In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week’s term is avoidant personality disorder.
Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) falls within the DSM-5‘s cluster C of anxious/fearful personality disorders. It’s characterized by intense feelings of inadequacy and fear of social rejection, and avoidance is relied upon as a coping strategy.
Avoidant personality disorder symptoms include:
- A persistent pattern of avoiding social contact, feeling inadequate, and being hypersensitive to criticism and rejection
- Avoids work that involves social interaction
- Reluctance to get involved with people unless sure of being liked
- Reserved in close relationships due to fear of ridicule/humiliation
- Preoccupied with, and hypervigilant for, criticism or rejection in social situations
- The self is seen as socially incompetent and inferior
- Avoids risk-taking out of fear of embarrassment
As with other personality disorders, symptoms of AVPD show up early and are well-established by adulthood, and tend to be consistent across time and in different contexts.
AVPD is similar to social phobia, but social phobia tends to be worse in particular types of situations, whereas AVPD is more across the board. Unlike schizoid PD, which also involves social avoidance, people with AVPD often strongly desire social relationships. AVPD can also overlap with the autism spectrum.
An estimated 2.4% of the population have AVPD, and there’s no difference between genders. There’s often another co-occurring condition, such as a depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or OCD. AVPD plus social phobia is a tag team that is particularly likely to cause disability. When AVPD co-occurs with PTSD, there may be significant self-harming behaviour.
AVPD appears to be a combination of innate traits and experiences of social rejection in childhood. Avoidance responses begin to emerge as young as age 2. Social rejection can come from one’s peer group, or it may involve emotional neglect by a parent. However, some people develop AVPD without any history of childhood neglect or abuse. High sensory processing sensitivity is suspected to play a role.
Treatment options include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, and medications (antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medication).
Is this a disorder that you’re familiar with? I know my blogging friend Emilia has this disorder, and I hope she’ll share her experience in the comments.
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.
Ashley L. Peterson
BScPharm BSN MPN
Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.