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This time last year, I was a mess. If you’d invited me out to anything, even something as casual as a cup of coffee or a night of board games, I would’ve shot you down. I spent all my time alone at home, and I saw nothing wrong with it.
But I always felt guilty.
This was my life for well over a decade. It took a lot of introspection—years of it, in fact—before I realized there was something wrong with it, and the guilt I felt was related. I’m still an introvert and prefer my own company to anyone else’s, but I’m also open to social calls now. While I stay home quite often, it isn’t all I do anymore.
Maybe you’re where I was last year. You stay in all the time, you’re happy to do so, but you feel guilty about it. What’s that all about?
Where the Guilt Comes 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?
On the surface, the guilt could stem from a fear that you aren’t living life the way a human is “supposed” to live. As if extroversion were the norm, that the rules of the world have been dictated by such extroverts, and you aren’t meeting their standards of what it means to be human.
A little deeper, the guilt could also come from the feeling that you’re disappointing the people in your life. They want to spend time with you, they invite you to outings, but you keep shutting them down. This makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you, and moreover, you’re worried that your constant rejections will be taken the wrong way and harm your relationships.
Ultimately, I think the “introvert’s guilt” is aimed inward at self. It’s far too easy to use the excuse of introversion to stay huddled in our own comfort zones, and there’s no emotional growth or maturity to be had in a comfort zone. It’s only when we step forth and do something challenging that we grow—and we know this. We feel guilty because we’re starving ourselves, and deep down we know it’s not right.
Is It Introversion or Social Anxiety?
There’s a good reason I wrote “introvert’s guilt” in quotes above: healthy introverts actually don’t have much to feel guilty about. 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 life without undue stress. Social anxiety is when you demand to be alone, to the point where social circumstances cause emotional strain and may even hinder your ability to do the things you need to do outside of your personal time.
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 others are around you, usually in the form of what you think they think about you.
Here’s a simple, possibly oversimplified but still helpful, way to think of the difference:
If you’re drained by the act of hanging out and socializing, then you’re probably an introvert. If you’re drained by the thought of hanging out and socializing, then you’re probably socially anxious.
And yes, it’s possible to be a socially anxious extrovert! For example, as an extrovert you might feel drawn to social activities but keep your distance out of fear of what others might think of you. Or maybe you love hanging out and socializing with those whom you know, but as soon as even one stranger enters the equation, you shut down.
What to Do About That Guilt
The “introvert’s guilt” is a good thing.
Humans are social creatures, and there’s no denying that. The guilt we feel tells us that we’ve been 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 any and all social activities is, frankly put, unhealthy.
If we’re neglecting our relationships and we find that there are fewer and fewer important people in our lives, it’s right to feel guilty. Even for an introvert, that’s not okay. There’s a reason for that guilt.
Of course, it’s totally fine to be an introvert—if you’re indeed an introvert and not just using it as an excuse to cover for social anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with turning down a social invitation and staying in… if you’re doing it because you don’t like that activity and not the fear of being in that social situation.
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, a visit to a counselor and/or some medication may in order, depending on the severity. But if your relationships are good and you’re being social and you aren’t a slave to your so-called introversion, then there’s no reason to feel guilty. It’s okay to be an introvert!