Shyness, Introversion and Anxiety

September 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m currently working on my Masters degree in Counseling.  I’ve decided this will prove very useful in at least two ways.  First, I can hopefully work in a profession where I am able to help others with some of the same issues that I have struggled with in life.  Secondly, if I’m a licensed therapist then I can start billing myself for all those conversations I have in the mirror when no one else is in the room :))

I’m going to try and make Fridays  the day I share some of what I’m working on in grad school.  Right now I am taking a course called “Human Growth and Development”.  I feel like I’ve taken this class twice already.  Once when I was getting my Bachelors degree in Psychology and again when I was getting my Masters in Education.  This course isn’t always called exactly the same thing but it is still basically the same class.  While a lot of the information is the same (Piaget/Freud/Erikson again),  I still always feel like I manage to learn something new.

One of my assignments in this class was to do a developmental analysis on myself and then use research to explain some of my findings.  Little do they know I am the queen of self-analysis so game on!! Of course when you analyze yourself you don’t have the benefit of being objective.  So feel free to throw in your 2 cents!

They asked us to recount a memory from childhood.  So here is mine:


When I was in preschool, my mother recounted a story that had alarmed her at one point.

Every day I would come home with pictures I had drawn in preschool.  All of them were in black.  I never used any color.  Even if I drew a picture that appeared happy with sunshine and rainbows—they were still all in black. Even the rainbows were black!  This began to concern her and she wondered what it could mean. One day, she inquired about this to the teacher who seemed just as baffled.  The teacher agreed to observe me more carefully in an effort to unravel the mystery.  It didn’t take her long to understand why I only colored in black.

Every day the teacher would gather us around the table for coloring time.  She would put a box full of crayons in the middle of the table and everyone would rush in to grab the crayons that they wanted.  It was a chaotic time with everyone pushing their way in trying to grab the color they wanted.  The teacher observed that while everyone else was fighting over crayons, I sat back and waited until the chaos subsided.  I did not even attempt to get a crayon.  I just waited for whatever crayons were left. By the time I was able to get a crayon, the only colors left were black.

It appears that from a young age I was not very assertive.   This example in my preschool years was a perfect example of how I was more inhibited than my peers. I lacked either the inclination or the ability to be assertive.  One question that a person might ask is whether this has to do with my personality development or my natural temperament.  Temperament is something that is mostly genetic or biological and inborn (Grist, 2010)  It does not have anything to do with situations that may have occurred to affect personality development.  Temperament is something that comes natural to you such as eye or hair color.  While it has to do with someone’s behavior, temperament is inborn and something a person comes into the world with rather than something that was affected by the world.  Depending on someone’s natural temperament, they may be more likely to develop certain personality traits.  While their temperament may be inborn, the experiences in their life together with their natural temperament may affect their personality development (Grist, 2010).

Even as a young child, I was always shy and more introverted.  My temperament was very calm.  My mother even stated that she often worried about me during her pregnancy as I did not move around very much.  She was always asking the doctor to check for a heartbeat because I barely moved!  I was the same way as a child.  I would rather be inside reading a book over outside running with the neighborhood children.  I did not mind playing on my own as my shy demeanor often made social situations somewhat anxiety producing for me.

According to Rothbert (2011), shyness can lead to internalizing emotions, which can also lead to personality disorders.  It has been determined through research that people who experience fear also have a predisposition to develop anxiety and depression later in life.  Shyness can lead to fear in social situations.  When someone internalizes fear, they are predisposed to develop a variety of disorders including panic attacks (Rothbert, 2011).  Interestingly enough, all of my teachers often described me as shy on my report cards.  The incident in preschool where I was unable to assert myself to get the color crayon I wanted showed an example of my inhibition even at an early age.  If one couples that inhibition along with my reported shyness, this was a recipe for developing anxiety.  Research shows that inhibition plus shyness is a predictor for developing an anxiety disorder (Rapee, Kennedy, Ingram, Edwards, & Sweeney, 2005.)  In my life, this has been true as I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder in my 30’s after my divorce.


Grist, C. (2010). Individual differences in preschool children: temperament or personality? Infant & Child Development., 19(3), 264-274.

Rapee, R., Kennedy, S., Ingram, M., Edwards, S., & Sweeney, L. (2005). Prevention and early intervention of anxiety disorders in inhibited preschool children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 488-497.

Rothbart, M. (2011). Becoming who we are : temperament and personality in development.

Wright, K. B., & Patterson, B. (2006). Socioemotional Selectivity Theory and the Macrodynamics of Friendship: The Role of Friendship Style and Communication in Friendship across the Lifespan. Communication research reports, 23(3), 163-170.



I found this to be an interesting assignment.  Now don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being an introvert.  Just because you’re introverted or shy doesn’t mean you have a personality disorder!  However, if taken to extremes it can cause problems in the same way that an extrovert could take things to an extreme.  Anything taken to extremes is usually going to become an issue.

So, I was a shy kid.  Painfully shy at times.  I was always introverted and a lot of things caused me anxiety.   A teacher calling on me in class could do it.   Being asked to do a math problem at the board—UGH! I would just pray that I didn’t faint!  If I knew the answer to a question that the teacher had just posed to the class, I would still not raise my hand and answer it. Even if I knew that I was 100% right.  Still I could not bring myself to raise my hand!!  Now I would sit there during the silence while the teacher was waiting on someone to answer and try to convince myself to raise my hand but inevitably someone else would answer before I could work up the nerve.

Being shy made it hard for me to make friends.  Luckily I often would become friends with someone who was more outgoing than me.  That way they did most of the work and I reaped the benefits.  This is how I ended up on Student Council in high school.  My best friend was very outgoing and she went on to become student council President.  She basically harassed me endlessly to run for student council and only due to her backing, encouragement and support was I able to do that and win.  It was definitely a proud moment for me as it was so out of character.

I have worked hard to overcome my shyness.  I have literally had to teach myself how to do this though.  Once I got divorced and I was totally on my own it was basically trial by fire at that point.  I didn’t have a choice.  I had to do everything on my own so being shy just wasn’t an option.  I have to admit that the whole experience of being a single Mom definitely forced me to develop certain skills that could help me be a bit more assertive and outgoing.

Still to this day, though, I am a little strange as my inherent nature is introverted.  If I see someone at the grocery store this is what often runs through my head…

OH GEEEEZ!!!  Now I am going to have to say hi to them.  Now I am going to have to have a conversation with them.

And I might even turn around and go down a different aisle!!

I mean seriously…can you imagine?? What gives?? That poor person if they saw ME see THEM probably thinks, “What did I do to HER?”  Actually they didn’t do anything at all to me.  Maybe  I even like that person!  Yet for some odd reason my natural instinct is to hide and go the other direction.  Weird, right?

Now having said that, I have also  have had people tell me that I am a super friendly person.  And I think I am too! I try to be at least.  But when I say I TRY I mean I literally HAVE TO TRY.  Not because deep down I’m a jerk but because deep down I am painfully introverted and shy so the most normal human interactions to others somehow feel like major events to me.  Somewhere deep down in my wiring is this painfully shy, introverted, anxious person who freaks out over things that literally should NOT be freaked out over.  I guess I’ve always been this way though.  Starting in preschool where I couldn’t even reach in and grab a crayon.  That is totally me though.  I hate confrontation.  I HATE IT.   I will typically avoid it all costs.  That has caused me problems throughout life too.  Sometimes you have to confront people.  Not in an aggressive way.  Or a rude way. But sometimes you just have to do it.  I could go into numerous reasons why I have issues with that but we will save that for Psychotherapy Thursdays!  Suffice it to say that part of my natural inborn temperament makes life difficult.

Research suggests that people with a temperament like this may be predisposed to developing anxiety disorders.  That doesn’t surprise me either.  Being painfully shy and introverted is stressful.  It does produce anxiety.  And I can totally see where it could under certain circumstances turn someone into a full blown anxiety ridden individual.

You want to know what always helped me with anxiety?  REESES.  ICE CREAM.  DONUTS.

You know what else helps people with anxiety and shyness?  RUM AND COKE.  MARGARITAS.  A SHOT OF TEQUILA!

I would bet I could even find research that shows that shy and introverted people are at risk for developing addictions to things because it helps them overcome their anxieties.  I haven’t looked for any research on that yet but I’m pretty sure I could find it.

Well let’s face it…you can probably find research to support any finding you want if you look hard enough.  Just ask Coca Cola who sponsored research that found a decline in physical activity was the primary cause of obesity while conveniently “downplaying” the role of sugar and high calorie consumption!

I’d love to hear your feedback on the following questions:

Do you think shyness and introversion may contribute to anxiety?

Do you think shy and introverted people may turn to food for “friendship”?

I’d say that’s “food for thought” but in this case….maybe not!  I look forward to hearing from you!



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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin September 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

I think another contributing factor is that women are unfairly socialized that they need to be “nice” – quiet and passive – to be a “good girl.”


Sandi September 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Yes, I think shyness and introversion lead to anxiety. I experienced many of the same problems growing up. School was so stressful for me because I was so shy. It only got worse the older I got. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone I know in a store and avoided them hoping they didn’t see me. It just happened the òther day actually. It was someone I like, I just didn’t feel up to talking.
Food was definitely my friend. Especially during the years I was home with my kids. I was very happy to isolate myself with my babies and my brownies and not have to face the world.


Barb September 20, 2014 at 7:49 pm

All of this hits home to me! I swear your my twin I never knew I had! Right down to having a Bachelor degree in Psychology! I hated high school so much because everything was so “cliquey” and I never felt like I belonged to any of the groups. I had one good friend through school and that was it. Being introverted I find it very hard to make friends. As I’ve grown older (40’s) I find I get more anxious now. Some of it has to do with my kids getting older and getting more social which puts me in a position to have to be more social which brings a lot of anxiety. And sadly I turn to food for comfort. In high school I turned to alcohol because it did make it easier for me to be social. Luckily I grew out of that but now use food to ease the fears.


Shannon September 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm

The short version of my response is “YES” to both questions posed above. 🙂 I’m an introvert who has somewhat adapted to the world and become less shy in social situations over the years. I’ve definitely turned to food in the past for friendship or just to calm my anxieties. I also avoid running into people I know if I see them out at a store and I’m not expecting to see them. There’s no rational explanation for this! 🙂 I just have a “fight or flight” reaction to it for some reason. I wish I wasn’t that way. I’ve always felt different than others who seem so at ease in social situations. I have gotten better over the years, but I still experience it sometimes.


Amanda September 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm

That is a fascinating example! I was/am shy as well. Professionally, I have no issues coming out of my shell. I was like that as a kid too when going to school was “my job.” Socially, UGH. I’m struggling with it now since I’ve moved out of state and work from home. VERY easy to become a hermit.


Melissa @ Faster In Water September 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I hear you! If i’m at a party where I don’t know anyone except for who I came with – I will be drunk within the hour! Not pretty! I also will look at EVERY item of decor, picture, fridge magnet, etc. Talk to people? Eek!
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