies! Toy dogs all the way for me! But! You would really enjoy my tri puppies Two of them are marked so much like a Bernese Mountain Dog that if you told someone the puppy was a toy Bernese, they might believe you.

    This kind of pattern in Cavaliers is called a blanket tricolor. It’s not exactly preferred, but it’s acceptable and we’re seeing a lot of them these days.

  5. This is very accurate to my own experience. As a not-really-shy extreme introvert, crowds (more than 8-10 people) are tiring for me, mostly because I try to pay attention to everyone at once, which never works well. But I can get up in front of 500 people and perform a musical number without too many nerves, or teach a martial arts class, and while it’s taxing, I don’t get the sense of absolute exhaustion that comes from going to someone else’s party.
    I do prefer, if I have to go to said party, to find one person to talk to, and spend my energy getting to know them, rather than trying to meet everyone.
    What I learned last year is that I could absolutely become an anchorite and be just fine with it, while being forced to be social is actually more stressful than I had ever realized until I didn’t have to anymore.
    And no, extroversion is not better, it’s just a different way of being. Equally valid, to be sure, but not inherently better than introversion.

  6. E.C., yes indeed, I already knew that by nature I’m a hermit, and last year just solidified that understanding. I would be absolutely fine on a desert island with occasional phone contact with friends plus a couple dogs for company.

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