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What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder? AVPD Symptoms and Therapy

Personality disorders are considered among the most difficult mental health disorders to both diagnose and treat. For this reason, many people who are living with a possible personality disorder may not seek treatment. The reality is there are many treatments that can help. 

What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) is in a group of anxious personality disorders. There are people who experience social awkwardness, distress over their inability to function socially, and a great desire to be more socially connected. 

These are people who have very low self-confidence and live with an extreme fear of being rejected or judged by others. Because of this fear and lack of confidence, they have a strong tendency to avoid social interactions. When they do have to function in a social setting, this can create a great deal of stress, worry, and anxiety. 

What Causes Avoidant Personality Disorder?

At this point, the underlying cause of AVPD is mostly unknown. There have been studies that indicate a genetic component, but the jury is still out on precisely what causes it. There is anecdotal evidence that shows a higher likelihood of occurrences within a family, which would further support the idea that it is genetic in nature. 

Other research suggests that the diagnosis is triggered by environmental factors like extreme rejection in childhood, lack of attachment to their primary caregiver, or lack of social interactions. As this diagnosis is not well researched, more studies will need to be conducted to arrive at a more precise cause of the disorder. 

How is Avoidant Personality Disorder Diagnosed? 

The closest diagnostic relative is Social Anxiety Disorder, and many clinicians will rule that more common diagnosis out before making an AVPD diagnosis. There are 3 major hallmarks that characterize most people living with Avoidant Personality Disorder:

  • Social inhibition;
  • Extreme feelings of inadequacy;
  • A strong fear of criticism and rejection.

Clinicians use various tests to rule out any other potential diagnoses or physical causes of symptoms. Once other causes have been ruled out, the individual must show at least four of the following symptoms in order to meet the diagnostic threshold. The criteria are:

  • Avoids occupational activities involving significant interpersonal contact, due to fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection;
  • Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of acceptance;
  • Shows restraint within intimate relationships due to fears of shame or ridicule;
  • Preoccupied with fears of receiving criticism or rejection in social situations;
  • Inhibited in new interpersonal situations due to feelings of inadequacy;
  • Considers self as inferior to others, socially inept, or personally unappealing;
  • Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing.

How common is Avoidant Personality Disorder? 

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) reports that AVPD affects approximately 2.4 percent of the population. It occurs equally among men and women. Symptoms of the diagnosis are often exhibited during childhood, but personality disorder diagnoses are rarely made before adulthood. 

What are the most common symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder? 

Perhaps you are wondering whether you or someone you love might be living with AVPD. In addition to the clinical criteria, there are a number of common symptoms that might indicate Avoidant Personality Disorder. Some of these include:   

  • General oversensitivity and easily hurt by criticism and disapproval;
  • Social situations and settings create a strong sense of fear, anxiety, and worry;
  • Extremely low self-confidence;
  • Being afraid to do something wrong in public for fear of becoming embarrassed;
  • Avoiding visiting new places and meeting new people;
  • These are people with very few close friends, in some cases, no close friends;
  • Hesitation in becoming involved with others;
  • Avoiding any places where they will be forced to interact socially, even school or work;
  • Acting shy, awkward, and self-conscious in social situations;
  • Dwell on the possible negative outcomes of social interactions.

People who live with Avoidant Personality Disorder live with high levels of anxiety, worry, and stress. They see potential embarrassment around every corner. Because of this fear and anxiety, they very seldom experience new things or put themselves in a position to interact with others. This can be very crippling in their day-to-day life. 

Is Avoidant Personality Disorder treatable? 

Although a diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder sounds extremely negative, the fact is there are effective treatments. Another positive point in receiving treatment is that most people with AVPD want to be more social and have stronger relationships. This makes them much more likely to succeed in treatment. 

Some of the most impactful treatments currently in use for Avoidant Personality Disorder are talk therapies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is widely used to help take the automatic negative thoughts they experience and help them reframe the way they see the world. This can help change the avoidant behaviors that hold them back. 

Some other options include teletherapy, medication therapy, group therapy, and more intensive inpatient treatment (in more severe cases). 

Final Thoughts

Living with Avoidant Personality Disorder can be extremely difficult. As so much of our society is built upon social interactions, it can seem like there is no way out. Fortunately, there are effective treatments that can help people with AVPD boost their social connections and become a part of society. 

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