We all feed the desire to be alone sometimes, but when it consumes our daily life, it might be caused by something more serious like Avoidant Personality Disorder. To understand if it might be a problem, learn to recognize some common AVPD symptoms.
Most adults can admit that they experience some social anxiety from time to time or, like most people, they fear rejection, or worry about what others will think of them.
Having these thoughts and feelings is a completely normal part of being human. We all want approval and acceptance.
However, when feelings of inadequacy, social inhibitions and intense worry of rejection hinder a person’s personal and professional life, they might be suffering from a deeper problem.
People struggling with Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) tend to be extremely uncomfortable in social situations, avoid contact with others and may appear to be tremendously shy.
In truth, they are likely trying to cope with very low self-esteem, a fear of being negatively judged, or even rejected by others.
According to the Mayo Clinic, AVPD is a Class C personality disorder. These are mental health issues, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), that are “characterized by anxious, fearful thinking and behavior.”
What Causes Avoidant Personality Disorder?
Like many mental health issues, there are a variety of reasons a person may develop this condition in adulthood.
The main causes of Avoidant Personality Disorder include genetics, and conditions such as a history of emotional abuse, a lack of affection received as a child or other associated psychological trauma.
Children are not generally diagnosed with the disorder because they are still maturing. Luckily, many of them may yet outgrow behaviors such as shyness or avoidance.
A 2018 study published on Psychology Research and Behavior Management found that AVPD, though “under recognized and poorly studied,” is a fairly common disorder, effecting as many as 2.5 percent of the population.
What are Avoidant Personality Disorder Symptoms?
In order for an AVPD diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), often referred to as the “Bible of psychiatry,” requires that a person display a consistent pattern of behavior that qualifies the diagnosis as being AVPD.
It is also related to Borderline Personality Disorder and shares many of the same signs as social anxiety disorder, although AVPD symptoms are usually more severe than the latter.
Common Avoidant Personality Disorder Symptoms Include:
- An unwillingness to form relationships with others unless it is clear they like you, especially in intimate associations
- Avoiding personal or professional activities that require interpersonal contact
- Feelings of inadequacy that create social inhibition or anxiety
- Overly sensitive to criticism or rejection
- Hesitant to break routine, try new things, or take risks of any kind
- Intense and unfounded fear of embarrassment, ridicule or disapproval
- Lack of any close friends or a social network
- Extremely shy around other people
- Profound need to be liked by others
- Low self-esteem
- Distrust of other people or co-workers
- Tendency to be alone of self-isolate
Living with these thoughts and feelings can be incredibly debilitating and difficult. People emotionally wrestling with AVPD will often misinterpret completely neutral situations as something negative or personally aimed at them.
Left untreated, this condition can worsen and create a host of other issues, such as depression, anxiety disorder, social isolation and substance abuse as a way to self-medicate.
Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatment
Unfortunately, many people with avoidant personality disorder never seek treatment because they assume their symptoms are just who they are, rather than the consequence of an untreated mental illness.
However, there are treatment approaches to AVPD that can greatly improve a person’s quality of life.
Effective Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatment Often Includes:
1. Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Though it might not be obvious, one of the first steps is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Many mental health conditions can be minimized with a nutritious diet, combined with 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep nightly and regular exercise.
All three of these have shown to be positive steps for keeping the body and mind’s natural chemistry in balance.
2. Anti-depressant Medications
There aren’t any medications specifically prescribed directly for AVPD, but some anti-depressant medications may help with mood and related issues of depression or anxiety.
Medication is a typical treatment for many mood disorders and it can be useful when used in connection with a talk therapy routine.
3. Behavioral Counseling and Talk Therapy
Other approaches like counseling or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a skill-oriented therapy that helps people engage in more adaptive thinking, is an incredibly effective treatment for avoidant personality disorder.
Group therapy can be helpful as well, especially if it involves social skills techniques.
Whenever possible, it’s useful to involve family and friends in therapy sessions so they have a better understanding of how the disorder affects people and why they exhibit specific personality traits.
4. Addiction Treatment
Unfortunately, many people use drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms for dealing with mental health conditions, and this practice sometimes leads to addiction.
Alcohol and many drugs are depressants and will worsen any underlying psychological issues.
Addiction treatment, if there are substance abuse issues, can help patients with AVPD, but the two conditions together create a co-occurring disorder, which usually requires dual diagnosis treatment for successful recovery.
Recognizing and understanding the signs and symptoms of this disorder is the first step to recovery. No one should feel any guilt or shame about struggling with mental health.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a full, healthy life in both body and mind, and proper treatment can provide that for almost everyone who seeks help.