Many individuals are characterized by specific personality traits from joyous and extroverted to introverted, brash, bubbly and solemn. Personality traits become personality disorders when these long-lived behavioral traits cause problems with work and relationships. Avoidant personality disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by a lifelong pattern of extreme social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and sensitivity to rejection. People with avoidant personality disorder may avoid work activities or decline job offers because of fears of criticism or disappointment from others. The avoidant behavior typically starts in infancy or early childhood with shyness, isolation, and avoidance of strangers or new places. Most people who are shy in their early years tend to grow out of this behavior, but those who develop avoidant personality disorder become increasingly timid as they enter adolescence and adulthood. It is possible that individuals with avoidant personality disorders were bullied, neglected or abused in childhood, which caused them to isolate themselves from others.  Having a high sensitivity to rejection can cause individuals to not have many friends, to not ask for a raise at work, to not voice their opinion around others and to not ask questions. Statistics show that approximately 2 percent of the population has avoidant personality disorder and this disorder equally affects both men and women.

Signs and symptoms of avoidant personality disorder

• Easily hurt by criticism or disapproval
• No close friends
• Reluctance to become involved with people
• Avoidance of activities or occupations that involve contact with others
• Shyness in social situations out of fear of doing something wrong
• Exaggeration of potential difficulties
• Showing excessive restraint in intimate relationships
• Feeling socially inept, inferior, or unappealing to other people
• Unwilling to take risks or try new things because they may prove embarrassing

A desire to fit in

Despite their isolation, a person with avoidant personality disorder actually does desire affection and acceptance. They may even fantasize about idealized relationships with others and may feel ashamed of who they are because of how they were treated in childhood. Avoidance is a coping mechanism many use as a way to overcome the hurdles experienced in childhood, however, avoidance also feeds fear and the more you avoid what you fear, the more you fear it creating a viscous and unhealthy cycle.
Although there is no cure for personality disorders, therapy can have a positive impact when used in the appropriate environment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice for avoidant personality disorder because the emphasis is on changing thinking patterns as well as modifying behavior. Emphasis is placed on helping the individual become desensitized to the stimuli (social situations) that causes them fear resulting in avoidance and isolation. Behavior modification includes learning the social skills necessary to function in society:

  • Making eye contact with people
  • Learning to greet people with a smile and rehearsing common verbal interactions between people
  • Learning how to be assertive in ways that are appropriate
  • Learning what to say or how to respond in a variety of social situations
  • Learning and rehearsing how to carry on common everyday conversations with people.