Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by the withdrawal from social interaction for the purpose of avoiding feelings of inadequacy and the potential for negative feedback or criticism. People who have this disorder are hypersensitive to ridicule, humiliation and rejection and often feel as though they are unlikeable, unappealing to others and socially inept. Those who suffer will avoid relationships and refrain from making physical contact because of a general mistrust toward others and toward themselves. Self-hatred or feelings of inferiority are generally the characteristics that lead to this type of behavior.


Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder


Despite the feelings of severe loneliness caused by symptoms of avoidant personality disorder, those who suffer prefer loneliness over the possibility of getting hurt or experiencing the pain of loss by forming relationships. They become overly focused on their own shortcomings and will enter a relationship only when they are sure they will not be rejected. This behavior and thought pattern can lead into an extremely dysfunctional partnership, therefore worsening symptoms and perpetuating the disorder. Following is a list of symptoms one might look for if avoidant personality disorder is suspected:

  • Overly sensitive to rejection and criticism
  • Avoids physical contact because of the potential for pain
  • Feels inadequate and self-conscious
  • Mistrusts others
  • Self-critical, self-loathing with very low self-esteem
  • Desires a close relationship, but prefers loneliness over the possibility of rejection
  • Excessive shyness or the experience of social anxiety
  • Self-imposed isolation from peers and others


Causes of Avoidant Personality Disorder


As with many mental illnesses, the cause of avoidant personality disorder is unclear, but is likely related to a mixture of genetic and psychological factors. Research indicates that many tendencies toward mental illness may be inherited from the family tree, or learned from close family members as a child. Alternatively, if a child experiences chronic criticism, either from parents or peers, he or she may develop symptoms as a defense mechanism. Many people who suffer from this illness are overly shy or fearful, and early treatment from critical parents or bullies at school may increase susceptibility for the disorder.


Diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder


To be diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, a person must be at least 18 years of age and have experienced at least three of the above symptoms over a period of time. When seeking treatment, individuals will likely be tested by a medical physician for any physical problems which could be leading to the disorder. Once physical ailments are ruled out, a recommendation will be made for a psychological evaluation. This evaluation should include tests and questions related to family history, possible trauma, observance of behavior and personal feelings of the patient. Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment options will be recommended.


Treatment for Avoidant Personality Disorder


Treating avoidant personality disorder is best done with therapy. Medication may be prescribed, but it's often done so for the purpose of alleviating underlying symptoms, such as depression or severe anxiety. Many different styles of therapy can be beneficial in teaching the patient to trust others, while shattering negative self-beliefs that lead to avoidant behaviors. Group therapy offers the opportunity to practice social skills, while family therapy may bring out root issues that could have led to the cause of symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps with training the patient awareness of triggering events  and offers new and healthy coping skills to use as a reaction to those triggers. People with avoidant personality disorder may also benefit from alternative therapies, such as meditation or relaxation techniques. Study of alternative remedies aims to promote whole-body wellness and can provide opportunities to research and associate with new groups of people.