Though we may be criticized for our quietness — and told to “come out of your shell!” — shy introverts have superpowers.
Growing up, I was painfully shy and an introvert to boot. According to my mom, as a kid, my little face would turn bright red, like a tomato, every time I was around someone outside my family.
I don’t remember that — I’ve probably repressed those embarrassing childhood memories — but what I do remember is that I felt extremely uncomfortable and self-conscious in social situations all throughout my teens and 20s.
I tried to cope with my shyness by pretending to be more bubbly and extroverted, and trying to fit into groups that I didn’t even like very much simply because they were popular.
It wasn’t until I started learning more about what it means to be a shy introvert — and all the benefits that come with it — that I was able to embrace both my shyness and introversion.
The Difference Between Introversion and Shyness
Before we go on, let’s clarify something important. Many people confuse introversion with shyness, but they are in fact very different.
Introverts get their energy from spending time alone. Shyness, on the other hand, refers to a feeling of fear or discomfort around other people, especially in new situations or among strangers.
Not all introverts are shy. Some introverts feel quite comfortable in social situations and are not plagued by a feeling of self-consciousness when they are with other people. However, they still need quality alone time to recharge their batteries.
Similarly, not all shy people are introverts. The “shy extroverts” — they sound like an oxymoron, but trust me they do exist! — crave social time, but may lack the social skills to socialize effectively. As a result, they often avoid social situations.
So when it comes to being a shy introvert, not only do we feel uncomfortable (or even anxious) in social situations, but when we do manage to put our discomfort aside and socialize, we end up feeling drained. Plus, with the negative stigma around both shyness and introversion, family and friends may criticize us, patronizingly telling us to “just relax!” or “come out of your shell” — as if getting over shyness were that simple. It’s no wonder many of us shy introverts end up feeling bad about ourselves or convincing ourselves that something is seriously “wrong” with us.
That said, however, I believe being a shy introvert can be a good thing, as there are some very real benefits.
Why It’s Awesome Being a Shy Introvert
1. Shy introverts make quality friends and partners — you’re there for others no matter what.
Unlike extroverts who are known to be doers, introverts tend to be thinkers and observers. You’re more self-aware, reflective, and introspective.
Your thoughtful, caring ways make you a great friend and partner. For example, you may be the one who remembers everyone’s birthday, knows their favorite things, and checks in on them when they’re going through a rough time.
What’s more, because you crave personal space to reflect and refuel, you can sense when your friends and partners need space, too. What does that look like in reality? You are less likely to be super clingy or “high maintenance” in relationships, both platonic and romantic.
Finally, because you don’t have the inclination to talk about yourself all day long, you’re there to listen and support your friends and partners. And you’re even more attentive to other shy or “quiet ones,” knowing first-hand some of the challenges they may experience in social situations. For example, you may go out of your way to invite them to events and include them in group conversations.
More broadly, you’re patient with people who are different because you’re used to feeling like an outsider or being treated as such.
2. Shy introverts make meaningful connections (even though you may not realize it).
This may come as a surprise, but the same qualities you have that make you a great friend and partner can also make you a good networker (even in times of social distancing).
I know networking is far from “fun” for introverts, but I’ve found that it can pay off if I push past my discomfort among strangers or in new situations — even for a short time. Unlike extroverts, who may approach networking events in a shotgun manner to talk to as many people as possible, the shy introvert’s thoughtful approach can leave a handful of people with lasting impacts as you take time to learn about them and make meaningful connections.
And this applies to online, too — quality, not quantity is what introverts are after. You may set up one-on-one meetings where you can really get to know someone well and build a stronger connection, and be more inclined to follow up with them after the meeting is over rather than rushing from call to call.
3. Shy introverts have the potential to be great leaders — with your natural strengths, you make others feel seen and heard.
If you’re surprised to hear about the hidden networking prowess of shy introverts, you might be even more surprised to know that they also possess great leadership qualities — when they channel their natural gifts and strengths.
After all, five years ago, if someone had told me that I’d be leading a Meetup group of more than 2,000 members, I never would have believed them! I went through a devastating breakup at the end of 2013, and I was looking for a support group but couldn’t find one at the time in the city I was living in. I promised myself that I would start one as soon as I got back on my feet.
So, a year later, I started a Meetup group for women to support other women through difficult life transitions — breakup, health crisis, grief, job loss, relocation, you name it — and it just kept growing. Now, 78 Meetups later, I love the community of amazing women I’ve gathered, and I’ve learned so much about leadership as a result.
No matter what type of group you’re leading, I’ve come to see that being a shy introvert means that instead of just focusing on performance, you take time to learn about your team members individually with gentle curiosity, not treating them like a number. It makes them feel seen, heard, and understood — and who doesn’t want that?
Plus, since shy introverts hate being the center of attention, you probably won’t want to steal the limelight from your team or take credit for their successes (unlike some egomaniac bosses). Rather, shy introverts may be better at recognizing their team’s hard work and sharing the stage. This can empower and motivate team members to step up and do their best work, instead of feeling like “What’s the point?”
And, in this age of inclusivity and diversity, your first-hand experience of being an outsider who struggles in social situations means that you’re welcoming of those who are “different” in some way, knowing that they are more than just their labels.
4. You’re an excellent therapist, coach, or mentor (even if you don’t do it professionally).
If leadership positions don’t interest you, your attentiveness, patience, and kindness toward others can make you a natural confidant. Plus, introverts have listening skills like no one else.
People may feel like they instinctively trust you — partly it’s because you’re less likely to interrupt or talk on top of them, and partly it’s the calm, unassuming energy about you.
They know their secrets are safe with you, and you won’t judge them for their failings and challenges. Sometimes it even feels like you’ve got “Tell me your deepest, darkest secrets” written on your forehead in invisible ink!
And because people open up to you, you become privy to the problems and secrets of your family, friends, and sometimes complete strangers. You realize when the people around you are unhappy and struggling with their relationships, health, work, or life in general.
For example, growing up, I was the “therapist” for my mother’s troubled marriage to my dad, and I heard countless stories of their unhappy relationship. Then, later on, I became the confidant to most of my friends, listening to everything from their dating woes to affairs to family dramas to quarter- and mid-life crises.
This, in turn, feeds your empathy muscles, and helps you treat others with kindness and understanding. It can become a virtuous cycle — the more people open up to you, the more you respond toward them with empathy, and the more they open up in turn.
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5. You may realize other people aren’t so different from you after all, making you more authentic and comfortable in your own skin.
As a result of being privy to other people’s problems and secrets, you may also come to realize that people are not what they seem on the outside.
I know, I know. It doesn’t seem like such a groundbreaking realization. But trust me, this is a game changer and will help shy introverts tremendously in relating to others without feeling inadequate or inferior. Let me explain.
When you notice that people are not what they seem, that is, they are pretending to be someone they are not — for example, more confident and extroverted — you may realize that they are just like you inside — scared, unsure and, yes, shy — even though they don’t look it.
You see, we often compare our “insides” with other people’s “outsides,” and once we see through their facade, we are able to compare our “insides” with their “insides.”
Once we break free of the unhealthy (and unrealistic) comparisons, we can start to appreciate what we have to offer instead of feeling less than or not enough. We no longer “compare and despair” as we see through the polished, shiny exterior of celebrities, social media influencers, or anyone who feels they need to prove their worth.
You may come to realize you’re comfortable in your own skin, knowing that your “insides” are not that different from those of other people — and you don’t need to hide them anymore.
It’s Time to Embrace the Benefits of Being a Shy Introvert
For a shy, awkward person like me, this simple realization in my 20s — people are more similar than different — changed my life. Instead of feeling like there was something “wrong” with me because of my shyness, I felt normal for the first time in my life.
And instead of thinking that I was the only one who struggled, I realized that everyone struggled. I saw the common humanity that united us rather than the differences that divided us. Sure, the details and degree might differ, but nobody’s immune.
From then on, I didn’t want to be a fake extrovert anymore. Or a fake anything. I just wanted to be me. It was enough. In fact, it was more than enough.