Introverts: Mental Health and the Misunderstood Plight of the Painfully Shy

Joel Eisenberg
IntrovertAhmed Nishaath, Unsplash

Author’s Note

The words that follow are written in part from the perspective of a former mental health professional with dual training in Psychology and Special Education. Though I left the field to become a full-time writer, I have continued my studies in the mental health realm. As with several of my articles for NewsBreak, personal anecdotes are included. Attributions for this article are also included and linked below.


Over the years, there has been substantial controversy as to whether introversion should be defined as a mental health-related illness that should be nationally recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) had, in fact, planned on including the condition in the latest DSM update, but they quietly reversed course. See 2012 Psychology Today story on the matter, “APA Gains Sanity: Introverts Not Nuts.”

Clinical Psychologist Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D was quoted for the article once it became clear introversion would not be included: “First, I'm thrilled that it was removed. I'd like to throw—well, not a party—but some virtual confetti anyway. The inclusion of introversion in the DSM was a huge concern, and the APA could have relieved a lot of stress and anxiety by letting interested parties know that the term would not, in fact, be used as an indicator of psychopathology. I think they lost the opportunity to educate, to restore the term "introversion" to its place as a descriptor of normal personality.”

Indeed, introversion today, a decade later, remains outside the scope of formal diagnoses, and is looked upon as more of a normal personality aspect one could overcome if deemed necessary, as opposed to an illness.

Many who do not suffer from being shy frequently misunderstand the pain associated with those who do. I mentioned above I would share some personal anecdotes related to this matter, and I will do so here as I myself was a painfully shy child and young adult.

Before I start, I would like to differentiate the plight of the introverted — which in truth for many is no plight at all — by distinguishing between being shy and painfully shy. The former is a natural tendency under certain circumstances, while the latter can become a hindrance to productivity.

I suffered from the latter degree. I did not date until college, and my group of friends was quite small. I was, frankly, afraid to be around people for fear of their thoughts about me. I would become self-conscious and begin to sweat during conversation with strangers. Attempting to attend my high school prom was out of the question.

My parents were supportive, believing I was an “artistic” kid who preferred to write rather than play meaningless games. They were correct to a point. The truth, though, was somewhere between their perspective and my own.

I thought I was ill. I read up on the matter and learned that I was one of many who so suffered. Not only was I not alone, I also learned that many severe introverts were able to go on to live happy, healthy lives. These reassurances became my early steps to recovery.

To be clear, introversion is considered normal by psychologists in general, and not an affliction due to its absence from the DSM-5. Again, though, when one is severely introverted or shy, the symptoms can be difficult to manage.

Today’s Research on Introversion

VeryWellMind‘s comprehensive article, “How You Can Tell That You're an Introvert,” estimates between 25-40% of the U.S. population may be considered introverted. Written by Kendra Cherry and medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD in February of 2021, the article goes on to state: Introversion is a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. Introverts and extroverts are often viewed in terms of two extreme opposites, but the truth is that most people lie somewhere in the middle.

The following excerpt from VeryWellMind’s article punctuates the common nature of both: The introversion-extroversion dimension is also one of the four areas identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). According to many theories of personality, everyone has some degree of both introversion and extroversion. However, people often tend to lean one way or the other... Introverts tend to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective.

Again, introversion is not a diagnosed mental health matter, which is where the confusion lies when compared with anxiety-related issues, such as social. While many introverts do suffer from social anxiety, as I did, not all introverts share that symptom.

For a unique perspective on introversion, see this blog from Introverts Are Us, a webpage written by introverts for educational purposes.

Hope and Help For Introverts

As an introvert by nature and a former mental health professional, the following are actions one can take if introversion becomes a hindrance:

  • Join an introvert support group (online for now, of course, as with some of these other examples until our current pandemic settles). While the joke is everyone will sit and no one will speak, the truth is it may be a lower-stress way to meet new people who have the same social difficulties as do you.
  • Take a online public speaking class. There will surely be others there who are doing so to get over their shyness. Besides, you may like it.
  • Take an acting course.
  • Share and solicit opinions for your professional work, if available.
  • Read articles on the topic.
  • Finally, meeting people online, via Zoom or otherwise, can be a terrific networking tool for those who are shy. Once again, this goes back to social media. Now is the time to make new friends and professional acquaintances. Give it a shot. Take advantage of your current circumstance. You never know who will become a lifelong friend, a romantic companion even, or someone who could make a real difference in your career.

If some of the above, or more, sounds silly to you, just remember one thing … I’ve been there. I understand the pain.


Being shy, or introverted, can be especially difficult in social situations. In school, the introvert may be considered by other students as “bookish,” “snobby,” or “the teacher’s pet.” The reasons are sometimes related to social phobia, as many who are so conditioned would prefer to be out among friends but may be frightened or intimidated by how they believe others will perceive them.

I myself was a painfully shy student who for a time became a painfully shy adult. I overcame what had held me back by taking advantage of some of the above tools.

It helped me immensely when I realized in this regard I did not suffer from an illness. If I had, I would have seen doctors and taken care of it of course, but knowing what I was dealing with was shared by others and could be overcome was an epiphany.

Still, for those of you who do believe you suffer from something more, or your shyness is too severe for you to function at an acceptable level and you think another condition may be present, please consult your doctor.

Thank you for reading. I hope article this has helped some of you who needed to read words such as these today.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA

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