Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) is a condition marked by a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and extreme sensitivity to rejection.1,2 Common symptoms include self-isolation, poor self-image, extreme anxiety in social settings, and avoidance of situations in which one may be subject to criticism or disapproval.3
What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?
Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) is a personality disorder marked by severe anxiety and fear of criticism and social interactions.1 The condition is most often diagnosed in adults and is considered treatable, but incurable. The more symptoms present, the more severe the condition.
Avoidant Personality Disorder Vs. Social Anxiety Disorder
Despite similarities between AVPD and social anxiety disorder, AVPD is usually more debilitating. Individuals with AVPD internalize social anxiety to an extent that it defines who they are, whereas those struggling with social anxiety can externalize the experience. Accordingly, anxiety for those with social anxiety is more situational; whereas for those with AVPD, it’s constant.5
Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder
Avoidant personality disorder symptoms include social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and extreme sensitivity to rejection/criticism which can become excessively debilitating. Given these symptoms, an otherwise healthy person with AVPD may compromise or completely miss out on important friendships, romantic relationships, work prospects, and further opportunities. This experience may prove lonely, which can also contribute to the development of clinical depression.
Symptoms of AVPD are invasive enough that negative feelings become internalized—significantly impairing one’s overall self-concept. When a person struggles to see themself in a positive light, it becomes difficult or impossible to accept and embrace the positivity of others.
Symptoms of avoidant personality disorder include:
- Over-sensitivity to criticism or rejection
- Feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or unattractiveness
- Avoidance of activities that require interpersonal contact
- Acting socially inhibited and timid
- Self-isolation, avoiding new activities, or interacting with strangers
- Extreme shyness in social situations and personal relationships
- Fear of disapproval, embarrassment, or ridicule
Treatment for AVPD Symptoms
The best way to manage the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder is by fully engaging in therapy. In a therapeutic setting, one may work with a trained professional who is familiar with the best effective coping skills and treatment methods for AVPD. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly recommended, but there is no guarantee that symptoms will fully disappear. With ongoing support, one may become familiar with AVPD; continually challenge maladaptive beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; work on positive self-talk; experiment with interpersonal skills in varied social situations; and more.
Though there is no medication currently available to treat AVPD, there are some that may assist with specific symptoms. Antidepressant medications, such as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)* and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)*, have demonstrated some efficacy.6 Evidence supporting other mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medication is less clear, but results appear promising.6
Seeing as the core of AVPD is more so related to deep-rooted anxieties and fears, talking out one’s experience is the best course of action, whether or not a medication is recommended or prescribed. If you don’t know where to start and choose a therapist, exploring a free online therapist directory can be helpful.
*This medication has a black box warning, the most serious kind of warning from the FDA for a risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in certain people. You should talk with your doctor about these risks before starting this medication.
Coping With Avoidant Personality Disorder Symptoms
Although AVPD is incurable, it is treatable and therapy is highly recommended. However, there are various strategies one may enact personally to cope with everyday situations. The key is to be aware of the condition. When someone is aware of having AVPD, they can respond accordingly to their challenges. Without this awareness, it’s difficult to decipher reality from personal subjectivity.
Building a set of coping mechanisms takes time and does require some trial and error. Continue with what works while moving past what doesn’t. The more effective coping skills you adopt, the better able you are able to overcome the debilitating anxiety caused by AVPD.
Below are tips for coping with symptoms of avoidant personality disorder:
- Utilize mantras: By using mantras, you are reinforcing positive thoughts and emotions by continually engaging in positive self-talk. Try telling yourself statements such as, “I am worthy,” “I am loveable,” and “I can do this.”
- Use logic to trump subjective thoughts: Objectively explore the way you feel by weighing concrete evidence against untrue, maladaptive thoughts and emotions.
- Seek affirmations: When feeling insecure, seek affirmations from trusted others who will assure you that everything is “OK” while providing an outsider’s perspective as to the reality of any given situation.
- Practice social engagement in safe settings: In safe settings where the risk of criticism is low, seek an opportunity to practice interpersonal skills. This will increase your confidence over time with each successful interaction.
- Observe others in social situations: Use others to model appropriate behavior in a situation, so long as the behavior is prosocial and not detrimental to the well-being of self or others.
- Intentionally put yourself out there: Although stepping outside your comfort zone is uncomfortable at first, with practice, this can become the new norm, providing more positive experiences to balance out the negative.
Avoidant personality disorder symptoms are hard to cope with, but healing is possible. Remember, you’re not alone. Roughly 1.5-2.5% of adults struggle with this condition, which is a significant percentage of the population.2 Acknowledging the condition for what it is, seeking professional help, and intentionally and consistently engaging in effective coping skills will be beneficial in the long run. Progress may feel slow, but the effort is worthwhile.
For Further Reading
Here are additional resources: