Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)?


Bill Gates is quiet and bookish, but apparently unfazed by others’ opinions of him: he’s an introvert, but not shy.

Barbra Streisand has an outgoing, larger than life personality, but a paralyzing case of stage fright: she’s a shy extrovert.

Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments. Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis, and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical. With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts.

Interestingly, this view of human nature is echoed all the way back in ancient Greece. The physicians Hippocrates and Galen famously proposed that our temperaments – and destinies – were a function of bodily fluids. Extra blood made people sanguine (calmly extroverted), yellow bile made them choleric (impulsively extroverted), phlegm made them phlegmatic (calmly introverted), and black bile made them melancholic (anxiously introverted.)

But if shyness and introversion are so different, why do we often link them, especially in the popular media?

The most important answer is that there’s a shared bias in our society against both traits. The mental state of a shy extrovert sitting quietly in a business meeting may be very different from that of a calm introvert – the shy person is afraid to speak up, while the introvert is simply overstimulated – but to the outside world, the two appear to be the same,  and neither type is welcome. Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable, and even smarter than slow ones.

Galen aside, poets and philosophers throughout history, like John Milton and Arthur Schopenhauer, have associated shyness with introversion. As the anthropologist C.A. Valentine once wrote,

“Western cultural traditions include a conception of individual variability which appears to be old, widespread, and persistent.  In popular form this is the familiar notion of the man of action, practical man, realist, or sociable person as opposed to the thinker, dreamer, idealist, or shy individual.  The most widely used labels associated with this tradition are the type designations extrovert and introvert.”

Were these sages flat out wrong? No. Psychologists have found that shyness and introversion do overlap (meaning that many shy people are introverted, and vice versa), though they debate to what degree. There are several reasons for this overlap. For one thing, some people are born with “high-reactive” temperaments that predispose them to both shyness and introversion. Also, a shy person may become more introverted over time; since social life is painful, she is motivated to discover the pleasures of solitude and other minimally social environments. And an introvert may become shy after continually receiving the message that there’s something wrong with him.

But shyness and introversion don’t overlap completely, or even predominately. Recently, I published an op-ed in the New York Times on the value of these two characteristics. It touched a chord in a readership hungry for this message. It quickly became the #1 most e-mailed article, and I received over a thousand heartfelt notes of thanks.

But some letter writers felt that the article conflated introversion with shyness and, as such, had misrepresented them. Though I did make a clear distinction in the piece between the two, these writers were correct that I moved on quickly, perhaps too quickly, to other subjects. I did this because of space constraints – if I had tried to explain everything I just outlined above (and even this post only scratches the surface of a highly complex topic) I would never have gotten to the real point  – the importance of shyness and introversion in a society that disdains them.

Still, I understand why non-anxious introverts feel so frustrated when people treat them as if they’re shy. It’s inherently annoying to be misunderstood, to be told that you’re something that you’re not. Anyone who has walked down the street deep in thought and been instructed by a stranger to smile – as if he were depressed, rather than mentally engaged – knows how maddening this is.

Also, shyness implies submissiveness. And in a competitive culture that reveres alpha dogs, one-downsmanship is probably the most damning trait of all.

Yet this is where the shy and the introverted, for all their differences, have in common something profound. Neither type is perceived by society as alpha, and this gives both types the vision to see how alpha status is overrated, and how our reverence for it blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise. For very different reasons, shy and introverted people might choose to spend their days in behind-the-scenes or “passive” pursuits like inventing, or studying, or holding the hands of the dying. These are not alpha roles, but the people who play them are role models all the same.




  1. Patricia on 05.07.2011 at 18:17 (Reply)

    My oldest child just hates to be told she is shy – she is a non-talker, but definitely the alpha person in a room. She uses her silence with profound skill, to just move in with HER better idea and outcome than any of the talkers had the smarts to come up with….then she lays out her idea and just knocks them off their foundations. The problem with this is sometimes she is wrong – but that only makes her angry with herself and so she does not have to show that work to anyone.
    I think many engineers are this way.

    I just think I am confused – people feel very free to criticize and jump against what I say, if I open my mouth too soon. I just wait and wait until the last minute to share an idea or summary and make my point. I liked to be the first to present something in school, so if I misinterpreted I usually got another try and points for being brave and then the kids would not go at me about being a “retard” I do not feel that I am shy – I am just waiting for a more powerful moment. Silence is such a power tool.
    As I mature, I get very tired of the verbal class of people and quite bored with their thoughtless responses – often Pavlovian.

    I am so happy your Op-Ed piece got such a great response. I think there are a great many folks who find this area confusing – including me.

  2. Jen on 05.07.2011 at 20:44 (Reply)

    Great article. I’ve found that as I’ve grown in my understanding of introversion and embraced the way God has designed me, the less shy I’ve become. As you said, “an introvert may become shy after continually receiving the message that there’s something wrong with him” — now that I know there isn’t anything wrong with being quiet, I don’t take it personally when people make comments about it.

    1. Christy on 06.07.2011 at 11:15 (Reply)

      Love this: “I’ve found that as I’ve grown in my understanding of introversion and embraced the way God has designed me, the less shy I’ve become.”
      Me too. Exactly so.

  3. Tim Larison on 05.07.2011 at 21:35 (Reply)

    This is one of the best descriptions of introversion vs shyness that I have read – thanks Susan. You are right that the two are often seen as synonymous when in reality they are quite different character traits. I would say earlier in my life I was definitely introverted AND shy. Now I’m less shy (I have no problems speaking in front of groups) but I’m still introverted. Sometimes in group conversations I find the conversation passes me by before I get a chance to jump in – it takes me time to process my thoughts and speak. I do better when I have a pre-assigned speaking slot or if I am called upon (“Tim, what do you think about this?”). A shy person would dread the thought of speaking in front of a group; a non-shy introvert still may be quiet in group conversations but enjoy the spotlight when given the opportunity.

  4. Tom Rhoads on 06.07.2011 at 08:39 (Reply)

    I first read your NY Times article and then followed you here. Before I read your piece in the Times I never understood the difference between shyness and introversion, so I thought you did an excellent job of making that distinction. I am both an extreme introvert and a shy person. I especially enjoy reading, running along or just spending time in a library or book store. As a child I made up games that I could play alone, usually with a rubber ball and the windowless side of a building. My shyness is maybe less obvious to others than it is to me. I am extremely sensitive to rejection and criticism and it takes me a long time to trust people enough to open up to them. I’ve always seen my shyness as a character flaw, which is reinforced each time someone takes credit for “bringing me out of my shell.” One problem with this, besides the fact that I have very few friends, is that I am very competitive and usually have to excel in an area before I am even noticed. I don’t think I can change how others see me, but reading your blog helps me to feel better about myself – it changes how I see me. Thank you for that.

    1. Tom Rhoads on 06.07.2011 at 08:42 (Reply)

      I meant to say, “I especially enjoy reading, running alone…”

    2. Christy on 06.07.2011 at 11:27 (Reply)

      I have just started to hate the term “come out of your shell” as applied to introverts. I never really noticed it before, but it does seem to be used quite often to try to force introverts to be or act extraverted.
      I just realized, however, that once upon a time I actually did have a shell and I actually did come out of it, but not because someone “helpfully” told me to. After high school I was both shy and introverted, fairly well convinced that people wouldn’t want to get to know me at college. But at college a number of people became my very dear friends, and thanks to them I largely lost the shell of shyness and aloofness, becoming my own silly, wacky self outwardly as well as inwardly. But that was through kind and loving influences, not through extraverted commands, and of course I have never stopped being intensely introverted, nor do I want to.

      1. Susan Cain on 06.07.2011 at 12:53 (Reply)

        I have had the exact same series of thoughts about the “coming out of your shell” image. Even when it’s apt, it’s all wrong.

      2. Roxanne on 06.07.2011 at 14:45 (Reply)

        I agree, and have had similar experiences. I think “coming out of your shell” is more about self-confidence, though. As I’ve learned more about who I am and either accepted (my introversion) or altered (my anxiety/fear issues) certain things, I’ve gained confidence, and as a result, I am less shy. I see that as coming out of my shell. I’m still introverted because it’s who I am, but I am less shy, depending on the circumstances.

    3. Tom Rhoads on 06.07.2011 at 15:09 (Reply)

      I said that I have very few friends, but that might be an over-statement. Certainly I have few active friends where I live now, but I had a lot of friends in high school. High school was 40 years ago and several states away, but I’m still very close with some of those people. I also have a lot of “virtual friends” from a running list called the Dead Runners’ Society. My problem has been making new friends. I think the friendships that I have are very tight, though.

  5. Jen on 06.07.2011 at 09:47 (Reply)

    Was just thinking about shyness as a character trait and was curious — do we know if shyness correlates with F/T on the Myers Briggs? I would think it would.

    The F’s decision making process is so people oriented, it would be sensitive to the needs (even if only perceived) of self and other: the self-need to protect itself from possible negative judgment and the perceived other’s need to not interact with the self because of the possible/actual negative judgment. (Sorry if that sounded too psycho-babble-ish, heh; hope it made sense.)

    1. Susan Cain on 06.07.2011 at 10:57 (Reply)

      What an interesting question, and yes your theory makes sense to me. I’ve read that introverts who are T’s are less concerned with others’ view of their introversion than introverts who are F’s. This doesn’t answer your question exactly, but it’s along the same lines. I will let you know if I come across anything on T/F and shyness!

      1. Michell on 03.10.2014 at 08:34 (Reply)

        hae guyz, can you ge me a sayings or quotes about shyness people that related to work. plz

  6. Spooky Sean on 06.07.2011 at 12:36 (Reply)

    For many years, I’ve been made to feel, that since I am shy and introverted (the deadly combination) I am not a man. It was, and still is, very hard for me to feel masculine, in a society that encourages men to be loud, and domineering.
    I think, in a very real way, that is why I turned to the horror genre. It allowed me to feel brave, for being able to go through what the characters in the movies and books went through, and come out the other side unscathed.
    I’ve started to write, mainly horror stuff. And talent level aside, I think it is what I’m most comfortable with. Because i know fear; we are well acquainted. I usually have some form of fear every time i leave the house; thankfully I’m not full-fledged agoraphobic.
    I won’t lie to you, and say that everything is great now that I’m comfortable with myself, and comfortable being who I am. I still need to find a new job, which is a terrifying when I think about it. But, I’m going to get one, if I have to have fifty panic attacks on the way to the damn interview.
    At some point, I just decided, you know what, who cares if I’m afraid. I can still do anything I put my mind to, even if I am a little nervous in the process.

    1. Susan Cain on 06.07.2011 at 12:52 (Reply)

      Actually, you sound incredibly brave. I always think that courage is not about fearlessness but about acting in spite of one’s fears. What our culture admires is not courage per se, but fearlessness — this is our sometimes fatal mistake.

      That said, I hear you about the issue of masculinity. I do think it can be harder for shy/introverted men. But I also think that the culture is shifting, expanding its notions of masculinity — now we have public figures like Larry Page, Johnny Depp, and so on. Even male models now more often have lean physiques instead of the conventionally big and muscular ones of days old.

      Btw, when you say “I know fear: we are well acquainted” — you sound a lot like T.S. Eliot, who wrote “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

      1. Spooky Sean on 06.07.2011 at 14:47 (Reply)

        Thank you for the kind words. They have brightened my day!

    2. Christy on 06.07.2011 at 13:00 (Reply)

      I agree with Susan, and I love your decision about the job interview.

      1. Spooky Sean on 06.07.2011 at 17:01 (Reply)

        Thank you, Christy. I don’t remember where I heard this phrase, but it is now my mantra.
        “Feel the fear, and do it anyone.”

        1. Spooky Sean on 06.07.2011 at 17:05 (Reply)

          *”Feel the fear, and do it ANYWAY”
          Oy, haha, not making myself sound good here…

    3. ellen on 02.04.2013 at 16:33 (Reply)

      I just saw your comment – and i know its years since you posted it, but you mentioned society encouraging men to be loud and domineering. This might not be a completely valid point, but another example of someone whose introverted, is Daryl Dixon. Now i know- he’s just a fictional character in a TV show- but his introverted-ness is what makes him seem masculine in my opinion, if you think about it- girls are expected to be all bubbly and smiley and giddy sometimes, but men are “meant” to be strong. Thus, i see a strength in introvertedness, its mysterious or something. Maybe i just wrote a load of crap, but i just had to express that when i saw your comment..

  7. Joshunda on 06.07.2011 at 12:46 (Reply)

    I loved your Op-Ed in the New York Times and I’ve found myself recommending your blog to some of my introverted friends who, like me, tend to get that line about smiling from strangers you mentioned far too often when we’re only thinking deeply about something in public.

    It’s been wonderful to read your thoughts on introversion/extroversion and why it’s not bad to be an introvert. That seems like an oversimplification, but ultimately, the lack of an ongoing, genuine conversation about introverts and their wonderfulness seems to me to say that being introverted is bad. Maybe that was part of what you tapped into with your Op-Ed.

    Anyway, I think about this all the time because I believe I’m an introverted writer/journalist. I love being around my friends and I concentrate totally on people that I meet/interview/talk to often for work. But I get so much energy and replenishing energy from solitude as a creative person that I find it difficult to explain to people that I’m really not the extrovert they think I am. I don’t know if it really matters, but I can say that I feel so much better having found something of a community of introverts, or at least a narrative that doesn’t demonize it (for lack of a weaker word). I believe your work is a public service that is probably as undervalued as introverts tend to be, and it certainly has edified me and allowed me to think of myself as less “crazy” or “shy” than others have pegged me as.

    I think as humans we’re always concerned with putting people/things in categories. It’s how we find language for experience. But this long comment is meant to just say that I think it matters how we talk about being introverted because it can make the difference between driving someone to be negatively shy vs. being someone who prefers time alone, space to think and maybe more silence than others before saying something deeply profound.

    1. Christy on 06.07.2011 at 13:02 (Reply)

      “I think as humans we’re always concerned with putting people/things in categories. It’s how we find language for experience.”
      I love how you state this, and I quite agree. Humans innately find patterns in things. Of course then we tend to believe that the patterns *always* hold true. But I love both seeing patterns and then seeing the things and situations and people that don’t hold true to the pattern.

      1. Joshunda on 06.07.2011 at 13:06 (Reply)

        Thanks, Christy. I agree with you, too, that it’s great to see both things that are true to a pattern and things that are different. I wonder if introverts think about that differently too — like if they are more likely to appreciate the nuances of something being opposite of what we’d expect than someone who is more expressive/confident about things that are true to a specific pattern.

      2. Susan Cain on 06.07.2011 at 13:10 (Reply)

        I agree, wonderfully put. And thx Joshunda for your insights. I have come across many introverted writer/journalists. It’s a perfect profession, really, because it involves mostly one-on-one interactions and also allows the posing of gazillions of questions — a mode that many introverts enjoy.

  8. Roxanne on 06.07.2011 at 14:34 (Reply)

    Thank you for writing this wonderful blog. I look forward to reading your book! I’ve never related so well to anything in my life. The sad thing is that it has taken me far too long to realize and accept my own nature–and to think of it as good, even.

    This sentence especially struck me: “Anyone who has walked down the street deep in thought and been instructed by a stranger to smile – as if he were depressed, rather than mentally engaged – knows how maddening this is.”

    I get that a lot–or I’m told to slow down, because I tend to walk fast. Once a woman commented, “She’s on a mission!” I’m unsure if walking fast is related to being introverted and shy, but either way, it’s who I am. I’ve usually taken these comments from strangers positively, and acted on their advice in the moment, but if I were to walk slowly down the street with a grin on my face, I’d feel like an idiot. It would be uncomfortable. So thank you again for telling the world it’s okay to be shy and introverted!

  9. Susan Cain on 06.07.2011 at 14:41 (Reply)

    You’re welcome, Roxanne!

    The image of you walking slowly down the street with a grin on your face was very funny, btw.

  10. BILAL on 06.07.2011 at 15:28 (Reply)


  11. Shannon on 06.07.2011 at 21:32 (Reply)

    You could not have hit the nail more on the head – being told to smile is incredibly maddening! I personally think this is just another example of how extroverts expect introverts to adapt to their ideals, rather than learning to value our traits.

  12. Roxanne on 07.07.2011 at 11:40 (Reply)

    Thought you’d enjoy this link, which goes well with the discussion about being told to smile…

    1. Anne Elliot on 07.07.2011 at 17:32 (Reply)

      @Roxanne: That link is hilarious! Never liked the term “bitchface,” though – seems to have a slight air of misogyny about it. But that’s a different discussion, probably best saved for another blog. :)

      1. Susan Cain on 07.07.2011 at 21:13 (Reply)

        So, so funny. Just had excellent LOL moment. Will post this on Friday’s weekend “reading” list, for those who missed your link. Thx, Roxanne!

  13. Brittany on 09.07.2011 at 22:15 (Reply)

    Yeah, the difference between shyness and introversion can be confusing. I’ve always been told that I was shy or quiet by peers, teachers, etc growing up, so I thought I was shy. Now with all my blogging about shyness, I’m starting to realize that I’m not defined by what other people think, and that maybe I’m not shy after all. Maybe I’m simply an introvert, which is why I usually like to listen and talk when I want to rather than just talking to hear my voice. I do feel shy in certain situations, like striking up a conversation with a stranger or doing charades or something, but that doesn’t mean I’m a shy person I guess. It’s confusing. I just know that I absolutely hated being called shy or quiet growing up because I heard it so much over and over again, and it was like that was all people were thinking about me. It does seem like introversion and shyness have a negative or weak connotation, which is frustrating, but with more awareness with what you’re doing and what I’m doing, maybe that will change.

  14. […] Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)? […]

  15. L.H. on 13.07.2011 at 23:01 (Reply)

    Once again, you are spot on. I wish that every teacher/educator would follow your site and hopefully will read your book.

  16. Ana Gisela Diaz on 25.07.2011 at 08:47 (Reply)

    I have been called introvert, social phobic and shy. My life has been difficult. I suffered a lot in the workplace because I am not able to create a network of relations that would help me in my career or a network of friends to help me in my difficult times. I am usually misunderstood and shunned. Silly of me, I thought that God, the Universe or Nature–however you want to call it–would compensate my introversion with some kind of special talent that give my life some meaning. But it is not so. I am an average person with no special gifts. I am an introvert. I am a lonely person who looks at the world from outside and seem incapable of being a part of it. I have gone to therapists, psychiatrists and religion in search of help. All to no avail. So each time I read about a shy person who is highly creative or very successful, I wonder “What about the zillion of others who are just simply introvert”?

    1. Susan Cain on 25.07.2011 at 11:08 (Reply)

      Dear Ana,

      Thx so much for this wise and thoughtful comment. You are so right. When people (like me) want to make the argument that such and such trait has been undervalued, we often point to wildly talented or creative people who have the trait, as if to say, see, they are like this, so it must be OK!

      And of course that is not the point at all. The point is that it is OK to be just as you are, whether you possess an outlier talent or not.

      One way to think about all this: you write that you wished to be compensated for your introversion “with some special talent to give [my] life some meaning.” But it is not a special talent that gives life meaning (even though the world often seems to reward such talents, and humans are programmed to seek such rewards). It is (and please forgive my hokiness here, I truly mean this) whom you love, whom you help. I know you feel lonely, for which I am so sorry — loneliness is one of humanity’s most painful emotions — and I wonder if you can find someone, or something to love — a friend, an animal, someone who needs help, etc. Providing real help is something that almost anyone can do — no special “talent” required. I think our society makes us feel as if the only things worth doing are the ones that are exceptional, the ones that almost NO ONE can do, when just the opposite is true.

      Also, re: the therapy you have undergone –do you know whether your therapist had any special training or interest in shyness/social phobia? It might benefit you to see a person skilled with your particular troubles.

      I wish you the best of luck, and thank you for writing this.

  17. […] “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.” Susan Cain […]

  18. Ed on 29.04.2012 at 08:12 (Reply)

    I think being both shy and introverted is extremely draining.
    They hardly build relationship with people because (1) they don’t want to, as they feel some are unnecessary – introverts’ way of thinking, (2) they can’t – too shy to do that.
    And so they are the most passive of the passive community. They are more likely to be seen as autistic and rude than normal introverts.
    They will also receive greater pressure than normal introverts as they’re too sensitive with the judgements (they care about what people think about them, again a characteristic of shyness).

    I am one of the type myself, and I am often stuck in a dilemma.
    I keep contemplating whether I am really wrong and where could I improve to not be shy, but whenever I practice that, I feel like ‘why do I have to be so hypocrite? That’s not me at all’
    And I’m back to my old self again and the process goes on like a cycle…

    Being a shy introvert really bring you much more disadvantages than other personalities.
    World is against you and it is tiring.
    I do love myself but it is like abrasion, they are slowly lessening my confidence.

  19. […] In other words, shyness is not really a fear of people–it is a fear of people’s reactions to you.  In fact, there are shy extroverts out there who are definitely not afraid of people. In fact, they long for social interaction, but may be too shy to act on that desire. Shy extroverts are not scared of other people; they are scared of negative judgment. Susan Cain discusses the various aspects of being a shy extrovert or an outgoing introvert in her blog post, “Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)?” […]

  20. Tia on 09.08.2012 at 19:36 (Reply)

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It is the little changes that will make the most important changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  21. Hilario on 10.08.2012 at 18:58 (Reply)

    Hi there everyone, it’s my first go to see at this web page, and article is actually fruitful designed for me, keep up posting these types of articles.

  22. […] their positive contributions over those of introverts and disadvantaging the latter. Here is one example of her making that point (while also addressing the confusion of introversion and shynes…: I understand why non-anxious introverts feel so frustrated when people treat them as if they’re […]

  23. Steffi on 15.12.2012 at 10:43 (Reply)

    Well, most introverts become shy eventually because they don’t feel accepted in the world full of extroverts…extrovert judge introverts
    Wrongly as if they are abnormal etc That’s why introverts become insecure
    And More conscious of what people think of them and are afraid people won’t like and accept them for who they are

    1. Zeta on 20.12.2012 at 02:25 (Reply)

      Bingo, I strongly believe that this is what happened to me as well. I am sick and tired of constantly doubting myself because I do not fit the mold. It is not easy, but I am trying to improve my self-esteem. Thankfully, I at least have supportive parents, but this is an inner-demon that only I can work through.

      I’ve only discovered this blog a few days ago, but these words speak to me and explain so much. I really wish extroverts would take the time to quiet down and actually observe the people around them. Maybe some of us introverts would come out of our shells if the extroverts would stop pushing us or demonizing us.

      There is so much pressure to become a leader, but aren’t the jobs behind the scenes equally important? Don’t too many chef’s spoil the pot? What about those who don’t desire to be either a follower nor a leader, but desire to be a lone wolf by choice? Food for thought.

  24. […] you’re interested in this topic, we were inspired to write this post after reading this article on […]

  25. Betsy Robinson on 28.12.2012 at 14:48 (Reply)

    I love your book, and one of the reasons–aside from explanation of the introvert’s brain chemistry vis a vis stimulus and the need for “restorative niches”–is how beautifully you un-entwine (if that’s a word) shyness and introversion. I so appreciated your discussion about Gandhi. Myers-Briggs lore categorizes Gandhi as an INFJ. I’m one too. I’m not shy, but I only act like an extrovert when it’s because what I’m acting to accomplish feels more important than I am. Apparently this is an INFJ trait. A nice one to share with such an inspiring leader introvert.

    So it is possible to be an introverted alpha person. By the way, I wrote a book all about whether it’s okay to be an INFJ. It’s called “Conversations with Mom: An Aging Baby Boomer, in Need of an Elder, Writes to Her Dead Mother.” It’s a funny book, but it’s all about grappling with the essential introvert’s question: Is it okay to be me? (I published in paperback but it went up on Kindle yesterday: If you’d like a review copy, Susan, I’d be happy to send you one for a quote.)

  26. […] expending energy. I’m not the only one who thinks this way: psychologists, researchers, and even an author of a book all about introversion all warn against conflating these two terms to mean the same […]

  27. […] a shy extroverted-introvert I’ve had trouble speaking to strangers in the past; speaking in public […]

  28. […] Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)? […]

  29. Raaf on 16.02.2013 at 17:28 (Reply)

    I just love the way you have described the difference between being shy and introvert…… I don’t know whether I am just shy or introvert or both..I can stay alone in a room for hours in my own world…I do like the company of other people..but whenever I am in a group I tend to stay quiet and listen others…I can’t get along easily with new people…most of them say that I don’t speak much….sometimes I also feel shy…like if there is an activity going on which I would like to join but i wouldn’t….but I want to interact with people …and every time I come across new people i find myself struggling to make a connection….it may be because I was much introvert in my highschool time…I feel much troubled with my nature at workplace….I can’t start small talks..I don’t feel interested in small talks….few people talk to me…I feel very uncomfortable ….

  30. Whatsoever on 27.02.2013 at 06:47 (Reply)

    Hate the way people say i’m shy when I’m not !

  31. Manuel on 04.03.2013 at 10:14 (Reply)

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    Many thanks ,Agnes

  32. karen on 19.03.2013 at 08:14 (Reply)

    I have recommended your book to a couple of my friends from my high school days who, like myself, are introverts. I wish that there had been more books by enlightened authors like you when I was growing up. I became shy from a young age because of harsh judgment from both my peers and adults for having introvert traits. Sadly, most of my life I hated myself for being how I was and I hated other people for judging me unfairly. Now at the ripe age of 47, I do feel more accepting of myself. Why should I apologize for being an introvert? If people don’t like it they can go to hell. The friends I do have are very close ones and they appreciate and accept who I am. People who don’t know me may think I’m bland and boring but I am very passionate and have very strong convictions and opinions on lots of things. Growing up I seriously thought I needed psychiatric help because I just could never seem to fit in. Frankly, I’m sick of seeing all the discrimination going on against quiet people. Why is it unacceptable for people to discriminate against people of a different race but it is perfectly fine to ostracize and make fun of someone because of how they are wired mentally, emotionally, and genetically. Educators, parents, employers, everyone needs to get the message that this is not okay. I am still working through anger issues from years ago. Reading your book has helped me heal and for the first time in my life feel validated. Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

  33. […] of social judgement, and introversion being the need to spend time alone I found it interesting how she talks about the different combinations of anxious, calm, introvert and […]

  34. david on 08.04.2013 at 16:08 (Reply)

    Introverted all my life. Extremely shy as a child, became less shy as an adult. My shyness is very situational – public speaking is a piece of cake, and “scripted” interactions, like job interviews, professional interactions are very easy for me.

    On the other hand, “unscripted” social interactions – cocktail parties, introducing myself, making small talk — just KILL me.

    I never had children because I would never want my child to go through the misery I went through. The only way I would have considered having a child would be if there had been a prenatal test to detect shyness/social phobia/introversion/high sensitivity, to end the pregnancy if the those tendencies were present.

  35. […] As wonderful as it is, it’s also exhausting, hard, and scary on an almost daily basis.  (“Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)?” briefly explains the difference between shyness and […]

  36. цены на авиабилеты on 23.04.2013 at 17:13 (Reply)

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  37. […] somewhat of a shy introvert (two completely different subjects that should not be lumped together), the idea of hosting a huge party where the focus is on me gave me a bit of anxiety. Who knows […]

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  39. Mariana on 07.07.2013 at 17:52 (Reply)

    What do I do if I’m shy but also an introvert?
    Sometimes I feel like I’m too anti-social but there really isn’t much I can do about it. I mean I would like to meet new people and attend socials but I feel like that really isn’t my scene. What can I do?

  40. adoptedonlychild666 on 15.07.2013 at 14:10 (Reply)

    If society embraced introverts as much as it embraces extroverts, we would be a lot better off. Jobs would be done better. Introverts are cut out for jobs that don’t require socializing (computer, library, animal shelter, writer, artist, etc etc) and extroverts are cut out for jobs that do require chit chat (real estate, any sales job, etc.) It’s funny. The only child is demonized as snotty and spoiled rotten and aloof when the only child is raised in a nonsocial environment and doesn’t know how to suit extroverts’ chit chatty majesties no matter how hard he or she may try – social anxiety disorder is a dead-on way to describe what an only child may likely have. The only child is generally and logically an introvert and demonized by society just like an introvert is (NO, I am not saying people with siblings can not be introverted, OK?) But there is a connection, a social statement to be made, that people demonize what is different, never give opportunities to what is different, and that is why many onlies and introverts fail in life, through no fault of their own.

  41. […] Introverts and extroverts are not homogeneous groups. During the time I spent as a freelance writer and researcher, I let my clients know that I’m available and receptive to them reaching out and communicating (whether by texting, emailing, or calling) as I understood that they might have important additions or changes to make on the project I’m working on.  Still, other introverts would rather not have their clients interrupt while they’re in the process of working. There’s variation among extroverts as well. As a rebuttal to Telecommuting personality types, I’ve known my fair share of relaxed, unassertive, go-with-the-flow extroverts as well. Furthermore, there are introverts who are not shy and extroverts who are shy as Susan Cain points out in Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)?. […]

  42. […] For instance, some lists include shyness-reated behaviors, but it’s well documented that shyness is not the same thing as introversion. Shyness is more related to being anxious and neurotic. There are plenty of introverts who prefer […]

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  44. RAM on 20.09.2013 at 10:22 (Reply)

    thank you for your article Susan Cain. I now know that I’m just an introverted person and that I can be definitely confident in my abilities to make the world a better place. I am as normal as anybody else.

  45. […] the common misperception that all introverts are shy, and vice versa, they’re two very different phenomena. (Author and introversion expert Susan Cain defines shyness as “the fear of negative judgment,” […]

  46. Shy, Frumpy Doormats | Marissa on 16.11.2013 at 09:55

    […] considered “bad” traits (though that is starting to change in regards to introverts). In Susan Caine’s words, “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally […]

  47. […] or speaking up when we have something to say in a meeting, or spending holidays with family. There’s a difference between being shy and introverted, and knowing how to read and understand your internal signals […]

  48. What about the money on 22.02.2014 at 22:06 (Reply)

    By the virtue of the personality traits, does it mean that most high paying jobs unfortunately will be not suited/work for the typical shy-introverted.

  49. A-dotty on 29.03.2014 at 17:20 (Reply)

    I am BOTH shy and introverted which is not a good combo

    1. Cee on 04.02.2015 at 19:05 (Reply)

      me too. i am shy and an introvert. it’s a hard day to day life. some people will look at you and think you’re inferior. everytime i go home, it always feels like breathing again. i love being alone and sometimes some people look them as lonely and cold.

  50. […] People often equate shy with introversion. Jung defined introversion as an “attitude-type characterised by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents” (focus on one’s inner psychic activity); and extraversion as “an attitude type characterised by concentration of interest on the external object”, (the outside world). Wikipedia distinguishes shyness from introversion: “professor of psychology Bernardo J. Carducci, introverts choose to avoid social situations because they derive no reward from them or may find surplus sensory input overwhelming, whereas shy people may fear such situations.” A more complete discussion can be found on Susan Cain’s Quiet Website:  […]

  51. […] Artikel ist im englischen Original auf Susan Cains Seite “The Power of Introverts” ( […]

  52. Randy on 19.05.2014 at 08:02 (Reply)

    I have to ask for clarification else I’ve perhaps been unfairly surmising what’s shy and not.

    Is the distinction about being with other PEOPLE or any stimulus?

    So, for example….

    “Barbra Streisand has an outgoing, larger than life personality, but a paralyzing case of stage fright: she’s a shy extrovert.”

    Does she have no problem performing to a small group? … How about being in some situation where there’s lots of stimulus but not performing … an amusement park.

    “Bill Gates is quiet and bookish, but apparently unfazed by others’ opinions of him: he’s an introvert, but not shy.”

    Ok, but does this mean he’s introverted or introspective? I am frankly quiet and bookish but given the chance for situations of excessive stimulation where’s there’s no others involved, a roller coaster for example, I want to be there 24/7.

    In both these examples it’s about groups of other people. I can understand why it’s easier to perform to a million people than ten … you don’t have that eye contact that triggers what I think is shyness … a large group of people is less personal.

    I’m just not sure here and am asking for clarification.

  53. Donkey Kong on 26.05.2014 at 22:59 (Reply)


    Your work has been a great interest to me ever since I saw your TED talk. It has given me a more confident, progressive mindset, but I still wonder if introversion (or even shyness as covered by this article) is who I am or characterized as.

    As a teen and early adult, I was talkative and more “extroverted”; however, as time went on (I am now 29) my tendencies did a 180.

    I realize that a lot that paralyzes me is the fear of inadequacy and being wrong.

    So I wonder: am I really an introvert or have my experiences/fears caused some sort of “losing” bout with confidence? What really separates the not confident quiet person from the shy/shy-introvert/introvert?

    1. Randy on 27.05.2014 at 09:17 (Reply)

      To Donkey Kong (I don’t know if this will be posted as ‘reply’ or a comment…),

      This is also my point in part … that regardless of whatever predispositions we may have that we can change, and SHOULD change, to maximize our control, and as such, opportunities.

      Life can just plain be debilitating and being able to manage those blows is the work that’s needed … not (fat/shy/fill-in whatever else) acceptance.

      You aren’t ‘really’ anything at all … you, me, everyone, have these predispositions and we do with them what we choose.

      The analogy at present I use is that each of us is a piano … but some are smaller uprights that may sound best with ragtime and others are more grand concert and sound best with classical or whatever. But that does NOT mean you can’t play any song on any piano!… being human means you have 88 keys so play what you will!

      You ask “What really separates the not confident quiet person from the shy/shy-introvert/introvert?”

      I say it’s the decision you make about it … how many women vs. man say their not good at math? It’s a big gap. (Women are significantly more likely than men to say that they are not good at math (37% vs. 21%).“we’re-not-good-math”

      But are women that physically different than men? … I think that’s very unlikely…it’s behavioral (social and cultural).

  54. JC on 22.10.2014 at 12:44 (Reply)

    I believe there are actually three phenomena here.

    1) Introversion, where you gain strength and regenerate by being alone, vs. extroversion, where you gain strength and regenerate by being with others

    2) Shyness, where it takes more energy to participate in new social interactions.

    3) Performance anxiety (also labeled stage fright), where a phobia exists about publicly performing.

    For example, my wife and I are both classic introverts. However, she is not shy. She does not have any trouble entering a party where she doesn’t know anyone, and having conversations. On the other hand, she has a very bad case of stage fright so the thought of giving a presentation in front of an audience, no matter how well prepared, paralyzes her.

    I am shy. Entering a party where I don’t know anyone and managing to create interactions is very tiring and energy-sapping to me. On the other hand, I have no performance anxiety at all. I have been performing musically on a professional level almost my entire life. I also am completely comfortable in any kind of presentation situation.

    Both of us would 100 times rather spend an evening in sweatpants reading than going out to socialize.

    Introversion and shyness are not pathologies. They are simply places along a spectrum of personalities. Performance anxiety (of the severe type) is a pathology. It’s a phobia like excessive fear of heights.

    I expect that shyness, introversion, and performance anxiety are often correlated, but they are not the same thing. As far as Barbra Streisand, I am sure she has performance anxiety. I cannot judge whether she is shy or introverted. I suspect she is neither, in other words a non-shy extrovert with a paralyzing case of performance anxiety.

    1. Susan Cain on 22.10.2014 at 14:49 (Reply)

      This is a super thoughtful comment, JC. Thank you SO much!

      1. Randy on 22.10.2014 at 16:05 (Reply)

        “She does not have any trouble entering a party where she doesn’t know anyone, and having conversations. ”

        “Both of us would 100 times rather spend an evening in sweatpants reading than going out to socialize.”

        Can you please clarify? … if there is ‘no trouble’ at the party then why is there a preference to not socialize? (A preference which I share, to not socialize, because while I can enjoy them, and socialize, it takes more energy (to bring forth a behavior to overcome the increased anxiety).

        If the answer turns out to be ‘very little trouble’ then would that not be the same as saying ‘a little shy?’

  55. Devin on 23.10.2014 at 08:46 (Reply)

    Hi, I’m a 22 year old guy, freshly diagnosed with depression and and social phobia(Extreme Anxiety).

    A few months ago I started a new job at a massive company, with big shot, CEO’s, MD’s and the like. Myself – I studied for one year and become a draftsman. No stress then…

    I had a panic attack early on when I was called upon to join a financial meeting, I was so extremely quiet and it felt like the walls were closing in on me and that every single person in the room was pondering about why I am the way I am – Quiet.

    Then I started feeling incredibly sad and that awful clump in my chest just dint wanna leave. I started arriving late for work and sometimes skipping it completely, I couldn’t face the reality of coming back to such a social loving office.

    Anyway, I left my job explaining to them exactly what happened.After a week they contacted me with news that they want to reinstate me with a pay raise.

    I’m now sitting in my office typing this to get some response as to what to do. I’m still extremely unhappy, unbelievably quiet to the point where people come up to me and say: “You can say something you know” to which I reply that’s the way I am.

    Is this something I can handle on my own, is it the depression ans anxiety or am I just a very, very shy introvert??? Any expert opinion?

    1. Randy on 24.10.2014 at 08:40 (Reply)

      “freshly diagnosed”

      …By whom? … are you in therapy?

      “to which I reply that’s the way I am.”
      “Is this something I can handle on my own.”

      … that reply would seem to say you can’t handle on your own (and I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a person who can handle their entire self on their own – I think it would be very much be like being able to literally lift yourself off the ground.)

      An expert opinion? … can’t help… a layman’s opinion? … see someone.

      …. perhaps someone else will offer more details but I didn’t want your message to go without a response as I think it’s critical that you know you’re expressing your concern very clearly and very maturely and that in itself (to me) is a super strong indicator of the capacity for personal change.

      People amaze themselves when they discover how malleable they are.

  56. JC on 23.10.2014 at 10:39 (Reply)

    So, the difference between “no trouble at the party” vs. “prefers to hang out in sweatpants and read”? Good question. The difference is that she and I both get our energy and recharging from being alone rather than from being with other people. That in my mind is introversion. When we get to the party where neither of us knows anyone, she feels minimal stress or tension about striking up conversations with new people. I feel considerable stress and tension about doing so. It is not paralyzing. I do not have a phobia about it. But it’s harder for me.

    I grant that the distinctions are subtle, but I continue to maintain that shyness and introversion are not the same thing, due to the example I have in front of me. And similarly that shyness and performance anxiety/stage fright are not the same thing.

    One reason I am starting to insist on clarity (in conversations with others, for example) about these three things, is that I fervently believe that introversion is not a pathology with normal being extroversion; that shyness is not a pathology with normal being socially easy and immediately open to new people; and that neither shyness nor introversion is a phobia like stage fright (which I don’t have and my wife does) or fear of heights (which my wife doesn’t have and I do).

    If a parent were to ask my advice about their child, describing them as “shy”, “introverted”, or “stage fright” I would ask questions to try to see what is going on. If she prefers to play quietly by herself, but opens up to people when approached, “introverted, not a problem, that’s probably the way she is”. If she wants to spend all her time with her friends, but is hesitant and tense about meeting the new minister when he comes over to visit – but eventually warms up to him – “shy, not a problem, that’s probably the way she is”. If she is basically happy being shy or introverted (except when others harass her about it), leave her alone.

    If interaction with other people causes her to cry, hide all day to avoid going to school, horrible stomach cramps at the thought of going to the playground where other children are: “that’s a problem, some kind of anxiety disorder, need to work with someone to help her”.

    1. Randy on 23.10.2014 at 11:43 (Reply)

      Thank you for the quick and detailed reply JC.

      I don’t understand this (common) position of ‘recharges by being with other people’.

      Extroverts need as much sleep as anyone.

      Would you not agree there is a big difference between ‘being excited’ and ‘being recharged’.

      I think it’s as simple as extroverts enjoy the stimulus – but that doesn’t mean they don’t expend energy, just as I, playing tennis, work harder than I do with other sports because I enjoy it more.)

      “She feels minimal stress or tension about striking up conversations with new people. I feel considerable stress and tension about doing so. It is not paralyzing. I do not have a phobia about it. But it’s harder for me.”

      But I think that’s because she’s a women and the archetypical communication style for women is to create rapport, and for men it’s to report – a typical woman would find it easier to converse in a party, regardless of the number of people, because there’s an opportunity for intimacy, and find it hard to open up to a small number of strangers.

      Conversely a typical male will seek to help/inform and strive to create expression that is ‘efficient’.

      Her: You don’t tell me anything (the details of your day … the MORE you tell me the more I think you love me … my best friend is the person I speak to most often, not necessarily the person I share the more intimate details with – I feel there’s lots of time to share.)

      Him: I tell you everything (and because I love you and respect your time I filter my conversation so you don’t have to be bothered with the minutia but instead the important parts of my day – I feel there’s little time to share).

      “The difference is that she and I both get our energy and recharging from being alone rather than from being with other people.”

      Is this not the same as “I expend more energy being with others.”? (and hence shyness? anxiety?)

      (What is the reason to frame it as ‘gaining or losing energy’ instead of ‘I prefer to not be near others because it makes me anxious’? What is the energy expenditure other than social anxiety?, be or mild or severe?)

      “If she [a child] prefers to play quietly by herself, but opens up to people when approached, “introverted, not a problem, that’s probably the way she is”.

      And I’d say there’s a concern because if she opens up only when put in that situation it’s being vigilant. She’s displaying safety behavior. I’d want to know why she never chooses to initiate relationships with others – it’s a hallmark of shy/introverted behavior to pretend everything’s ok when it’s not (and I’m speaking from experience on this one as well … with others the desire to ‘look good’ is severe and otherwise the desire is to escape.

  57. JC on 30.10.2014 at 07:45 (Reply)


    I don’t want to be rude, but what I read in your questions and comments responding to mine of 10/23/14 is an underlying bias that shyness and introversion are pathologies. Take the made-up child I used as an example:

    (JC) “If she [a child] prefers to play quietly by herself, but opens up to people when approached, “introverted, not a problem, that’s probably the way she is”.

    (Randy) “And I’d say there’s a concern because if she opens up only when put in that situation it’s being vigilant. She’s displaying safety behavior. I’d want to know why she never chooses to initiate relationships with others – it’s a hallmark of shy/introverted behavior to pretend everything’s ok when it’s not (and I’m speaking from experience on this one as well … with others the desire to ‘look good’ is severe and otherwise the desire is to escape.”

    Your language indicates that to you shyness and introversion are problems. I distinguish (in my mind) between shyness, introversion on one side which to me are not problems (though our society increasingly wants to define them as such) and phobias, which are problems.

    On the other hand the poster “Devin”, above, to me clearly is suffering (and I can read his suffering in his tale) with what I would call phobias or anxieties, far beyond the normal range. He needs some kind of help; he’s miserable with his situation.

    I think shyness and introversion are natural variations in the way people are. I think social anxiety phobia and stage fright are pathologies caused by a combination of unresolved childhood traumas and (potentially) defects in brain chemistry.

    Finally, I would urge you to consider that the idea of shy or introverted people having something wrong with them that ought to be fixed is a recent phenomenon. Literature is replete with examples of characters presented in a positive way who are shy and/or introverted; clearly those authors did not think their characters needed to be “fixed”. There are some, though fewer, examples in history as well. I think the whole idea that extroversion and non-shyness are the only normal is a late 20th century thing, and I think it’s largely driven by commercial advertising and popular culture for profitability purposes. I think of it as the “cheerleaderization” of American culture.

    1. Randy on 30.10.2014 at 08:42 (Reply)

      Hi JC,

      Thank you again for your reply. You’re not only NOT being rude but I think your responses are very thoughtful and I do take them seriously.

      But in short, yes, I certainly think shyness and introversion are problems – the problem being a desire to escape from opportunity. I also think that being overweight, not very smart, or having poor vision are also problems.

      I am not of the camp (not indicting you in particular) that maintain ‘this is just the way I am’ (and as such there’s no problem… natural is ‘correct’ … and action need not be taken).

      Devin needs more help if he’s suffering more. (So does a person who is 150 lbs. overweight vs. 15.

      Both need help. I understand the social pejorative of not saying they need to be ‘fixed’ because fixed implies all or nothing.

      Literature is replete with those examples because that’s exactly it’s role, as is any entertainment, which is to create a reality that isn’t presently available to most – in this discussion a selection of narrative examples where a shy person get good results.

      Literature presents hope (why buy it otherwise).

      (There’s also no reason to think that those authors didn’t personally think the characters needed help but didn’t have the means or tools to make that happen.)

      We have to get over the phobia that natural = best.

      Look at how America is doing these days in education … because it’s ‘wrong’ to ‘fix’ kids who aren’t as smart – we need to give them social help instead of far better ways to improve skill faster.

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Quiet: The Book

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QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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