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Overcoming Social Avoidance: Practical Coping Techniques

Having an Avoidant Personality

Avoidant personality disorder is a subject that has been discussed here previously, but for a quick refresher, we will go over it. Avoidant personality is one of the cluster C personality disorders, which are characterized by anxious and fearful traits. Those with avoidant personalities have a tendency to stick to what is comfortable for them–the friends they already know, the family they are already close to, the hobbies they are already accustomed to. They are sensitive to criticism or judgment, and thus hesitate at building new friendships at the onset, often opting to simply not bother. They also have difficulties with self-esteem, often believing that even the things that they do accomplish still do not measure up to what others can do. 

While these traits are not applicable to all people with avoidant personality, nor do they always apply in an extreme manner, they are broadly visible throughout the spectrum of those who have avoidant personalities. Such traits make it easy to see why these are people that often have comorbidities with generalized anxiety or major depression, and may fall prey to a substance use disorder. The cycle of self-defeating thoughts can make it hard to break away.

Having Social Anxiety

All of us, regardless of whether we are personality disordered or otherwise, have social batteries. Some of our social batteries have higher capacities than others. You may have a friend who jumps from party to party on a daily basis, and is rarely found alone at an outing. You may have another friend who you only see once every few months, and who almost never responds to the group chat. 

In the case of those with avoidant personality, social anxiety is more often than not a given. Social anxiety is the pervasive fear around social interactions, the belief that ‘you’ve said something wrong’ or ‘this person hates you’ or ‘you shouldn’t say anything, because nothing you contribute will ever be good enough’. This kind of social anxiety has a one-to-one overlap with the anxious traits and fearful thoughts of an avoidant personality. 

The upcoming link is to a comic describing the personal experiences of someone with avoidant personality disorder:

Overcoming social avoidance

Ways of Coping, Adjusting and Branching Out

The first thing to acknowledge, as a person with avoidant personality, social anxiety, or both, is that the amount of socializing you do does not need to fit the standards of another person. More does not always equal better. Also important is to acknowledge that you may never have the social capacity that another person you know might have–and that is perfectly okay.

Understand the relationships in your life, and understand those you already trust and value. Know the traits that draw you to the people you are close to, and make an effort to recognize those traits in others if you do find yourself longing to make new friends. The pervasive fear of inadequacy is not necessarily something only you have–the other person in the conversation may be just as anxious. Finding common ground between the two of you means finding a safe topic to converse about that allows both sides to avoid missteps, a building block for a future friendship.

Through those you already know, try taking opportunities that you have rejected in the past. If there are activities that you didn’t do before because you felt as though the time wasn’t right or you didn’t have the capability–try them out now! A social activity doesn’t require a person to be a social butterfly–sometimes, going to a cafe with a friend can also be a simple first step. Try something with structure to it, like a pottery-making event or a beginner’s cooking class–activities like these allow you to talk to others with an immediate topic at hand, relieving you of the burden of finding one yourself. 

Take the time to consider the concept of ‘good faith’. Many people with personality disorders, avoidant or otherwise–truthfully, many of us who have experiences within the mental healthcare system, be it as a professional or a patient–have an inherent tendency to distrust rather than trust on an initial meeting. Instead, allow yourself to have the faith that someone is being honest with you, rather than seeking flaws. We all have the capacity for kindness and cruelty, but more often than not, we do not intend to be unkind. If you, as yourself, come to another with the genuine intention of kindness, then allow yourself to believe that, provided no genuine proof otherwise, they may come to you with that same intention.

Radically-Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy

When it comes to both avoidant personality and social anxiety, of the many forms of therapy that are used as treatment, RO-DBT is one that is certain to encourage one to face the things they continue to turn away from. A focal point of RO-DBT is to encourage self-enquiry on one’s own beliefs, as well as psychoeducation on open- versus closed-mindedness, and how to allow room for both within your life. To be radically open does not mean to be willing to believe anything, but rather to encourage thought on why there are situations to which you may not be open. In that respect, considering RO-DBT if you are someone who shares these difficulties is strongly advised–whether that is looking into it individually, or trying it out with a practitioner.

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