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We’ve all had moments when we want to get away from a social situation. But those who suffer from avoidant personality disorder experience social withdrawal on a much deeper level.

In this lesson we will learn about this disorder, its symptoms, treatment, and more.

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More Than Just Shyness

Sam is a twenty-three-year-old male who has very few close friends, and finds it hard to connect with other people. He is employed as an accountant for a private firm, and tries his best to avoid any personal and work-related activities that require him to interact with his peers. The nature of Sam’s job allows him to primarily work from home, and he only goes into the company office for mandatory monthly meetings and trainings. Sam contributes as little as possible in these meetings and finds it difficult to give presentations, due to his fear of criticism.Sam believes that he is socially inadequate and has a constant fear of embarrassing himself or doing something wrong whenever he is in a social situation.

Sam’s co-workers think he is just shy and timid, but it is much more than that. Sam has avoidant personality disorder.Personality disorders are a category of mental disorders in which a person has thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and hard to change.

These thoughts and behaviors make it difficult for a person to function appropriately in society. Avoidant personality disorder (APD) is one such category, in which an individual feels socially inadequate, is overly sensitive to criticism, and avoids social situations and interactions. It is estimated that 1% of people suffer from APD.

Though the causes are unknown, researchers believe that a number of factors play a role in its development. Genetics, societal factors (i.e. the nature of your interactions with family members during childhood), and various psychological factors are all thought to play a role in the development of APD.

Symptoms

People with avoidant personality disorder, like Sam, experience anxiety in social situations, are hypersensitive to criticism, have difficulty speaking in public, and feel low self-esteem.

They tend to avoid close or romantic relationships, and have a constant fear of being ridiculed, shamed, or rejected. Some outward signs include trembling, sweating, blushing, and nausea.Many similarities exist between the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety disorder, leading several researchers to believe that they are in fact the same.

However, symptoms of APD are more severe. Avoidant personality disorder is also similar to generalized anxiety disorder, in that both are characterized by intense nervousness and worry. However, these feelings are only one part of APD, whereas they are the main features of generalized anxiety disorder.

Treatment

Medications can be used to reduce symptoms associated with avoidant personality disorder. Someone who is extremely anxious in social situations may be prescribed an anti-anxiety drug such as Valium or Xanax to help cope with fears that arise.

Anti-depressants like Zoloft or Prozac can also be given to help alleviate symptoms.Psychotherapy can be a useful treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of psychotherapy that is effective in treating APD, due to its focus on modifying dysfunctional thinking patterns and behaviors. Two techniques that cognitive behavioral therapists use to treat APD are cognitive restructuring and behavioral activation. Cognitive restructuring is a method in which the therapist helps the client identify habitual, unhealthy thoughts, and replace them with healthier, more positive ones. With behavioral activation, the client learns to overcome his fears by gradually and systematically exposing himself to situations that produce anxiety, resulting in new feelings of empowerment. Social skills training, such as assertiveness training, and group therapy can also be used to improve the social skills of individuals with APD, and provide them with a safe space to practice these skills.

Lesson Summary

Avoidant personality disorder is a type of personality disorder that is characterized by extreme sensitivity to being ridiculed, shamed or rejected by one’s peers. Those who suffer from APD have low self-esteem and avoid social interactions and close relationships. Effective treatments include medications for anxiety and depression and psychotherapy methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT techniques help to restructure negative thinking patterns and to overcome fears by safely and systematically exposing the APD sufferer to situations that had previously been avoided, giving him a new sense of empowerment. Let’s hope that Sam takes this path of treatment, and will one day give a fantastic presentation at work!

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