Avoidant personality disorder

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at March 9, 2016
StartDiseasesAvoidant personality disorder

Avoidant personality disorder is one of many personality disorders classified as a Cluster C personality disorder. The disorders seen in this classification are marked by symptoms of anxiety or fearful thinking and behavior. It is a psychological disorder that affects the thoughts, actions and behaviors of an individual.


Definition & Facts

Avoidant personality disorder is defined as a psychological problem that causes the patient stress and anxiety which inhibits them from interacting in various social situations. Patients with this personality disorder are often very sensitive to criticism and rejection.

Many have a deep-rooted fear of ridicule or embarrassment, and this fear makes them more prone to isolate themselves from situations that bring up their fears of inadequacy. The National Institute of Mental Health puts the prevalence of avoidant personality disorder at around 5 percent of the adult population in the United States, and sex and race are not determining factors for any of the personality disorders.

Symptoms & Complaints

Many symptoms may be found in patients who have avoidant personality disorder, but it is not necessary for any individual to display all of the symptoms to receive a diagnosis. Symptoms range from avoiding certain social situations or work activities to experiencing extreme shyness. A high sensitivity to criticism, along with a fear of rejection or disapproval is often seen in patients with the disorder.

Other patients may express feeling unattractive or inferior to others, and these feelings may inhibit them from participating in activities or withdrawing from personal relationships. Some patients may experience anxiety from having interpersonal contact and find that meeting strangers or talking to people makes them feel uncomfortable. Feelings of being socially inept may lead patients with the disorder to be preoccupied with thoughts about being rejected, which in turn may make social interactions very anxiety-producing.


Avoidant personality disorder does not have any clear cause and researchers have been unable to pinpoint any direct causation for the disorder. Some factors that are considered to play a role are a person’s early development and how they interacted with family, friends and peers throughout the earlier stages of life. A person’s innate temperament and personality, their surrounding environment and the coping skills they learned also likely play a role in developing avoidant personality disorder.

An individual may not have learned how to properly manage or deal with stress, or may have experienced shyness in childhood and was not provided the necessary tools to overcome this deficit when facing social interactions later on in life. Psychological disorders with no clear biological basis, as in avoidant personality disorder, are likely the result of a mixture of a number of factors pertaining to a particular individual. There is some evidence that suggests that children born to a parent that has avoidant personality disorder are slightly more likely to also receive a diagnosis.

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder requires the expertise of a mental health professional. A psychiatrist or psychologist is much better trained and more capable of picking up the symptoms that would lead to a proper diagnosis of a personality disorder than a general doctor is.

It is well known that people with personality disorders often do not seek treatment. This may be in part due to the fact that even though many of their behaviors may appear abnormal to other people, to patients with the disorder, their actions are the way in which they may have always behaved.

For personality disorders, including avoidant personality disorder, to be diagnosed, it often takes a stressful life event or some significant interference with their life, such as the loss of a job, to compel a patient with a personality disorder to seek help. At this point, a mental health professional can get the opportunity to make a proper diagnosis. There are no specific genetic tests or other laboratory tests that can lead to a diagnosis of this disorder.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment of avoidant personality disorder typically entails psychotherapy with a mental health professional experienced with this disorder. Psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy, can be either short or long term, depending on the patient’s needs and their abilities to attend this type of treatment. In short-term therapy, a psychologist may help the patient better understand the life stresses that intensify their behavioral symptoms, while providing them with the necessary coping skills they need to better manage their anxiety and isolating behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be an option for patients with this disorder. In this form of talk therapy, the professional helps the patient recognize unhealthy thought processes and behaviors, and offers ways to help the patient change their usual behaviors to ones that are healthier and help to minimize anxiety. If a patient’s anxiety is severe or coupled with depression, a psychiatrist may decide to prescribe the patient with either anti-anxiety medication or an antidepressant.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

As the causes are unknown and likely the result of many different factors, preventing the development of avoidant personality disorder does not involve a clearly defined course. Growing up in a supportive environment with healthy interpersonal interactions may result in an individual having better coping skills and making them less prone to extreme anxiety, but an individual’s personality and temperament may still make them more susceptible to certain fears and behaviors.

If a person is diagnosed with this disorder, learning proper coping skills may help them to better handle future stressful situations, lessening the severity of their anxiety and depression symptoms, and improving their quality of life and abilities to manage the disorder.