What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?
We all know that person; you know, the one who never goes to parties, who is always quiet and reserved, who takes any bit of criticism to heart, who will shut off around others. Some call her shy; others think she’s arrogant, but you’ve never really been close enough to her to know for sure… though if you were, you’d realize just how misunderstood she really is.
Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is a personality disorder marked by feelings of inadequacy, social inhibition and sensitivity to rejection or criticism. As a result, one may withdraw from or avoid events such as social outings, school, work or any activity that involves socializing with others. They may also show restraint when forming intimate relationships due to their fear of being rejected, ridiculed or shamed. This means that, more often than not, people with avoidant personality disorder tend to feel socially isolated.
They may perceive themselves as unappealing, inept or inferior to others. It is a vicious cycle, by which the individual’s avoidant tendencies cause them to disengage socially, occupationally and educationally; take fewer risks (which may further their advancement in these areas) and withdraw from meaningful relationships. They then become socially isolated, frustrated at their inability to pursue meaningful activities and perceive themselves as unappealing, inept or inferior to others… and the cycle continues.
So what are the causes of avoidant personality disorder?
While the jury is still out on the exact causes of avoidant personality disorder, as with most disorders there appears to be a combination of both genetic and environmental factors that contribute to its onset.
What does appear clear is that individuals who have experienced emotional abuse appear to be up to four times more likely to develop a personality disorder when compared to those who haven’t. In regards to avoidant personality disorder, the impact of parenting behaviors — specifically neglect and emotional abuse — appear to be common pre-determinants. Lower levels of parental intolerance and expression of love and pride are also associated with the onset of this disorder. It is thought that these behaviors may lead to feelings of worthlessness and cause the young person to feel as if they are not worthy of being loved or cared for. People are subsequently not seen as safe, caring or supportive, and feelings of mistrust and anxiety around social relationships arise.
While evidence for a genetic component of avoidant personality disorder has not been as widely documented, there does appear to be a genetic component associated with this disorder. In terms of personality traits, studies have shown avoidant personality disorder holds a positive correlation with neuroticism as well as a negative relationship with extraversion. This suggests these people tend to be more anxious and fearful and understandably more introverted and closed off. Correspondingly, a trait referred to as behavioral inhibition is a temperamental factor that is thought to be genetic and involves shyness, increased sensitivity and an avoidance of new people and unfamiliar situations. The trait of harm avoidance is also high in these people and is a trait centered on feelings of shyness, inhibition and anxiety/anxiety disorders.
Are there treatment options for avoidant personality disorder?
Yes! Depending on the circumstances, there are a number of talk therapies, medications or both that may be useful in treating avoidant personality disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be especially useful in challenging the negative, pervasive beliefs both about oneself (e.g., feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness) and others (e.g., feeling others cannot be trusted, will reject or ridicule them). Friends, family and other informal supports are also incredibly valuable resources to draw upon throughout one’s recovery journey.
Avoidant personality disorder can be a difficult mental illness to deal with, and the hesitation to engage with and trust both formal and informal supports proves to be a challenge in receiving treatments. However, once one does reach out to supports, recovery becomes a very realistic and likely outcome.
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