Avoidant Personality Disorder: More Than Shy

By: Courtney Derksen

Throughout every day we hear people talk about how lonely they feel or how much they’re terrified of criticism. Although these expressions are very much valid and should be empathized with, individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder experience a much greater degree of difficulty with long term feelings of inadequacy and have extreme sensitivity to what others think about them. These feelings will contribute to the person actively trying to avoid any activities such as work or school that involve socializing or interacting with others. The onset can usually be traced back to early adulthood or adolescence.

A characteristic of Avoidant Personality Disorder is high anxiety due to fears of reacting to criticism with blushing or tears. Their tense and fearful nature may cause their peers to notice and speak up, which in turn, they believe, confirms their self-doubts.

Described as shy, timid, lonely, and isolated, these individuals will suffer in their social and occupational functioning. Due to their low self-esteem, they restrict interpersonal contacts and may become very isolated, lack a support system that they need during difficult times. Hesitancy to form new friendships is common unless these individuals are confident they are liked. People with Avoidant Personality Disorder crave affection and the feeling of acceptance and may fantasize about ideal relationships to cope.

Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder include:

  • Avoidance of occupational activities that involve interpersonal contact
  • Unwillingness to get involved with people unless there is a certainty that they are liked
  • Restraint within intimate relationships
  • Preoccupation of being criticized or rejected in social situations
  • View of themselves as inferior to others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reluctant of taking personal risks for fear of embarrassment.

Diagnosis is made by a trained mental health professional that will assess the symptoms and life history and determine if the symptoms meet the criteria necessary for a personality disorder diagnosis. 

Psychotherapy with a therapist is the traditional treatment for Avoidant Personality Disorder. Psychodynamic therapy is one type of therapy that helps an individual become aware of their unconscious thoughts and contribute to understanding how past experiences influence current behavior. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps a person recognize unhealthy beliefs and thought processes to replace them with healthier ones. Medications may be provided to help alleviate specific troubling and debilitating symptoms, especially if an individual also has other mental health conditions. 

I would like to stress that there is absolutely no shame in seeking help! Studies have shown that people with personality disorders (as well as mental health in general) do not often find treatment until there is a significant interference in one’s life. If you think that you may have any symptoms or don’t feel quite right, check in with your doctor or a mental health professional because they do want to help you and won’t judge at all. You don’t need to suffer in silence; help is out there!

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