|Anxious [avoidant] personality disorder|
|Classification and external resources|
|Cluster A (odd)|
|Cluster B (dramatic)|
|Cluster C (anxious)|
Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) (or anxious personality disorder) is a personality disorder recognized in the DSM-IV TR handbook in a person over the age of eighteen years as characterized by a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation, and avoidance of social interaction.
People with AvPD often consider themselves to be socially inept or personally unappealing, and avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, rejected, or disliked.
AvPD is usually first noticed in early adulthood, and is associated with perceived or actual rejection by parents or peers during childhood. Whether the feeling of rejection is due to the extreme interpersonal monitoring attributed to people with the disorder is still disputed.
People with AvPD are preoccupied with their own shortcomings and form relationships with others only if they believe they will not be rejected. Loss and rejection are so painful that these individuals will choose to be lonely rather than risk trying to connect with others.
It is a requirement of ICD-10 that a diagnosis of any specific personality disorder also satisfy a set of general personality disorder criteria.
Research suggests that people with AvPD, in common with sufferers of chronic social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia), excessively monitor their own internal reactions when they are involved in social interaction. However, unlike social phobics, people with AvPD may also excessively monitor the reactions of the people with whom they are interacting.
The extreme tension created by this monitoring may account for the hesitant speech and taciturnity of many people with AvPD; they are so preoccupied with monitoring themselves and others that producing fluent speech is difficult.
AvPD is reported to be especially prevalent in people with anxiety disorders, although estimates of comorbidity vary widely due to differences in (among others) diagnostic instruments. Research suggests that approximately 10–50% of people who have panic disorder with agoraphobia have AvPD, as well as about 20–40% of people who have social phobia (social anxiety disorder).
Some studies report prevalence rates of up to 45% among people with generalized anxiety disorder and up to 56% of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although it is not mentioned in the DSM-IV, earlier theorists have proposed a personality disorder which has a combination of features from borderline personality disorder and AvPD, called "avoidant-borderline mixed personality" (AvPD/BPD).
The cause of AvPD is not clearly defined, and may be influenced by a combination of social, genetic, and psychological factors. The disorder may be related to temperamental factors that are inherited. Specifically, various anxiety disorders in childhood and adolescence have been associated with a temperament characterized by behavioral inhibition, including features of being shy, fearful, and withdrawn in new situations. These inherited characteristics may give an individual a genetic predisposition towards AvPD.
Many people diagnosed with AvPD have had painful early experiences of chronic parental and/or societal criticism or rejection. The need to bond with the rejecting parents or peers makes the person with AvPD hungry for relationships, but their longing gradually develops into a defensive shell of self-protection against repeated criticisms.
Treatment of AvPD can employ various techniques, such as social skills training, cognitive therapy, exposure treatment to gradually increase social contacts, group therapy for practicing social skills, and sometimes drug therapy. A key issue in treatment is gaining and keeping the patient's trust, since people with AvPD will often start to avoid treatment sessions if they distrust the therapist or fear rejection. The primary purpose of both individual therapy and social skills group training is for individuals with AvPD to begin challenging their exaggeratedly negative beliefs about themselves.
The avoidant personality has been described in several sources as far back as the early 1900s, although it was not so named for some time. Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler described patients who exhibited signs of AvPD in his 1911 work Dementia Praecox: Or the Group of Schizophrenias. Avoidant and schizoid patterns were frequently confused or referred to synonymously until Kretschmer (1921), in providing the first relatively complete description, developed a distinction.
People diagnosed with Avoidant personality disorder are socially inhibited, meaning that they are and afraid of social situations. They feel that they are not good people and are afraid of people them. They are very sensitive to other people saying bad or negative things about them.
Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals diagnose people with AvPD using a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). They look at a person's behaviour and how they are feeling. If the person has four or more of the following signs, the DSM-IV-TR says that they have AvPD.
The symptoms of AvPD are much more serious than ordinary shyness.