Just a few years ago, I was a mess.
If you invited me out to anything—even something as casual as a cup of coffee or a night of board games—I would've fumbled for any excuse not to go. I would spend all my time alone at home, and I saw nothing wrong with that.
But, for some reason, I always felt guilty.
That's how I lived for most of my life. And for most of that time, I convinced myself that this is just who I was. I hid behind labels like "introvert" and even took pride in being able to be alone.
And yet... I couldn't shake the feeling of guilt. Why did I feel guilty for being an introvert? Was that guilty an indication that something was actually wrong? Maybe being alone all the time wasn't the best thing for me? Is that really what I wanted?
After many years of introspection, I finally came to admit that my "introversion" wasn't just me being introverted. It was deeper than that, and it was a real problem with many layers.
These days, I still prefer being alone in my own company, but I'm also happy to go out on social calls when they come up. It's no longer a battle between "staying home" and "going out"—they're both great and they both bring me lots of joy.
How did I get here? Are you feeling stuck like I was just a few years ago? Do you stay in all the time but feel guilty about it? What's that all about?
Where Does the Guilt Come From?
Guilt is a good thing. It means you have enough self-awareness and self-reflection to know that something might be wrong. The question is, what exactly is wrong?
At first glance, the guilt of staying home could point to a fear that we aren't living the way a human is "supposed" to live.
The line of thinking goes like this: most people are extroverts, so extroversion is the norm, so the rules of society are dictated by extroverts. And if we aren't living life the way they are? Then we're falling short of what it means to be human.
Dig a little deeper and you might find that the guilt of staying home points to a fear of disappointing the people in our lives.
Our friends and family want to spend time with us. They keep inviting us to outings, but we keep shutting them down. This makes us feel like there's something wrong with us—and, more importantly, we're worried that our constant rejections will be taken the wrong way and harm those relationships.
But, ultimately, I think the guilt of staying home is a sign that we're the ones who are disappointed in ourselves.
It's far too easy to use the excuse of introversion to stay huddled in our comfort zones. Home is safe and pleasant. Going out exposes us to risks—social risks, physical risks, and others.
There's no emotional growth or maturation in a comfort zone. It's only when we step out and do something challenging that we grow—and, deep down, we know this.
We feel guilty for staying home because we're starving ourselves, and there's a part of us that knows it isn't right.
Introversion vs. Social Anxiety: Which Is It?
Some people think that feeling guilty for staying home is just part of the experience in being an introvert. But that's not true.
Healthy introverts actually don't have much to feel guilty about. They can stay home when it's right, and they can go out when it's right, and they can be content because they're in balance.
On the other hand, extroverts can also find themselves staying home instead of going out, and they'll feel guilty for doing so. It's not something that's isolated to introverts only.
It's not introversion; it's social anxiety. When social anxiety masquerades as introversion, that's when guilt starts bubbling.
What's the difference between introversion and social anxiety?
Introversion is when you prefer to be alone but still have the social skills necessary to navigate social situations without undue stress.
Social anxiety is when you demand to be alone, to the point where socialization causes emotional distress and hinders your ability to do the things you need to do as an adult.
Introversion is a choice. Social anxiety is a master.
You control introversion and decide when it's time to be alone and when it's time to be social. Social anxiety controls you and prevents you from being social even when you want to be.
Social anxiety can be thought of as a hyperawareness of self in social situations. You obsess over yourself when in the presence of others, often what you think they're thinking about you.
Here's a simplified but helpful way to think of the difference:
If you're drained by the act of socializing, then you're probably an introvert. If you're drained by the thought of socializing, then you probably have social anxiety.
What to Do About Introvert's Guilt
Again, the guilt of staying home is a good thing. It's a symptom that can point you in the right direction toward growth.
Humans are social creatures. The guilt we feel tells us that we're neglecting a core aspect of who we are. Holing up in the safety of our homes and hiding behind the words "I'm an introvert!" to avoid social activities is, frankly put, unhealthy.
If we're neglecting our relationships to the point where there are fewer and fewer important people in our lives, it's right to feel guilty. Whether you're introverted or extroverted, that's not okay.
Yes, it's totally fine to be an introvert—if you're actually an introvert and not just using it as an excuse to cover for social anxiety. It's OK to turn down a social invitation and stay at home... as long as you're doing it for a reason other than fear.
We've got to be honest with ourselves. If we never go out, there may be an underlying problem worth addressing. Guilt could be a signpost that leads us toward a healthier, more fulfilled self.
If you have social anxiety, professional counseling and/or medication may necessary depending on the severity. But if your relationships are solid and you're being social but want to stay home every so often, then there's no reason to feel guilty.