What Is Withdrawn Behavior And What Causes It?

By: Julia Thomas

Updated November 10, 2020

Spending time with other people can be fun, interesting, and even exciting. Having a strong social network can also increase your sense of self-worth and provide you with support during difficult times. However, sometimes people withdraw from social contact, and they do it for a variety of reasons. Here's how to identify withdrawn behavior and what might be behind it.

What Is Withdrawn Behavior?

Source: pexels.com

Withdrawn behavior is avoiding or not seeking out social contact. People who withdraw may actively avoid spending time with other people. Or, they may not put any effort into seeking out social interactions. Some withdrawn people don't mind being with other people, but don't feel particularly driven to seek out others. Some would like to be social but have trouble doing it. Others actively dislike being with others.

Some examples of withdrawn behavior include:

  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Preferring to play or work by themselves
  • Turning down social invitations to stay at home alone
  • Talking less in social settings
  • Staying at home instead of going to events where there will be other people
  • Not trying new experiences
  • Preferring not to meet new people
  • Staying out of unfamiliar situations
  • Preferring jobs where they work with things more than people
  • Initiating conversations less often, or taking longer to do so than others

Types of People Who Exhibit Withdrawn Behavior

It's important to understand that not all withdrawn behavior is alike. People who withdraw fall into several different categories based on the underlying reasons that they withdraw.

Unsocial People

Unsocial people are those who don't care, one way or the other, about being with other people. They don't dislike social contact, but they don't seek it out, either. They aren't particularly interested in trying new things. And they tend to be less motivated to go after what they want. The good news is that they typically don't engage in aggressive behavior. Also, they're often more creative than others who exhibit withdrawn behavior.

Shy People

Source: pexels.com

Shy people usually have anxiety about being with other people. More than that, they have anxiety about being anxious. They don't feel pleasure in activities that others find enjoyable. If something is unpleasant to them, they tend to avoid it. They just don't have much motivation to get what they want in life. Also, they tend to be more aggressive and less creative than people who aren't shy.

People in this group may want very much to have an active social life. However, at the same time, they fear it, often intensely. They may try to interact with others, but fail due to their anxiety or poor verbal skills. Or, they may falsely perceive that their social skills aren't good enough and not even try.

People Who Avoid Social Contact

In many ways, people who avoid social contact seem very much like people who are shy. There are a few differences though. Rather than trying to be social and failing (like shy people), they make a point of staying away from other people. They tend to avoid situations that are unpleasant more than shy people do.

People Who Enjoy the Solitary Life

While unsocial people don't care whether they're with people or not, solitary people enjoy being alone more than with others. They get pleasure from the time they spend doing things on their own. They like to think things over, master new subjects that they can learn on their own, and do activities that interest them. These people may display withdrawn behavior. However, they don't tend to have any anxiety or avoidance problems. They may be perfectly mentally healthy. They just have different preferences than people who are more social.

People Who Are Rejected

Source: pixabay.com

Unfortunately, not everyone has control over how well they're accepted among their peers. Some people are rejected from social groups for various reasons. It could be because of the way they look, their family background, or having different interests than others in their group. Or they may exhibit withdrawn behavior that sets them apart from their peers. For whatever reason, the group excludes them.

These people don't choose to be alone. Being excluded can lead to decreased self-esteem and depression. They aren't just physically alone, but they feel emotionally isolated from others.

Causes of Withdrawn Behavior

Withdrawn behavior doesn't just happen. If you find a hermit living in a remote cave, you can be sure there's a reason behind his reclusive behavior. While scientists don't understand all the reasons why people become socially withdrawn, they have identified a few possible reasons for why people withdraw.

They're Biologically Predisposed to Withdrawal

Some infants are more easily aroused than others. When their environment is too stimulating for them, they become fussy and hard to soothe. Scientists believe this phenomenon is based on biology. In other words, these infants are more sensitive to both social and nonsocial stimulation in their environment from the time they're born. They're in a state of sensory overload much of the time.

Their Parents Overprotected Them

The second possibility often stems from the first. When an infant is hard to soothe, parents may respond to them by constantly fussing over them. They worry that they aren't meeting the child's needs, so they nervously try to keep them from getting upset. They end up overprotecting them. This can continue throughout their childhood. If they remain dependent on their parent in any way when they're grown, it can even go on after they're adults.

They're Unsuccessful in Early Social Situations

As children make their way into the larger world, they begin to learn the unwritten rules of social interaction. This happens mostly in a trial-and-error fashion. Most children are successful part of the time, and make social blunders at other times. It's a natural process, and children usually learn from their mistakes and move on. However, if the child has more social failures than successes, they may become discouraged. They may begin to fear being social, or feel that they just don't have a knack for it, and may eventually lose their motivation to try.

They Have Poor Verbal Skills

Interacting well with others requires you to have adequate verbal skills for the situation at hand. You not only have to be able to form a complete thought, and say it in an understandable way, but in many cases, you have to do it quickly. Children who test low in verbal skills are often the same ones who struggle in social situations. Often, they display withdrawn behavior as a result.

They're Burnt Out

Adults sometimes withdraw when they're burnt out at work. This is especially true in high-pressure jobs or among people who have more than one job. They become so exhausted from trying to keep up with the demands placed on them at work that they don't have any emotional resources left to interact socially when they're off work.

They Have Anger Issues

People who don't know how to manage their anger sometimes become socially withdrawn. They choose withdrawn behaviors as an alternative to becoming aggressive. Yet, they don't have any way to resolve their anger, so they end up having emotional problems long after the incident that caused their anger has passed. What's more, withdrawing doesn't always keep them from acting aggressively. Even if they don't physically harm someone, they may try to "get back at them" through more subtle passive-aggressive behaviors.

They're Taking Time to Reflect

Source: picryl.com

Most people spend some time every few years to reflect and consider whether they want to continue on the same life path they're on at the moment. They may exhibit withdrawn behavior during this time, at least for a while. In this case, it's a natural process that can have beneficial results.

They Have a Mental Condition

Sometimes people show withdrawn behavior because they have some type of mental disorder that interferes with their ability to interact well. Some of the mental illnesses that can contribute to this type of behavior include schizophrenia, major depression, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, autism, phobias, and personality disorders.

What If You Find Yourself Withdrawing Socially?

For some people, overcoming social withdrawal is as simple as deciding to do it and making an effort. However, for most people, the problem isn't as easily solved. Whether you have a diagnosable mental illness or not, therapy can help you reduce your withdrawn behavior.

You may need to spend some time finding out why you're socially withdrawn so that you can address those issues first. After you understand what you need to know about why you're withdrawn, you can deal with any underlying problems.

Then, you can work on the current withdrawn behavior in several ways. You can learn social skills, improve your self-esteem, and find ways to feel less fearful in social settings. You can deal with early social failures and gain confidence when your therapist encourages you and guides you in practicing your newly learned social skills. You can discuss these issues and more with a mental health counselor.  

Understanding Withdrawn Behavior With BetterHelp

Studies have shown that online therapy is a useful way of providing the resources and counseling services necessary for people coping with social anxiety, low self-esteem, or other potential causes of withdrawn behavior. A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that internet-based therapy is an effective and long-lasting method of managing symptoms related to social anxiety disorder. The study states that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) had significant effects five years after treatment was completed. Internet-administered CBT can decrease the severity of symptoms by replacing harmful or intrusive thoughts, and providing the self-help tools necessary to promote better social interactions and avoid withdraw. 

If you are uncomfortable meeting face-to-face, you have the option of communicating with one of BetterHelp’s licensed therapists from your home. Also, unlike with traditional in-person therapy, you have the option of working with a nationwide pool of potential qualified mental health professionals. This means you have a better chance of matching with a counselor who understands exactly how to address your concerns. BetterHelp therapists have helped thousands of people overcome social withdraw. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those who have experienced similar issues.  

Counselor Reviews

“I had the pleasure of working with Ann for a few months, and she helped me so much with managing my social anxiety. She was always so positive and encouraging and helped me see all the good things about myself, which helped my self-confidence so much. I've been using all the tools and wisdom she gave me and have been able to manage my anxiety better now than ever before. Thank you Ann for helping me feel better!”

“I was hesitant to start therapy for a variety of reasons… Eventually, I took the courage to start therapy with Minnie and she has exceeded my expectations. Her outstanding knowledge and expertise blew me away, ultimately shifting my mind set from complete isolation into a realm of hope, positivity and mental well-being. My conditions with trauma, OCD and anxiety had taken over my life, and I never thought cognitive behavioral therapy would make a difference in such a short amount of time. Yet with Minnie’s unquestionable sympathy and support, I noticed a huge spiritual and psychological growth within me.”


Getting treatment for mental health conditions that might be behind your withdrawn behavior is important, not only to become more socially involved but also for your own mental health. Take the first step today.


Previous Article

Compulsive Behaviors: Why You Can't Just Quit

Next Article

How To Recognize And Change Your Aggressive Behavior
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist Today
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.