What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?
People with avoidant personality disorder (APD) have a lifelong, deeply ingrained pattern of extreme shyness, extreme sensitivity to rejection, distrust of others, and deep feelings of inadequacy. Those suffering from the disorder try to avoid social situations and close relationships due to their excessive fear of rejection. They actually want to have relationships and participate in fun social activities, but lack the confidence and interpersonal skills they need to succeed in these situations. All this makes avoidant personality disorder treatment very challenging.
What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder
To answer the question -- what is avoidant personality disorder – it's important to first understand what it is not. Avoidant personality disorder is not the typical shyness or social awkwardness we all feel at times. Everyone lacks confidence or feels inadequate in some isolated situations. Those with avoidant personality disorder constantly deal with these feelings in the extreme and have likely done so since childhood or early adolescence. Their intense fear of rejection has no obvious basis and stems from distorted thought patterns. (Read about famous people with avoidant personality disorder.)
Avoidant personality disorder is a severe mental health condition that permeates every aspect of a person's life. People suffering from it cannot stop dwelling on their own perceived shortcomings. They rarely form relationships, but when they do, they only interact with people they strongly believe will not reject them. Rejection and embarrassment are so intensely painful for people with avoidant personality that they choose loneliness rather than take the risk. The following features define avoidant personality disorder:
- Negative emotion – intense anxiety, fear of rejection and embarrassment
- Detachment – social withdrawal, intimacy avoidance, diminished ability to experience pleasure
- Permeate all situations – behaviors occur at home, work, and in community
- Significant distress and impairment - in social, work, or other daily life activities
- Early onset – behaviors appear no later than early adulthood (i.e. 20s)
Causes of Avoidant Personality Disorder
Researchers don't have a clear understanding about the causes of avoidant personality disorder. Most experts believe development of the disorder is influenced by a combination of genetic, social, and biological factors. People who have certain genetic profiles or an illness that changes their appearance may be at greater risk for developing the condition.
Many individuals with the disorder have endured painful childhood experiences involving brutal parental criticism and rejection. Children naturally want to bond with their parents, but due to the constant parental rejection and ridicule, it's virtually impossible for a healthy bond to form. This leaves these children hungry for close relationships, yet lacking the skills to form and maintain them.
They begin to develop a protective psychological shell that shields them from further parental ridicule and rejection. The resulting social awkwardness may cause peers to tease and ridicule them as well, contributing to the intense fear of social interactions. Reports on avoidant personality disorder statistics suggest that about 1 percent of the U.S. population suffers from the condition and it appears just as frequently in males as in females.
People who think they may suffer from this mental health condition should seek help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. The clinician will compare symptoms, behaviors, and history to avoidant personality DSM criteria and make a diagnosis. With long-term treatment, typically talk therapy combined with psychotherapy, people with the disorder can often develop some ability to relate with others and engage socially.
Last Updated: 20 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD