Avoidant Personality Disorder


Avoidant Personality Disorder is the name of a Personality Disorder that is characterised by an extensive dependence on other people. The disorder is part of the ‘Anxious and Feaful’ cluster of personality disorders. People with Avoidant Personality Disorder suffer from severe social anxiety, excessive sensitivity to negative comments and avoid social contact due to a fear of being ridiculed or disliked, despite exhibiting a desire for intimacy. The disorder is closely related, and overlaps with, Anxiety. This article provides a general look at this disorder.


Personality disorders can make life incredibly difficult to cope with



Someone with Avoidant Personality Disorder will typically:


  • Choose a job or activity that involves isolation and a lack of social interaction – due to their fear of being with others.
  • Be constantly anxious about other’s perceptions of them.
  • Exhibit extreme shyness or anxiety when in social situations.
  • Fantasize about creating friendships and relationships – due to an over-arching desire to belong.
  • Feel unworthy of any relationships they desire.
  • Focus on their shortcomings and past disappointments.
  • Fall into a state of despair when socially rejected.
  • Be very sensitive to rejection or criticism.
  • Have a low self-esteem.
  • Occasionally suffer from substance abuse or dependence.



It is not explicitly clear what causes Avoidant Personality Disorder. The disorder appears to be caused by a triad of social, genetic and psychological factors. It is believed that experiencing neglect or rejection from parents as a child can contribute to the disorder developing. Social rejection too can cause the disorder – especially if this happens repeatedly. These two areas can scar an individual psychologically. Sometimes, avoidance is a reaction to social rejection, which only exacerbates the onset of the disorder. Being shy or withdrawn as a child too can effect the disorder. It is also believed genetics play a part too. Overall, adverse childhood experiences are a common cause of the disorder developing.



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If you suspect you have a personality disorder, it is generally advisable to see your GP. It is likely that they will refer you to a specialist. This specialist will perform a diagnosis – which will involve asking you several questions about your condition and the impact it has had on your life. Generally, the clinician will use guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association to confirm a diagnosis. There has been some controversy over its suitability for making a diagnosis. The guidelines state a diagnosis can be made if four of the following factors are present.


  1. The individual avoids activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, due to a fear of rejection or disapproval.
  2. Is unlikely to be involved with other people unless they are certain of being liked and accepted.
  3. Doesn’t fully commit to intimate relationships due to a fear of being shamed or ridiculed.
  4. Is pre-occupied with being criticised or rejected in social situations and experiences.
  5. Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
  6. Has a low self-esteem, and views self as socially inept, personally unappealing or inferior to others.
  7. Doesn’t like to engage in new activities due to a fear of being embarassed.


Source: American Psychiatric Association (2013). “Avoidant Personality Disorder (pp. 672–675)”. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.156852. ISBN 978-0-89042-555-8.



Individuals diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder are normally treated with Psychotherapy. The therapy will be used with the intention of lessening the social anxiety of a patient, alongside trying to get them to begin challenging their negative beliefs about themselves. With the right clinician-patient trust, and a concerted effort from both parties, an improvement can take place. Avoidant personality disorder is difficult to overcome, but it is possible. Patients who suffer from Anxiety or Depression as a result of the disorder can be given medication – normally an antidepressant.



Other Personality Disorders: