Do you know someone who seems rather shy and awkward socially? Do they avoid situations where they have to be close to people? Do they have chronically low self-esteem and a tendency to focus intently on their own shortcomings, as well as a huge fear of embarrassing or shaming themselves? This person may have avoidant personality disorder.
The aforementioned traits might be familiar to a lot of people, and demonstrating one or all of them will not automatically link the person to an avoidant personality disorder. However, if these behaviours are intense, extreme and ongoing, and are significantly affecting the person’s functioning in everyday life, it is wise for them to seek support from a mental health professional.
In this blog, we’ll be taking a look at personality disorders in more detail, specifically avoidant personality disorder. We will look briefly at how avoidant personality disorder relates to social anxiety disorder and how people with avoidant personality disorder symptoms can seek treatment and support.
Understanding Personality Disorders
There are a number of different types of personality disorder, and it’s important to know that symptoms across these disorders can vary. In the majority of cases, symptoms will involve difficulties with social interactions or controlling emotions. People may also struggle to form relationships, or become suddenly aggressive during interactions with others. People with personality disorders may also find that they struggle with social anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health disorders such as depression.
Personality disorders differ from other mental health issues in that they do not come and go. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment that will make a personality disorder go away. Instead, treatment is focused on managing the personality disorder.
During diagnosis, symptoms will always be compared to the criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
- Some of the most common personality disorders are:
- Avoidant personality disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)
- Schizoid personality disorder
If you think that you or a loved one might be struggling with a personality disorder, a trained mental health professional will be able to support you in receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment. Contact TAC directly for more personalised support.
Getting Avoidant Personality Disorder Diagnosed
Like all psychiatric conditions, a personality disorder needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist according to behaviours and symptoms listed in the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5). Unlike some other personality disorders, the criteria for avoidant personality disorder includes significant impairments in both self-functioning and interpersonal functioning. Below, we explore this in more detail:
- Identity: This involves feelings of low self-esteem and an individual believing themselves to be socially inept, personally unappealing or feeling inferior to others. They may also experience excessive feelings of shame or inadequacy.
- Self-direction: They may have unrealistic standards for behaviour related to their reluctance to pursue goals, take personal risks, or engage in new activities involving interpersonal contact.
Interpersonal functioning impairments
- Empathy: They can become preoccupied with, and sensitive to, criticism or rejection, and they normally infer other people’s perspectives of them to be negative.
- Intimacy: They can be reluctant to become involved with people unless they’re certain of being liked. They find intimate relationships incredibly difficult because of their fear of being shamed or ridiculed.
To be diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder specifically, the following pathological personality traits need to be present. Most are in relation to detachment, which is characterised by:
- Withdrawal, including reticence in social situations, avoiding social contact and activity, and lack of initiating social contact.
- Avoiding intimacy in close or romantic relationships, interpersonal attachments, and intimate sexual relationships.
- Anhedonia, which is a lack of enjoyment from, engagement in, or energy for life’s experiences; there’s an inability to feel pleasure or take interest in things.
- Negative affectivity, characterised by anxiousness: intense feelings of nervousness, tenseness, or panic, often in reaction to social situations; worrying about the negative effects of past unpleasant experiences and future negative possibilities; feeling fearful, apprehensive, or threatened by uncertainty; and fears of embarrassment.
To be diagnosed, the impairments in personality functioning and personality traits have to be relatively stable across time and consistent across situations; they are not ‘normal’ for the person’s life developmental stage or environment; and they’re not due to the effects of a substance or medication.
At The Awareness Centre, our professionals have vast experience across all manner of mental disorders and personality disorders. We’ll help to diagnose avoidant personality disorder and provide support with the coping strategies required to manage the symptoms. Talk to a trained mental health professional today if you are worried that a friend or loved one is showing signs of avoidant personality disorder.
Spotting Someone with Avoidant Personality Disorder and Providing Support
To support someone with avoidant personality disorder, it may help to understand what the symptoms are and to know that environmental factors may have had an impact on the progression of these symptoms. For example, the person may have developed these behaviours and traits to help them survive a childhood where their needs weren’t met. Many people with avoidant personality disorder display avoidant behaviour due to having a long-standing fear of rejection or feelings of inadequacy, which in many cases has shown to have been initiated in an early childhood environment.
If you know someone with avoidant personality disorder, try to be sensitive to their fear of criticism. As many will also display signs of social anxiety, you must be careful not to expose them to social situations that could potentially be frightening, overwhelming or shaming. Instead, allow them to decide for themselves if they want to come along. It’s also important not to take their behaviour personally if they come across as awkward or rejecting.
Of course, if the person’s life is becoming unmanageable due to their symptoms, you may want to encourage them to seek professional mental health support. Seeing their GP or talking to a personality disorder specialist or therapist is a good place to start. They may be able to offer treatment options including talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
If you or someone you know feels ready to seek support for avoidant personality disorder or general avoidant behaviour, do not hesitate to get in touch with us at The Awareness Centre. We have a fantastic team of counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists offering sessions seven days a week from our centres in Clapham and Tooting as well as our private practice in Wimpole Street. Email us on [email protected] or call 020 8673 4545 for more information about treating personality disorders.