By Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC

“What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it’s not. And a lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.” —Emma Stone

The uniqueness of personalities is what makes relationships and interactions with others so interesting and appealing. If everyone had the same personality traits, such as assertive, talkative, or outgoing, people would be constantly talking over each other and no one would actually be heard. On the flipside, if everyone was quiet, passive, or reserved, then again, relationships would have no way to be formed because everyone would keep to themselves. Consequently, there are not personality traits that are better than others, but rather a wide variety of personality traits are needed to form relationships and to make the world a balanced place.

This is important to note, because in our society extroverted personalities are frequently looked at as positive and desirable, yet it is often the individuals with more reserved personalities who make great listeners, support systems, and are often operating important tasks behind the scenes. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being quiet, laid back, or reserved, as there is such amazing value that comes from this personality type.

However, what happens when being shy and reserved starts to move into fear and avoidance of social situations. The term social anxiety describes an individual who experiences a heightened increase in stress, uneasiness, and discomfort when they are in social situations, and who often does everything in their power to avoid these situations. It is a complete misconception that all shy individuals suffer from social anxiety, but social anxiety is also much more common than most people realize. If you frequently find yourself not only fearing, but also purposefully avoiding activities, such as being in crowds, joining in on group conversations, or meeting new people, or if everyday tasks, such as eating in front of others, making phone calls, or answering a question in class, causes you high levels of worry or stress, this might mean that there is more going on than just being shy.

A good first step in determining if your dislike for social situations is a concern, would be to first consider if your fear of social situations is extreme in comparison to other people around you. Do you tend to get way more worked up about being around new people or in crowds than other people you know? Another aspect to consider is if this fear and avoidance is interfering with your daily functioning or preventing engagement in required activities (school, work, going into public, etc.). And lastly, think about if the difficulties with social situations are becoming troubling or distressing for you personally. For example, are you feeling lonely, sad, or disappointed about missing out on social engagements, but because of the dread associated with these events, you continue to avoid them?

All of the wonderful things about you, your talents, your style, your likes and dislikes, your smile, and your personality, are what makes you perfectly unique. There is no pressure or expectation to have a certain type of personality or to engage in social situations the same way as others. However, if you are desiring an increase in social engagements, and yet are continuing to avoid them out of worry or fear, talk to someone you trust (a parent, aunt/uncle, school counselor, etc.) about helping you to find resources (books, YouTube videos, or a counselor) to address the anxiety that is holding you back from allowing yourself to enjoy the fun and fulfillment of personal connections.