The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) Takes On Shyness and Social Anxiety…


…and I was one of the panelists. It was a wonderful experience. Diane Rehm is a kind of national icon, and it was an honor to be in the same room with her, speaking into gigantic microphones on a subject I care about deeply. My only frustration was that we were barely able to scratch the surface in the hour-long program — it really would have required a full day to do it right! There was time, though, to touch on a few things that are important to me, including the difference between shyness and introversion, the evolutionary basis of these personality traits, and the powers of the quiet.

The other guests were evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson (whose fascinating work I wrote about in my New York Times article and in my book); psychiatry professor Dr. Liza Gold; and psychology professor (and author of the book, Curious) Todd Kashdan.

The show aired yesterday — if you’d like to listen in, please go here. Would love to hear your thoughts. Were any parts especially interesting to you? What would you have liked to see covered that we didn’t have time for?
Also, many new people subscribed to this blog after hearing the show — I’m so glad you are here, and especially welcome your comments. Thanks!





  1. Barb Markway on 10.08.2011 at 13:15 (Reply)

    Great job, Susan! It’s fun to hear your voice after just reading your words :) I’m going to read the transcript and probably listen again, as there was so much to absorb. Just a few thoughts now-I think your work focusing on the positive qualities of introversion is so important because I wonder how much of the painful part of shyness and social anxiety could be prevented if we grew up in a kinder, gentler environment in which differences are simply accepted and not judged. I’m thinking of Brittany from The Shyness Project and how she was bullied in 6th grade simply for being quiet. I bet no one has been bullied for being too talkative.

    This is another issue, but I was very surprised as Todd Kashdan was talking about how people with social anxiety are so self-focused that they have difficulty sharing in their partner’s triumphs…and that they’re so self-focused that good qualities like empathy, gratitude and generosity can’t be expressed. I guess it’s his research and yeah, maybe these are people with very severe social anxiety disorder. But my clinical and personal experience has been just the opposite-that people with social anxiety are still very attuned to others and continue to have great empathy and generosity.

    Keep us posted on your media appearances! Can’t wait to hear and see more of you!

  2. Tim Larison on 10.08.2011 at 14:02 (Reply)

    Interesting show and I thought you represented the introvert viewpoint well, Susan. Some things that resonated with me:

    The difference between shyness and introversion - shyness a fear of negative judgment while introversion is a preference on the type of social interaction one enjoys (i.e. 1 to 1 vs group discussions). Good distinction. I think quiet introverts are sometimes painted with a broad brush (“he/she is so shy”) when shyness isn’t really the issue.

    The introvert child - I can relate! When my parents had company I ran downstairs. Part of that was negative feedback I would receive from my parents if I wasn’t “extroverted” enough in social situations. If I was allowed just to be my introverted self I wouldn’t have avoided these situations as much.

    Group brainstorming sessions - I hated these in my 20 years in the corporate world . I much preferred a group session where I could present a paper, or if there was also a followup discussion by email. I would work around the group brainstorming like you did Susan - following up 1 to 1 with people if there was an important point I wanted to make. It’s not that I was afraid to speak up; I just needed time to formulate my thoughts.

    I look forward to hearing more interviews with you as you promote your book.

  3. Danielle on 10.08.2011 at 16:16 (Reply)

    I just listened to the interview and also find that Todd Kashdan was totally off the mark. He seems to mistake social anxiety with outright jealousy. I would have thought that a psychology professor would know the difference between the two.

    I was put down by an extraverted family member who, every time I went looking for a better job early in my career, would tell me that I would never get it, only to see me get the job within the following two weeks. That would infuriate him no end. Later on, that same family member had the audacity to say that I was competing against him. Staring him straight in the face, I told him that I had never competed against him, that the only person I was competing against was myself so as to improve myself and my skills. Some time later, he took another jab at me, telling me that everything came easy to me. I reminded him that while he was out partying and going on dates, I was at home studying to better my skills instead of having fun. He later privately admitted to my mother that I was a hard worker and that I had earned my success fair and square, but never had the courage to tell me to my face. My mom was the one who wound up telling me.

    That’s not social anxiety, that’s just plain old jealousy which has nothing to do with social anxiety nor with being introverted. He was the jealous one and he was an outrageous extravert.

    I don’t know how Todd Kashdan went about doing his research, but it seems his results are more than questionable. No wonder we get such a bad rap. He’s the judgmental type of person we have to put up with on a daily basis.

    Thank God we had you keeping our backs. Good job.

    1. Todd Kashdan on 10.08.2011 at 19:04 (Reply)

      Susan, thanks for sharing the link.

      Barb, I am also a clinical psychologist with years of helping people with anxiety difficulties. Yes, self-focused attention about whether other people notice their anxiety, uncomfortable bodily sensations, or getting hooked by unwanted thoughts, all get in the way of being able to attend to the outside world. I’ve seen this in many clients I’ve worked with and the 100s of couples we studied were not suffering from disorders, they were simply higher on the continuum of social anxiety. It sounds as if you don’t want to believe these findings but they come from 100s of people, not a few cases. That being said, we are talking about the average person who endorses high levels of social anxiety symptoms. As I mentioned on the show, shy people are not a uniform bunch of people, same for extraverted people, or conscientious people, or happy people. What I didn’t mention, because there wasn’t sufficient time, was that how social anxiety affects the quality of romantic relationships often depends on the personality traits of romantic partners. Its hard to hit the nuances in this kind of program. You can read the study when it comes out.

      Danielle, you describe a very difficult familial situation. I’m unsure how you reach the conclusion that I’m “the judgmental type of person” that doesn’t understand shyness and social anxiety. Just to be clear, I have devoted my career to understanding and helping people with anxiety, self-doubt, rejection, and ostracism, as well as helping people cultivate happiness, meaning in life, resilience, and psychological strengths. But you’ll have to take my word that I’m not the enemy….either way, thanks for listening to the show.


  4. Hitomi on 10.08.2011 at 19:41 (Reply)

    Dear Susie, I listened to the show yesterday and you were very articulate and clear. Well done! I am looking forward to reading you book.

    Like the other comments, I too was surprised with Todd Kashdan’s research that those with social anxiety disorders were so self absorbed that they cannot share their partners triumphs. It sounded as if shy people were so self absorbed - which is clearly not the case. I think it would have been useful if there was a clear definition of the differences between shyness and social anxiety. I felt that the discussions went on as if they were the same. Thanks!

  5. Christy on 11.08.2011 at 00:36 (Reply)

    I was actually particularly interested in the comments of a listener who called in and said that he really appreciated his relationships with extraverts because they drew him out. That’s exactly how I feel about some introverts. Sometimes I may want to participate in something and can’t figure out how, and an extravert drawing me in feels valuing and works very nicely.

  6. Tracy on 12.08.2011 at 09:16 (Reply)

    Hi Susan!
    I really enjoyed listening to the show too! I have an introverted personality type (have taken Myers Briggs) AND I have dealt with Generalized anxiety disorder, and I see a therapist regularly. I see my struggle with anxiety and my personality type as two separate things. I’ve made some great strides in accepting the anxiety part of me, in that I go and do the stuff I really want to do, rather than waiting to feel “right” or free from anxiety. My introversion is played out in that I will hang back a bit and observe for a while in new situations, and once I feel I have a ‘lay of the land’, or am comfortable, I join in. Many of my friends and colleagues are surprised that I see a therapist for the anxiety - it’s not something they see about me at all.

    I really appreciated the research based on the couples that Todd shared. I am divorced, and among the many reasons for why it didn’t work, I will say my former spouse and I both failed to enthusiastically celebrate the higher points of each others day-to-day life, or even the milestones. I now wonder if anxiety played a part in that?? I am currently adapting a more celebratory mindset with friends, family and my son, and you know what . . . . it’s just more fun! (reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness site has also given me many fun tips and tools in this area)

    Hearing your voice on the show was great. An hour was such a short amount of time to cover this, and to get to hear adequately from all the wonderful minds/perspectives present. Thanks for all you do for introverts.
    And, like the previous commenter said, I love how my extraverted friends draw me out. I’m attending a music festival with one of them this weekend - something I would not likely do on my own.

  7. Shyness, Social Anxiety, and The Diane Rehm Show | Imperfect Happiness on 12.08.2011 at 21:28

    […] Lo and behold! Here was Susan Cain, author of one of the few blogs that I follow and the forthcoming book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, on The Diane Rehm Show! (For her blog post and a link to the show, visit here: The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) Takes On Shyness and Social Anxiety….) […]

  8. Charity on 12.08.2011 at 21:42 (Reply)

    I actually found Todd Kashdan’s point about the link between social anxiety and self-centered behavior to be right on, based on my personal experience. It’s not something I like to admit, but often when I’m in social situations, I feel so uncomfortable, it’s difficult to attend to the conversations I’m having and the needs of the person in front of me. I think that it often comes across as bad manners, and I suppose it is, I just can’t figure out how to meet my needs and those of others at the same time in social settings. I don’t generally have this problem with my spouse unless I’m quite overwhelmed, though. After fifteen years together, we’ve gotten pretty good and letting one another know when we need a little time before we can be fully present. (I wrote more about this on my blog, which is linked through my name above, I think.)

    I loved how you (Susan) tried to talk up the positives of shyness and to make the distinction between shyness, introversion, and social anxiety. I felt like Diane cut you off a bit when you were presenting the mommy and me music class example (which really hit home for me, incidentally). All in all, I was thrilled to hear you on the show! Your comments were focussed and eloquent, and I wanted to hear more of what you had to say (and not just because you cheer so eloquently for introverts).

  9. Neal on 14.08.2011 at 00:08 (Reply)

    I listened to the show and I thought the comments made regarding the psychological studies where people with social anxiety had a boost in confidence after meaningful sex with a loving partner was quite interesting. However what wasn’t discuss is how difficult it is for those with social anxiety to initiate relationships in the first place.

    I have dealt with anxiety all my life and always feel socially awkward around people. Even people I know quite well. My arm could be on fire and I would be too shy to ask my parents for a glass of water.

    I’m a graduate student in college and I’m lucky to have several close friends but my anxiety has prevented me from ever dating. It’s good to know that a intimate relationship is beneficial to those with social anxiety but how those people got into those relationship was never elaborated on.

    I enjoy reading your blog but would like to see some articles discussing dating and relationships with those who are introverts or have social anxieties.

  10. Brittany on 20.08.2011 at 17:56 (Reply)

    I finally got around to listening to this, it was great! You certainly have a lovely and pleasant voice! I also appreciated the positives you explained of shyness as well as introversion. I think several of the discussions on shyness mostly focused on the more problematic end with the social anxiety, and it was good to hear you talk about the different shades of shyness and when it can be a positive. I think it’s important to do that so our cultural bias against shyness is lessened a bit. Not all shyness is bad. And I loved hearing about how you learned to be powerful as a corporate lawyer by utilizing your introverted qualities rather than trying to become a bold alpha that was comfortable in the spotlight. I’m glad that you were able to see what strengths you did have and that you figured out how to use them to your advantage. Very cool and creative!

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