What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder And What Should I Watch For?
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 07, 2018
Reviewer Denise Doster
Have you ever found yourself avoiding a situation or avoiding talking to people? Chances are you've experienced at least a few shy moments throughout your life. But you've probably only had a few minutes and probably only felt a little uncertain. For those with avoidant personality disorder, however, experiences extreme shyness where they are incapable of getting through their everyday life. That's the kind of shyness that we're going to focus on for this article, the kind that interferes with your professional and social life.
What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?
When was the last time you had difficulty talking to someone or interacting in a social situation? Just how bad did it feel for you to have to try and participate in that social situation? Well, someone with avoidant personality disorder would find it extremely difficult to even attend and nearly impossible to interact. That's because someone with avoidant personality disorder has extreme social inhibition, extreme low self-esteem and extremely high sensitivity to being rejected. Being in social situations where all these things could happen tends to completely overwhelm them. What this means is they tend to avoid social interactions as much as possible and tend to have difficulty forming healthy relationships.
Because someone who has this disorder has such a strong fear of rejection and such a low opinion of themselves, they believe everything they do or say will be subject to scrutiny. When it is, they then believe that they will always come up short and say something stupid or silly that will cause them to be rejected. As a result, they find it easier to be alone than to risk the rejection that they are certain they are going to experience. For those who suffer from it, the loneliness can most often take a toll on them personally and the inability to socialize can make even professional interactions extremely difficult.
Signs and Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder
There are several different signs and symptoms that are used to diagnose avoidant personality disorder, so let's look at some of these. If you or someone you know has these types of symptoms you may want to talk with a professional to find out more. There's no reason that you should have to live your life alone when all you really want is to meet people and have healthy friendships or at least carry out your professional obligations in a healthy way.
- Extremely hurt by any suggestion of criticism or disapproval of any suggestions or actions
- Lack of close relationships in a personal or professional environment
- Avoids situations that may involve contact with other people
- Tend to seek out professions, hobbies or other activities that limit interaction with others
- Extreme shyness in social situations for fear of making mistakes
- Excessive restraint shown in any intimate relationships that do develop
- Tendency to feel socially inferior or unappealing
- Refusal to take risks, try new things or speak up for fear of embarrassment
- Extremely reluctant to speak with others or get involved with others
While these symptoms may occur in any one of us at one point in time or another, someone who experiences avoidant personality disorder lives their entire life by these restrictions. They find it extremely difficult or even impossible to branch out of their comfort zone or to do anything that might result in mistakes. Any mistake, however small or trivial it might be to others, could be considered catastrophic to someone who is suffering from this disorder. This results in a complete avoidance of all interaction possible to avoid mistakes and embarrassment.
Treatment for Avoidant Personality Disorder
So, what happens if you are diagnosed with this disorder? Does it mean there is a cure or is it something that you just must accept and live with? Well, the answer comes somewhere in the middle. There is no actual 'cure' for avoidant personality disorder. But that doesn't mean you just have to live with it either. While nothing can cure it and take away all of the things that go with the disorder permanently, there are definitely ways that you can help yourself move on with your life in a healthy and happy way.
First, medication can be a great start. Antidepressants can help with some of the side effects of the disorder that may come about as a result of loneliness. Not only that but they can actually help to counter some of the fear of rejection and the sensitivity to it when it does occur. Other types of medication may also be effective for helping treat the symptoms or side effects of the disorder, though they don't take care of the disorder itself.
Next, psychotherapy can be an extremely important aspect of your treatment. This will help you to understand relationship building as well as increasing your ability to relate to others. As a result, you may find yourself far more comfortable having even casual conversations with others, which is a great way to start. This type of treatment will help you to slowly start branching out and improving your life, which is crucial to being able to enjoy your life the way you want to.
Stats on Avoidant Personality Disorder
If you've never heard of this disorder, or even if you're just a little more curious about it, knowing some of the stats that are relevant can be an interesting way to find out more. Look at each of these statistics and find out how prevalent this disorder is as well as some of the other facts that can help you understand the makeup of those who are already suffering from it and developing their own path to a healthier future.
- Approximately 0.5% - 1% of the general population have avoidant personality disorder
- Approximately 10% of psychiatric outpatients are diagnosed with this disorder
- As many as 50% of those diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia also have avoidant personality disorder
- As many as 40% of those diagnosed with social phobia or social anxiety disorder also have avoidant personality disorder
Avoidant Personality Disorder: How It Differs
When you hear the stats and the facts about this disorder, you may think of other personality disorders where people tend to be alone. There are numerous ones, after all. Maybe you think about it and assume that it's not so bad to be alone because there are times you want to be alone. However, that's not the case with this disorder . Where everyone wants to be alone sometimes, there are other times when you really want to be around other people. Maybe you have some great news that you want to share, or you want to catch up about work or old times. Maybe you don't even actively want to be around people, but you need a new pair of shoes. You probably never really think about it, right?
With avoidant personality disorder, these everyday things that you may do without thinking are nearly impossible. The individual with avoidant personality disorder wants to interact with others. They want to have friendships and relationships. They want to be able to go to the store to get the things they need. The difference is that they don't feel capable. They feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear when they even think about doing these things and no matter how much they want to be able to do them, that fear and anxiety always wins out in the end because even if they manage to get out there or talk to someone, the anxiety and fear are in the back of their mind.
Even if they manage to go to the store and pick up those new shoes, they worry that the people around them are judging them or that they've done something wrong. Every word they say is carefully analyzed before they speak, and they may still fear they've said the wrong thing. Where many of us simply speak without a whole lot of thought, an unintentional outburst from someone with this disorder is horrifying. Where some of us would like to sit home once in a while by themselves, someone with this disorder would like to go out once in a while with other people. The disorder keeps them from doing it.
What a Diagnosis Means for You
So, what does it mean for you if you're diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder? Well, it means that you really can't do it alone and that you're going to need some help to get through the disorder. Getting started with treatment right away is the best thing you can do, so make sure that you're talking with your healthcare professional and getting advice on the type of treatment you need and what to expect. You may also want to check out BetterHelp, which is an online resource that can get you connected with mental health professional's right from your own home. There's no reason you need to go anywhere to get the help you want and need to improve your life.