Being Introverted: Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety and introversion are two distinct dynamics often confused with each other. It is commonly assumed that introverted individuals may experience social anxiety, but introversion is a personality trait—a preference for solitude—while social anxiety can, in some cases, evolve into a psychiatric disorder requiring treatment and significantly affecting one's functions. In this article, after explaining what social anxiety and introversion are, I will explore the connection between introversion and social anxiety disorder. Additionally, I will discuss some interesting experiments conducted on these topics.

Jan 13, 2024 - 11:34
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Being Introverted: Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?
Being Introverted: Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

According to the diagnostic criteria of DSM-III, social phobia is defined as "having a continuous and unrealistic fear of being judged by others in a situation and avoiding this situation; fearing to behave in a way that would cause shame or embarrassment." Distorted self-perception and/or negative past social experiences are often seen as causes of social anxiety in individuals. The person believes they will be negatively perceived by society, cannot meet the standards set by others, and thinks they will not be liked by others.

As the person thinks this way, physiological symptoms such as increased heart rate, blushing, and mental confusion may appear on the surface. As these symptoms are experienced, shame increases, and as shame increases, physiological symptoms continue to occur. Thus, social anxiety becomes a cycle.

The most common situation where social anxiety occurs is public speaking. According to surveys conducted on Americans, while the fear of death ranks sixth, the fear of speaking in public ranks first. Other examples of situations include eating with others, writing in front of others, and using public restrooms. The general theme is the fear of performing poorly in social situations.

Although the classification of subtypes of social anxiety disorder is still controversial, DSM-IV has created three categories: Performance Type, Limited Interactional Type, and Generalized Type.

  1. Performance Type: Anxiety in performing one or more activities in front of the public that the person does not experience when alone.
  2. Limited Interactional Type: Anxiety in social situations that lead to one or two interactions.
  3. Generalized Type: Anxiety in the majority of social situations, showing physiological anxiety symptoms such as sweating and avoiding eye contact.

The treatment of social anxiety often involves medication and psychological therapy (especially cognitive-behavioral therapy). Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to replace dysfunctional and anxiety-inducing thoughts with more functional and realistic ones.

Introverted Personality and Connection with Social Anxiety Disorder:

Unlike social anxiety disorder, introversion is not a disorder but a personality trait. Individuals with an introverted personality spend time alone not because they are afraid of others, but because it is their preference. Activities such as going to the movies or traveling alone occur based on choice, and having a relatively small circle of friends is a preference, providing peace rather than anxiety.

Individuals with an introverted personality do not experience anxiety in situations that require socialization, unlike social anxiety disorder. They do not feel anxious in situations where social anxiety disorder might cause dysfunction. Even if someone with social anxiety disorder desires to socialize and behave comfortably in group activities like other idealized individuals, they may not succeed. In contrast, introverted individuals, without the compulsion of introversion, may choose to be alone.

Experiments Related to Social Anxiety Disorder:

Having a Cyberball: In the experiment conducted by Mark Boyes and David French in 2009, a computer game called Cyberball was used. This game includes both inclusion and exclusion, involving a simple ball-throwing and catching game. Teams of 3 people are created, with 2 individuals controlled by researchers. In some cases, the third person is included in the game, while in others, they are excluded. It was observed that even virtual exclusion in an unreal environment increased social anxiety in individuals.

Strange Situation: The Strange Situation experiment, conducted by Mary Ainsworth, known for attachment theory, observed the behavioral reactions of a group of infants when deliberately separated from caregivers. Although this experiment is not directly related to social anxiety, it proves the influence of caregiver attitudes in early ages on how an individual will keep a civil tongue in social situations. For example, individuals with an anxious attachment style are more likely to experience social anxiety, and these attachment styles can be based on past experiences with caregivers.

REFERENCES
Boyes ME, French DJ. Having a cyberball: using a ball-throwing game as an experimental social
stressor to examine the relationship between neuroticism and coping. Personality and Individual
Differences 47 (2009) 396–401.
Dilbaz N. Sosyal anksiyete bozukluğu: tanı, epidemiyoloji, etiyoloji, klinik ve ayırıcı tanı. Klinik
Psikiyatri 2000;Ek 2:3-21.
Dilbaz N. Sosyal fobi. Psikiyatri Dünyası 1997;1:18-24.
Morrison AS, Heimberg RG. Social anxiety and social anxiety disorder. The Annual Review of
Clinical Psychology 2013. 9:249–74.
Spies R, Duschinskiy R. Inheriting mary ainsworth and the strange situation: questions of legacy,
authority, and methodology for contemporary developmental attachment researchers. Sage Open
2021 Vol.11 Issue:3

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