Many personality disorders come in many different forms. Many symptoms of AVPD are similar to those of other personality disorders that relate to social interactions.
Avoidant personality disorder is a personality disorder in which someone will seem extremely shy and uncomfortable in social situations. Intimate social situations such as close conversations or one on one discussions will be a stressor of this individual. They will often avoid social scenes and make excuses in order to avoid being around others.
Is AVPD Common?
Although symptoms of AVPD might sound ordinary compared to other personality disorders, only about 2.5% of the population has been diagnosed with it.
In the U.S. this is about 7.9 million people. While many personality disorders are more common among women vs. men (and vice versa) avoidant personality disorder is said to be found equally among the sexes, although some studies disagree.
Symptoms of AVPD
One of the main symptoms of AVPD is that people with avoidant personality disorder do not typically embrace change. This is because new experience means a new risk for criticism or failure.
They might decline advancement opportunities at work. People with AVPD might stunt their own growth in other areas of their life for the same reason.
If a situation is unfamiliar, they may become extremely uncomfortable and might remove themselves.
Avoiding social settings, growth opportunities, exploring new activities or traveling are a handful of things that someone struggling with AVPD might avoid in order to stay in their comfort zone.
Struggling with anxiety and panic attacks is often common with those suffering with AVPD. The individual might be triggered by certain experiences. They could be living in anxious fear of their next panic attack.
If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety and/or panic attacks, you know how debilitating those experiences might be.
An individualized program (like this one from Panic Away) can help you discover the cause behind your triggers and address your fear and anxiousness head on.
By doing this, you can pinpoint key events in the cycle of anxiety in order to break it.
This can help the individual work through their stressors so that they can establish the relationships they’ve always wanted.
Weighted blankets/accessories have been known to help ease anxiety that many with AVPD and other personality disorders struggle with as well.
It’s important to be proactive about anxiety and potential panic attacks to avoid further complications and struggles in the future.
Avoid Making New Friends
People suffering with AVPD might avoid social situations where they might meet new friends.
It is common for someone with AVPD to interact mostly with their family members. Often, they will have very few close friends.
Making new friends requires a level of risk that those with AVPD are not willing to take. This is due to how sensitive they are to criticism and how badly they want approval from people.
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Fear of Rejection
Not only do those suffering with AVPD fear criticism and rejection from potential friends, but in every other area of life as well. Of all the symptoms of AVPD, this is perhaps the most impactful.
If they are at work and receive constructive criticism about a project they’re working on they will take it extremely seriously and overthink what it could mean. This is true with any small confrontation they may experience in daily life.
People with avoidant personality disorder often make disapproval or criticism mean something much worse than it is.
Since they are so sensitive to it, they make it mean something it doesn’t necessarily mean.
Extremely Low Self-Esteem
Sadly, people with avoidant personality disorder don’t think highly of themselves at all.
They feel the need to hide when they’re out in public. They will do this with certain clothes that make them look less attractive. Or certain things that make them feel safe or hidden such as hoods, hats or loose clothing.
People with AVPD feel that it is safer to seem uninteresting than to risk judgment and criticism for their appearance.
Ironically, sometimes this draws more attention to them than they would like.
Living with AVPD is challenging every day. Those who suffer with it are always self conscious and living in fear.
Causes of AVPD
Usually, AVPD isn’t diagnosed until the individual is at least 18 years of age. This is because the patterns and symptoms of AVPD needed to distinguish the disorder are often not a permanent part of their behavior until early adulthood.
While there is not one main cause, it is believed that the following factors can cause an individual to develop AVPD.
When a child experiences neglect, whether intentional or not, they rationalize the reasoning behind it. From a young age, our brains decide how we interpret the world.
If the child is being neglected and has fabricated a reason for it, he/she will go through life acting based on that limiting (and often false) belief.
In this case, a child may have thought the reason for their neglect was because they were not “good enough” in any given area.
Perhaps their parent(s) or a peer once made a comment about their appearance, how they carry themselves or how they speak.
Little comments, especially when followed by neglectful treatment, will cause the child to grow up believing that they are not good enough. The truth is that the parents/peer was incorrectly expressing themselves from a hurtful perspective.
Perhaps they didn’t mean anything by it or there was some misunderstanding. The cause of the neglect is irrelevant as the damage was done.
Usually this can happen if the child feels like they can never please their parent(s). They may also feel they don’t deserve love and affection unless they go above and beyond.
They may sink into depression and live their lives believing that they aren’t worthy of other’s admiration and love. This will cause them to become extremely sensitive to the thoughts and words of others.
Similar to neglect, trauma and/or abuse can cause someone to develop avoidant personality disorder. It is not unlikely for someone to develop a personality disorder such as AVPD due to the abuse of others.
Especially if it’s at the hands of someone they love. When someone is being abused, often they will try to rationalize why the abuser is treating them that way.
If the abuser is manipulative, the victim will start to think that they deserve the abuse for many reasons.
Eventually symptoms of AVPD will appear and over time, the disorder will develop.
Even after they are not being abused anymore, the victim might believe that they deserve to be treated poorly.
In some cases, victims of abuse will not be able to relax until they have received a punishment which can cause them to be on edge if they are no longer in an abusive relationship.
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The victim may have been picked apart and put down for the smallest things. Over time, they could start believing that they are stupid and worthless.
This will cause them to always be searching for external validation. They will do anything to avoid the pain of feeling like others disapprove of them. This will lead them to develop behaviors that relate to AVPD.
Behaviors in this case could include not being easy to get to know or coming off as cold and guarded.
They could have very particular preferences for various things like not wearing certain clothes that they think others wouldn’t like, etc.
While trauma from abuse is a common result, trauma from a serious life event is seen as well. This can cause someone to develop irrational behaviors if they rationalize the reason behind the event as something that is their fault.
An example of this could be a loved one dying, a traumatic breakup/divorce, losing a home or other scenarios where they believe they could somehow be at fault.
Similar to what was discussed in the article on What is Bipolar Disorder, a pre-existing brain condition could cause someone to develop AVPD.
This is because mental health issues such as depression and anxiety have the ability to cause someone to develop various personality disorders, AVPD included.
Dysfunction within the brain can be the cause simply because chemicals are not functioning properly. Chemical imbalances in the brain cause a variety of mental disorders.
Depression occurs when neurotransmitters that send signals to each other are not releasing the right chemical.
It’s like receiving an incorrect package that you ordered. Someone with a disorder such depression does not receive the “happy” chemicals they’re supposed to since their brain is out of balance.
Your brain might try to regulate itself without success.
This is where medication such as an antidepressant comes into play. An antidepressant does not give you artificial “happy” chemicals.
Instead, It blocks the receptors from sending out more “unhappy” chemicals so that the “happy” ones can build back up.
Depending on the specific case, doctors may prescribe a mix of certain medications that best suit your needs. Some people cannot take antidepressants in which case, other medications or methods of treatment will be used.
Anxiety is similar, although other mental/emotional factors might be at play. An individual might be triggered by certain events in which “talk” therapy would be a great treatment option.
This could be the case if someone is triggered by certain social settings or places and is not sure why.
Speaking to a professional counselor online is a great option for those who experience anxiety with face to face interaction or being in a doctor’s office.
The added convenience of receiving treatment in the comfort of your own home also makes this option popular.
Genetics and Environment
Since children are so impressionable, it is thought that genetics and environment can also play a role in the development of AVPD.
If you’ve read our other articles on personality disorders, you may know that genetics can play a role in the development of a variety of mental and emotional health issues.
Personality disorders such as AVPD may be developed if the child inherits certain characteristics which make them susceptible to developing AVPD.
Combine that with potential neglect, abuse, trauma and an unstable or unhealthy environment, and the child could develop avoidant personality disorder later in life as a result.
Facts about AVPD
People with AVPD Crave Connection
Contrary to popular belief, those with AVPD often crave close relationships and would love to connect with people.
Other personality disorders related to social issues have traits where the individual does not care about establishing relationships.
AVPD is not like Antisocial Personality Disorder
Another common thought is that those with AVPD are just antisocial. Aside from craving the connection to others, those with AVPD are different from those with antisocial personality disorder as their intent is not malicious.
Those with antisocial personality disorder often try to use people and manipulate them. They do not care as much about social norms or certain boundaries.
On the contrary, those with AVPD usually care a lot about others and especially boundaries.
They do not go out of their way to manipulate others for their own benefit as someone with antisocial personality disorder would.
Over Half Never Marry
This interesting article shared a handful of facts about AVPD, one of which is that about 56% of those diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder would never marry.
The reason is obvious as those with AVPD are so shy and fearful of their believed unworthiness, that even if they truly desire the companionship of a spouse, their fears would sabotage any advance toward having one.
Another interesting fact that the above article mentions is that in the U.S. more women reported having AVPD than men. I have seen contradicting research so until there is more data to study, that “fact” seems to vary.
Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder
Talk therapy with a professional counselor is often used as a treatment option with those suffering with avoidant personality disorder.
This is effective because a counselor understands behavioral patterns and can help you dig up the cause of how AVPD developed or what could be making it worse than it could be.
As briefly mentioned above, depending on the individual case, sometimes medications are suggested as a form of treatment.
This could be the case if a chemical imbalance is present or if anxiety medication is required. There are plenty of cases where the use of medication is not necessary for treatment.
It’s important to understand your individual needs, talk to your doctor and do your own research to see what could be right for you.
While it’s not necessarily a treatment option, maintaining a healthy lifestyle deserves to be recognized for its benefits.
Exercising regularly and eating well can promote a healthy state of mind which will help with other areas of specialized treatment.
Developing the disciple to work out will help boost self-confidence as well. If you or someone you love is struggling with AVPD, reach out for help and start your mental health journal today!
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