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Whats Wrong with an Avoidant Personality and How Can You Help It?

Updated: Feb 20

In one of my college classes I was put into a group project with another young woman, let’s call her Tina. Tina always sat in the back of our classroom tucked all the way in the right-hand corner. She never raised her hand to answer or ask a question and darted out of the classroom the second we were excused. When we were first put in our group I was excited to actually get to know this shy and quiet girl, but what I found was that she had very little intention of letting me in. As our group work continued, Tina rarely spoke at all, nodding her head along with the group almost at all times. When she did speak, she often fumbled her words and always followed that with some self-deprecating declaration of her socially inept nature. As I got to know her a bit over the course of our project, I found out she had never been on a date, had no hobbies, and rarely left her dorm. Whenever I would ask her about her avoidant nature, she would shrug her shoulders and in a low voice say she was worried about what others thought of her. Now, as a young woman myself, of course I also worried what others thought of me. But that fear would come and go like waves and only pop up in certain situations. For Tina, this fear was with her all the time and in every way imaginable.

Avoidant personalities can often find themselves outside of groups.

What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant Personality Disorder is one of the Cluster C personality disorders. Mental health professionals have categorized all ten personality disorders into three buckets (or clusters) based on their commonalities and generally dominant traits: clusters A, B, and C. The C cluster, containing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and Avoidant Personality Disorder is grouped based on these disorders’ groundings in fear, anxiety, and doubt.

So other than fear, anxiety, and doubt, what exactly shows up in Avoidant Personality Disorder? What may be most important in the discussion of this disorder is the chronic feeling of inadequacy and/or inferiority along with a desire to deeply interact with and connect to others. Because someone with this disorder feels so inadequate or inferior to those around them, they will likely be extremely sensitive to being judged and will therefore be easily hurt by criticism or perceived criticism. They would also rarely try new things and come off as shy or easily embarrassed in social settings. One with Avoidant Personality Disorder might reluctantly enter into relationships, and only do so when they are certain the other person likes them. Equally visible, someone with this disorder may show restraint in intimate relationships, allowing that chronic fear of inadequacy to get the better of them. So you can see, being that we are inherently social creatures, this personality disorder can have a severe strain on a person leading to comorbidities such as Depression, Substance Abuse, self-harm and more.

What Causes Avoidant Personality Disorder and How Is It Treated?

As with all personality disorders, we don’t exactly know where Avoidant personality disorder comes from but there are two main working theories. The first is, naturally, that this personality disorder is passed down from generation to generation genetically or biologically. The second theory posits that this way of thinking and pattern of behaviors is influenced by early experiences, trauma, or early relationships. Realistically, it is a combination of these two that causes one to ultimately develop Avoidant Personality Disorder. When one has a genetic personality disorder trait, the severity of that trait will be impacted by life experiences reinforcing or discouraging them.

Since Avoidant Personality Disorder is characterized by a particular pattern of thinking, it may come as no surprise that one of the most touted treatments is Psychotherapy or talk therapy. More specifically, the modality of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been looked to as a popular treatment method. Additionally, though, many other modalities are used to treat AvPD such as exposure to social situations, Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral group therapy, etc. as well as medication in conjunction with psychodynamic therapies.

Although we didn’t keep in touch, I often find myself fantasizing about where Tina is these days. I wonder if she ever sought help in dealing with her seemingly Avoidant Personality Disorder. I question if she was able to find a therapist she was willing to be vulnerable with and if the relationship lasted long enough for her to cognitively work through her negative thinking patterns. I wonder if she was able to work on changing those patterns of thought and behavior and be vulnerable with more people she met. I think about whether or not the shyness subsided enough for her to go on that first date and to pursue her dreams. What I do know, is that her chances of success would likely be raised with the help of a professional.

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