Avoidant Personality Disorder
Avoidant personality disorder is in the Cluster C group of personality disorders. This mental health disorder features feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and intense sensitivity to rejection or criticism. Because these individuals are typically very shy and struggle socially, they have a difficult time forming close relationships with others.
About Avoidant Personality Disorder
The avoidant personality disorder affects approximately 1% of the adult population and is characterized by impairment in relationships caused by social isolation and fear of being rejected. This prevents the individual from forming authentic connections with others, and also impacts their career opportunities. These individuals experience distress in social situations and are generally socially awkward.
Avoidant personality disorder is not diagnosable until adulthood, although some may exhibit the traits associated with the disorder in childhood or adolescence.
Causes of Avoidant Personality Disorder
Avoidant personality disorder is thought to be the result of various factors, including genetics, psychological, and environmental. Individuals with close family members who also express the traits of avoidant personality disorder, or social phobia, may be more prone to developing the condition. Some of the events that may underlie the disorder might be childhood abuse or neglect, lack of nurturing in childhood, or being ridiculed and rejected by peers. Some may have been extremely shy as children and then grow up to develop avoidant personality disorder.
Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder
The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for avoidant personality disorder states that the individual must have acquired a persistent pattern of avoiding social contact and will exhibit a minimum of four of the following:
- Preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
- Avoiding work-related activities that involve significant social contact due to fear of rejection, disapproval, or criticism
- Being unwilling to become involved with others unless certain that they like you
- Being inhibited in new social situations because of feelings of inadequacy
- Being unwilling to form intimate bonds with someone due to fear of being ridiculed or humiliated by them
- Feeling socially inept or inferior to others
- Hesitate to take risks or try new things due to fear of embarrassment
Diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder
In most cases, the individual with avoidant personality disorder does not seek treatment due to their intense shyness. Usually a mental health professional is consulted when the individual is suffering from the associated symptoms that are due to the disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Avoidant personality disorder often co-occurs with other personality disorders as well as social anxiety disorder.
The therapist may learn about the individual’s social avoidance issues while engaged in an initial interview. As the therapist observes the person’s mannerisms and attitudes, and listens to them describe their struggles, they may identify the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder. The mental health professional will consult the DSM-5 to identify the criteria that the individual is describing during the interview, arriving at the diagnosis.
Treatment for Avoidant Personality Disorder
While personality disorders present a significant treatment hurdle, it is possible to help someone who struggles with avoidant personality disorder. Without treatment, the individual will likely adopt isolation as their sole coping strategy. There are, however, no medications for the treatment of avoidant personality disorder. In cases where there is co-occurring depression, antidepressants can help not only treat the depression symptoms but also help to diminish some of the sensitivity to rejection or criticism.
Therapy can assist the individual by teaching effective coping strategies that improve their ability to function socially, thereby improving quality of life. Psychotherapies for treating avoidant personality disorder include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Schema Therapy
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