What is avoidant personality disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder is one of a group of conditions known as personality disorders. These disorders, in general, are enduring patterns of behavior out of keeping with cultural norms that cause suffering for an individual or those around them. Avoidant personality disorder is grouped with other personality disorders marked by feelings of nervousness and fear. People with avoidant personality disorder have chronic feelings of inadequacy and are highly sensitive to being negatively judged by others. Though they would like to interact with others, they tend to avoid social interaction due to the intense fear of being rejected by others.

How common is avoidant personality disorder?

It is estimated that about 2.4% of the U.S. population has avoidant personality disorder. It appears to affect men and women equally. Like other personality disorders, avoidant personality disorder symptoms may be noticed in childhood and often begin to create discomfort in adolescence or early adulthood. Avoidant personality disorder is usually not diagnosed in people younger than 18 years of age like many other personality disorders as there should be evidence that these patterns of behavior are enduring and inflexible that do not readily fade with time.

What causes avoidant personality disorder?

The exact cause of avoidant personality disorder is not known. However, it is believed that both genetics and environment play a role. It is believed that avoidant personality disorder may be passed down in families through genes but this has not yet been proven. Environmental factors, particularly in childhood, do play an important role. Shyness, often normal in young children, lasts into adolescents and adulthood in those with avoidant personality disorder. Those with the disorder often report past experiences of parental or peer rejection, which can impact a person’s self-esteem and sense of worth.

What are the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder?

For people with this disorder, the fear of rejection is so strong that they choose isolation rather than risk being rejected in a relationship. The pattern of behavior in people with this disorder can vary from mild to extreme. In addition to their fear of humiliation and rejection, other common traits of people with this disorder include the following:

  • They are oversensitive and easily hurt by criticism or disapproval.
  • They have few, if any, close friends and are reluctant to become involved with others unless certain of being liked.
  • They experience extreme anxiety (nervousness) and fear in social settings and in relationships, leading them to avoid activities or jobs that involve being with others.
  • They tend to be shy, awkward, and self-conscious in social situations due to a fear of doing something wrong or being embarrassed.
  • They tend to exaggerate potential problems.
  • They seldom try anything new or take chances.
  • They have a poor self-image, seeing themselves as inadequate and inferior.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/06/2020.


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