Avoidant Personality Disorder is one of the conditions within a group of conditions called personality disorders. These disorders are enduring patterns of behavior that are not in sync with our cultural norms and cause tremendous suffering to individuals or those around them. Avoidant Personality Disorder is marked by feelings of extreme social inhibition, nervousness, fear, and sensitivity to negative criticism and rejection.
People suffering from this condition have a chronic feeling of inadequacy, and it involves more than simply being socially awkward or shy. Though they like to interact with others, they have a chronic sense of inadequacy. Due to their avoidance behavior, they are more inclined to avoid any social interactions because they fear being judged or rejected by others. This inability to interact with others causes major problems and affects how they interact with others or maintain relationships in daily life.
To speak the truth, about 2.4% of the U.S population suffer from APD. Avoidance behavior apparently affects women and men equally. Just like any other personality disorder, symptoms of avoidance behavior can be observed during childhood. APD is known to create discomfort in adolescence or the onset of adulthood. But the condition is not usually diagnosed in those younger than 18 years of age as there should be enough evidence that these behavioral patterns are enduring and would not fade away with time.
Although the exact cause of avoidance behavior continues to remain unknown, nature and nurture are known to play their respective roles. Avoidant personality behavior is believed to be passed on in families through genes, but it is not proven. Environmental factors or the role of nurturing plays an important role, particularly in childhood.
It is quite normal to see young children feeling shy, which may last until adolescents and adulthood in those suffering from the condition. Those who suffer from avoidance behavior often report past experiences of peer or parental rejection, which critically impacts a person’s sense of worth and self-esteem. The fear of rejection is so strongly engraved in their minds that they would rather choose to remain isolated rather than risk being rejected in a relationship. The behavioral pattern in people suffering from this condition can vary from mild to severe. The other common symptoms that add up to this condition include –
People who have avoidant personality disorder make it difficult to connect with other people and are often hesitant to befriend them unless there is the absolute certainty of being liked by the other person. When involved in a relationship, a person may be afraid to talk about their innermost feelings or share personal information, making it difficult to maintain close friendships or intimate relationships.
As per the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person with avoidance disorder needs to display at least four of the following symptoms to be diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder –
While the symptoms of avoidance behavior or an avoidant personality disorder can be observed during childhood or adolescence, a diagnosis cannot be made because of fear of strangers, social awkwardness, or shyness. Sensitivity to criticism is a normal part of the developmental phase of childhood and adolescents. A mental health professional or a mental health app can evaluate symptoms, diagnose accurately and suggest appropriate treatment options.
One may wonder how difficult or easy it is to diagnose Avoidant Personality Disorder. But with the presence of symptoms, a healthcare provider begins by performing a complete medical history evaluation, leading to a physical examination. In the absence of laboratory tests to particularly diagnose avoidant personality disorders, or personality disorders in general, the doctor might use multiple diagnostic tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.
In the absence of any physical causes of the symptoms, the doctor might refer to a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or other healthcare professionals specially trained to diagnose and suggest treatment for mental illness. Psychologists and psychiatrists employ specially designed interviews and assessment tools to assess a person for a personality disorder such as avoidant personality disorder.
Treating people with personality disorders is challenging because people suffering from this condition have deep-rooted thought patterns and behavior that have probably existed for many years. Still, those experiencing avoidant personality disorder have the propensity to be suitable candidates for treatment because their ailment causes a considerable amount of distress, and most of them are willing to develop relationships. This desire motivates people suffering from avoidant personality disorder to follow their treatment procedures religiously. The therapies that are used for the treatment of APD include –
It is a form of talk therapy that helps you gain awareness of your unconscious thought process, past experiences, and how they influence your current behavior.
It is another form of talk therapy wherein a therapist helps the person suffering from the condition in replacing unhealthy beliefs and thought patterns. Cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages a person to examine their thoughts and beliefs and find out if it has any factual premise.
The FDA has approved no medications to treat personality disorders, but a doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications if you have co-occurring depression or anxiety.
In the absence of proper treatment, a person with Avoidant Personality Disorder can become isolated from society, causing difficulties in long-term working associations and social functioning. They are also at greater risk of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
As with other personality disorders, treatment for avoidance behavior or avoidant personality disorder is a long, time-consuming process. The readiness and enthusiasm of the individual to seek treatment and stay put can significantly affect treatment success and, therefore, the outlook.