Posted: Apr 22, 2014 8:00 AM
Social anxiety is often discussed as an issue for introverts, but extroverts have their own social anxiety issues. Extroverts are reenergized by the people around them, but that means those same people have the ability to drastically affect an extrovert's self-esteem.
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When the life of the party feels anxious

Understanding introverts has become the stuff of internet memes. By contrast, the extrovert is seen as something of an opposite — finding social situations easy to navigate or not feeling anxious at the idea of a room full of new people. Social situations carry their own set of problems for extroverts. In fact, for some extroverts, social anxiety can feel even more crippling, because of the nature of their personality and the way they derive energy.

Deconstructing introverts and extroverts

Dr. Alicia Clark is a licensed clinical psychologist who has practiced in Washington, D.C., for almost 20 years. She specializes in relationships and anxiety and explains — briefly — the real difference between introverts and extroverts. She explains, "Extroverts are oriented towards relationships, and indeed gain energy from social interaction, unlike introverts who gain energy from time alone. Carl Jung, on whose theories the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was built, believed that introversion/extroversion represented a core preference around how people derive energy."

Extroversion, or the preference to connect with others, doesn't presume social confidence or competence.

Dr. Clark maintains that just like there are introverts with awkward social skills, there are extroverts who find themselves lacking in social giftedness as well. She says, "Extroversion has less to do with social skills and social interaction than it has to do with the preference to connect and replenish energy. In other words, wanting to connect isn't the same thing as being able to do so. Likewise it follows that extroversion, or the preference to connect with others, doesn't presume social confidence or competence."

The major conflict for socially anxious extroverts

Extroverts with a level of social anxiety often find themselves at a crossroads between what replenishes them and what causes them stress. Dr. Clark says, "There are indeed extroverts who are socially anxious and struggle between their desire to connect and their fears of judgment. These extroverts are particularly sensitive to judgment or criticism. Socially anxious extroverts feel almost constant conflict between their desire to feel connected and their fear of judgment." The desire to connect to others can lead extroverts to put themselves in the vulnerable position of being hurt by others when their attempt at connection isn't met with a favorable response. Social rejection can be especially tough for extroverts because they thrive through the energy derived from other people.

Seeking out only the most trustworthy and stable confidants is the key to helping socially sensitive extroverts thrive.

How to help socially anxious extroverts

Dr. Clark suggests extroverts who feel anxious in new social situations can continue to gain energy by putting themselves in "safe" social circles. Extroverts can surround themselves with people and places that don't feel threatening. She says, "Seeking out only the most trustworthy and stable confidants is the key to helping socially sensitive extroverts thrive."

The bottom line

Social anxiety can strike both introverts and extroverts, with the difference being that one set of individuals replenishes energy through alone time while the other needs the company of others to feel rejuvenated. Just like introverts should take time alone when they feel drained, extroverts should gauge their comfort level with the people around them to feel the most reenergized.

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