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What’s the Difference between Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness?

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia as it is also known, is not the same thing as ordinary shyness. But they are frequently confused, both by sufferers and by neurotypical people.

I’ve seen lots of examples of people saying they suffer from social anxiety, when in fact they are just mildly shy. So what’s the difference? Well, I will explain in this article.

Shyness is extremely common. This is when people are introverted. It’s the opposite of being outgoing.

Some who claim to be shy would appear to many others to be pretty outgoing. Lots of famous people say that they are shy. Freddy Mercury, the lead singer of the group Queen, is a well-known example. Off stage he could be rather shy, but he transformed himself when performing. He had two strongly distinct personality types, and this is quite common in mental health.

Shy people are simply introverted to a degree. However, they usually manage to function well enough in society and hold down jobs and relationships and so on, and have social lives.

On the other hand, social anxiety disorder is completely different. It’s a debilitating illness. Sufferers are not merely introverted, but they have an extreme fear of being judged negatively, i.e. criticised or made fun of. Some sufferers of social phobia even have very competent social skills. It’s the fear of being negatively judged or perceived that’s the key.

Those with social phobia have great difficulty functioning normally, i.e. holding down a job and going outside their house. They may be unable to go shopping, and many have no or hardly any friends. It’s a real illness. A disability, if you like.

We are not just scared of social interaction. We are totally petrified, and do anything we can to avoid it. We get other people to do things for us, avoid answering the door at home, and arrange our lives to accommodate our disorder. If we do go out, we change our route so that we don’t have to go near anyone. We hide away. Many of us have difficulty even getting out of bed in the morning, moving round the house, and doing household chores. The disorder controls our lives.

That’s the difference. Shyness is a mild personality trait, which doesn’t ruin your life, but social phobia is a debilitating illness.

I also have a blog, at Please drop by, if you can, and subscribe to the site to get updates about social anxiety and mental illness in general. There’s a form on this page. Many thanks! John</i>

What’s the Difference between Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness?

John Hammond

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APA Reference
Hammond, J. (2016). What’s the Difference between Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 5 Aug 2016
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