Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety

Shyness vs Social Anxiety

The key difference between shyness and social anxiety is that shyness is when a person feels awkward and in discomfort in the face of new situations and people. On the other hand, social anxiety is a more severe condition where a person feels an intense fear and discomfort when he or she encounters social situations. So the line of demarcation between the two conditions stems from its severity. While shyness merely acknowledges a person’s fear and discomfort in the face of social situations social anxiety acknowledges more physiological, behavioural and cognitive features. It not only induces fear and discomfort, but also panic due to the fear of being judged and evaluated by others. When dealing with people, especially in the sphere of Psychology, both the terms, shyness and social anxiety, are widely used when incorporating people to social situations. The purpose of this article is to explain shyness and social anxiety in more detail while highlighting the key differences and similarities between shyness and social anxiety.

What is Shyness?

Shyness can be defined as a feeling of apprehension when facing new situations or people. Individuals suffering from shyness are worried about “what others might think” of them, which hinders their social interactions. Their behaviour is thus governed by the ego-driven fear, which colours all their activities in life. Such individuals attempt to avoid social situations as much as possible because they fear to express their opinion thinking that they would be subjected to criticism and negativity.

Shyness comes both from nature and nurture. There are people who are born with such temperaments. In these instances, a person’s behaviour bordering on shyness is genetic. Such people are naturally worried and feel awkward in the face of social situations. However, it can also take place due to the upbringing and past experiences. For example, a person who has been emotionally tormented in childhood due to abuse or family conflicts might end up in such a condition, where he/ she would display a heightened degree of fear of social interactions which results from shyness.

Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety, on the other hand, is much more severe than shyness. It can be defined as a condition of extreme fear that is experienced by an individual in social interactions that stems from the fear of being rejected or judged by others. A person suffering from social anxiety usually has a very low self-esteem and displays an extreme self-consciousness in almost any activity that a person engages in, in daily life. The person is constantly bothered about his interactions with others especially of the possibility of being ‘not good enough’. Social anxiety appears in two forms. They are,

  • Developmental social anxiety
  • Chronic social anxiety

The first form of developmental social anxiety is rather natural. Children experience this as they encounter new situations and people in life. As the child grows he/she develops the ability to adapt to the expanding world which allows the child to grow out of this condition. However, if the condition emerges in adult life again, this can be considered as chronic social anxiety. People who experience this in an intense manner are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. Such people display not only an intense fear of social situations but also try to avoid the situation. There are certain situations that act as triggers for social anxiety disorder. Public speaking, stage performances, being criticized, having the centre of attention, eating in public places, going on dates, sitting for exams are some of the situations where this condition can be identified. When a person with social anxiety encounters a situation that makes them worried and nervous, the person begins to blush, feel nauseated, dizzy, to tremble, to sweat and even short of breath. So it is clear that social anxiety goes much deeper than shyness.

Social Anxiety

What is the difference between Shyness and Social Anxiety?

When engaging in a comparison between shyness and social anxiety, a similarity between the two is the fear associated with facing social situations. However, this factor also works as the key difference between the two conditions.

• Shyness can be considered as a milder form of fear of social situations that is a result of both a person’s temperament and the exposed environment and experience.

• Social anxiety refers to a more intense form of fear clearly disrupting a person’s life activities and inhibits a person’s quality of life.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Shyness by Sureshbmani (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
  2. Social Anxiety by Maxwell GS on Flick (CC BY 2.0)