There are moments when you may feel shy and awkward, especially when introduced to a new social circle. But what about if you’re having these feelings all of the time? What if the thoughts of socializing are causing knots in your stomach? You may have an avoidant personality disorder.
If you have chronic feelings of anxiety, shyness, awkwardness, and fear of rejection when socializing with others, you may be struggling with an avoidant personality disorder. How can you cope with this? Do you know someone with this type of personality? If you have a loved one who has a consistent pattern of avoiding social gatherings, understand how they feel so you can help them.
Avoidant Personality Disorder Defined
Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is defined as nervousness, fear of rejection by others, and feeling highly sensitive to other people’s judgment when in a social situation. These feelings of anxiety lead to chronic avoidance of social gatherings, even with family and friends.
Don’t get it wrong; people with an avoidant personality disorder want to interact with others or catch up with friends. However, they can’t keep their act together because the thoughts of socializing make them feel anxious.
These feelings root from the intense fear of being rejected by others. An avoidant personality disorder is different from a social anxiety disorder. People with avoidant personality disorder avoid most areas in life. In contrast, people with a social anxiety disorder may avoid only specific social situations.
For instance, people with an avoidant personality disorder often do not like to be promoted at work because they fear being criticized by their co-workers. Or they avoid catching up with friends because they fear hearing comments about their weight gain. This form of personality disorder prevents a person from forming close relationships and having a support system.
Causes of Avoidant Personality Disorder
Like other personality disorders, there is no known cause of avoidant personality disorder. However, genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development of avoidant personality disorder. An avoidant personality disorder is believed to be passed down in families through genes, yet more studies are needed to back this claim.
Like other personality disorders, environmental factors, especially childhood experiences, play an essential role. Shyness is normal during childhood. However, when the shyness lasts up to the teenage years and early adulthood, this may indicate an avoidant personality disorder.
Those who develop an avoidant personality disorder reported early childhood encounters of peer rejection and feelings of inadequacy because of their parents. Both can lead to low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth.
Avoidant Personality Disorder Symptoms
There is an intense fear of rejection in people with an avoidant personality disorder. They choose to isolate themselves rather than being in a situation of being rejected or judged. Like other personality disorders, people with an avoidant personality disorder may have a pattern of behavior that may vary from mild to extreme.
Examples of avoidant personality disorder symptoms or the red flags are:
- Feeling oversensitive and easily offended by disapproval or criticism.
- They are hesitant to be involved with others unless there is an assurance they will be liked
- Some people with AvPD may only have a few close friends
- Feelings of inadequacy because of other people’s criticism and rejection
- Extreme feelings of anxiety and nervousness to become involved in new things, social settings, or meet new friends
- Avoids to be involved in activities or jobs that involve unfamiliar people
- Tends to be socially awkward, shy, self-conscious, or uncomfortable in social gatherings
- Fear of social interaction caused by insecurity, low self-esteem, and poor self-image
- Does not like to try new activities or take new chances
- Sees themselves as inferior to others
- Always comes up with excuses when invited to social gatherings
- Awkward social skills
- Fears of social rejection or humiliation
Social, Emotional and Mental Health Impact of Avoidant Personality Disorder
According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people with avoidant personality disorder can experience social, emotional, and mental health struggles. The fear of other people’s rejection makes it hard for them to connect with other people.
This is not something they consciously choose and it is something they struggle to overcome. People with avoidant personality disorder are afraid to be involved in new relationships because they are hesitant to open up their lives and share their feelings. It makes it difficult for them to develop intimate relationships and retain close friends.
A person with an avoidant personality disorder may find it hard to seek support from friends and loved ones, which can greatly affect their emotional and mental health. Their fears make it difficult for them to engage in hearty conversations, and their avoidance ends up with bottling up of emotions.
Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatment
It is difficult to treat personality disorders. The whole treatment process does not take overnight as the behavior and thinking of people with an avoidant personality disorder is deep-rooted and has been present for many years.
Do you think you have an avoidant personality disorder? Talk to a mental health professional right away to be diagnosed. As soon as you notice any symptoms mentioned above, seek medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment options from a psychiatrist. Do not wait for your relationships to hang by a thread and your life to be filled with fears. You deserve to laugh and spend time with your friends.
As long as you are motivated to develop relationships and stop the feelings of distress when socializing, you can overcome this personality disorder. According to APA (American Psychiatric Association), treatment options for AvPD are medication and therapy.
Like other personality disorders, psychotherapy is a helpful treatment for AvPD. With psychotherapy, you’ll have individual counseling with a therapist. The treatment focuses on changing your thinking (cognitive) and behavior, thus the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
During therapy, you can learn how to overcome your fears, know the reason why you avoid social situations and learn how to cope with any criticism.
Another form of treatment is taking anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications. Medication in combination with therapy is helpful to manage anxiety and depression in AvPD. In addition, help from family members and loved ones make the treatment for the disorder more effective.
How To Help A Loved One With Avoidant Personality Disorder
If you have a loved one diagnosed with this disorder, start with educating yourself. Learn how to handle your relationship and how you can provide support. Remember that hearing criticism and socializing isn’t their strongest point, so be conscious of that. Here are tips on how you can help a loved one with AvPD.
Show Support and Acceptance
Do not force yourself to try to “fix” your loved one. The motivation to overcome this personality disorder should come from the person. At this point, showing support and acceptance is the first step.
Do not tell them how to talk or act. Instead, have an open conversation and ask them how they feel or ask them how they like to improve themselves. You can say like, “You know that I love you and support you. If you need to talk, I’m here. Let me know if there’s something I can help with”.
Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms
People with an avoidant personality disorder may resort to reckless behaviors like substance abuse or drinking because they are prone to develop depression. As their support system, encourage them to resort to healthy coping mechanisms.
You can be a positive influence in their life and encourage them to exercise, do yoga, go on a hike, or do a hobby together at home. Give them positive feedback when they try these healthy coping mechanisms to be encouraged to make more changes in their lives. Who knows? One day they may say to themselves, “Going out and socializing is not so bad after all”.
Do Not Force Them In Social Situations
Do not force your loved one to attend social gatherings if it’s against their will. Forcing them into a situation will just upset them, and it won’t certainly help. They may feel angry with you, form resentment, and this may worsen the situation.
Let your loved one initiate the invite to go to a social gathering. If your loved one is not comfortable hanging out with big groups, ask them if a small circle will do. If you want to party or go out, try to do it with another group of friends.
Encourage Your Loved One To See A Therapist
Encourage your loved one, do not force them. You can tell them like, “I’m worried about you, you seem to be isolated lately and barely go out. You know I only want the best for you. Do you think that talking to a counselor can help you feel better?”
If your family member has AvPD, you can accompany them and have Family Therapy. If it’s your spouse or partner, you can attend a Couple’s Therapy. Making them feel that you are there for them and accompanying them during therapy will make them feel empowered.
Book An Appointment With A Therapist
If having AvPD restrains you from seeing a therapist in person, you can always opt for online mental health counseling. If you’re from Ohio or Kentucky, you can schedule an appointment with Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC).
Start to take care of your mental and emotional health by talking to a mental health professional. Start to build healthy relationships, learn self-love, do not be easily hurt by criticism, and be the best person you can be. Remember never to feel inferior because you are enough, you are great, you are the best.