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Avoidant Personality Disorder: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Avoidant Personality Disorder: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment Options

You likely know someone who seems shy, aloof, or awkward in social situations. While most people feel some anxiety in new situations or around unfamiliar people, some take social avoidance to the extreme. If you or someone you care about experiences intense apprehension and inhibition around others that interferes with relationships and daily life, you may be dealing with avoidant personality disorder. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition, as well as potential treatment options that could help restore confidence and improve quality of life. If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or substance abuse, take the first step toward recovery and contact Bold Steps Behavioral Health at (717) 882-5989 today.


What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is a mental health condition characterized by intense feelings of inadequacy, hypersensitivity to criticism, and a pervasive pattern of social inhibition. People with AvPD often experience severe anxiety and distress in everyday social interactions and may even experience emotional dysregulation.

Key Characteristics

  • Excessive shyness or timidity around others
  • Fear of criticism, disapproval or rejection
  • Avoidance of situations where they may be exposed to unfamiliar people
  • Viewing themselves as inferior, unappealing or socially inept

Underlying Fears

At its core, AvPD stems from an excessive need to be accepted and fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed. This leads to avoiding meaningful relationships, activities or job opportunities due to feelings of inadequacy.

Impact on Life

The disorder can significantly disrupt daily life, impairing one’s ability to initiate relationships or advance in their career. Those with AvPD may come across as distant, aloof or shy, though they yearn for social connection. It can also lead to issues with anxiety

Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder

Extreme Shyness and Social Inhibition

You likely experience intense feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and hypersensitivity to criticism or rejection in social situations. This leads to actively avoiding interpersonal contact due to fears of being ridiculed or negatively evaluated by others.

Negative Self-Perception

You may view yourself as socially inept, unappealing, or inferior to others. These inaccurate self-perceptions reinforce the belief that you are unworthy of being liked, leading to a self-fulfilling cycle of social avoidance.

Highly Restrained in Relationships

You tend to be unwilling to become involved with others unless you are certain of being liked. Intimate relationships are especially anxiety-provoking due to fears of potential ridicule or embarrassment. As a result, you may remain isolated and lack close friends or romantic partners.

Causes and Risk Factors for Avoidant Personality Disorder

Genetic Factors

While the precise causes are unknown, avoidant personality disorder likely arises from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Studies suggest the disorder may have a hereditary component, as it tends to run in families.

Early Childhood Experiences

Avoidant personality disorder is believed to develop as a coping mechanism in response to negative childhood experiences, such as parental rejection, harsh criticism, abuse or trauma. These experiences can shape beliefs of being fundamentally flawed or unworthy of acceptance.

Social Isolation

Lack of healthy social interactions and extreme shyness in childhood may reinforce avoidant behaviors and beliefs about being socially inept or inferior. This can perpetuate the disorder’s symptoms of avoiding situations that risk rejection.

Identifying the potential causes can aid diagnosis and guide personalized treatment plans to address underlying factors. Early intervention may help prevent avoidant personality disorder from becoming chronic and debilitating.


How Avoidant Personality Disorder Is Diagnosed

Professional Evaluation

Diagnosing avoidant personality disorder requires a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional. With AvPD affecting more than 2% of the population, it is essential to seek a knowledgeable medical professional to receive an accurate diagnosis. They will conduct an in-depth clinical interview and review your symptoms, life history, and patterns of relating to others.

Criteria Assessment

The clinician will assess if you meet the specific diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). These include pervasive feelings of inadequacy, hypersensitivity to criticism, and an excessive need for reassurance.

Rule Out Other Conditions

They must rule out other potential causes or co-occurring conditions that could better explain your symptoms. Social anxiety disorder, for instance, shares some overlap but lacks the broad pattern across multiple life areas.

Severity Determination

The severity of avoidant personality disorder is also evaluated. More entrenched, inflexible patterns causing greater impairment suggest a more severe case requiring intensive treatment.

Ongoing Monitoring

Diagnosis is an ongoing process, as symptoms can fluctuate over time with changing life circumstances. Your clinician may reevaluate the diagnosis periodically to ensure an accurate understanding.

Treatment Options for Avoidant Personality Disorder


The primary treatment for avoidant personality disorder is psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common approach that helps identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. CBT teaches coping strategies to reduce social anxiety and avoidance.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy gradually introduces people to feared social situations in a safe environment. Over time, this can help reduce avoidant behavior and anxiety. Role-playing exercises build social skills and confidence.


While no medications directly treat avoidant personality disorder, antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may help manage associated symptoms like depression or severe anxiety. However, medications work best when combined with psychotherapy.

Support Systems

Building a strong support system of family, friends, support groups, or therapists is crucial. This helps counteract the isolation and loneliness common with avoidance behaviors. Support systems encourage social engagement at one’s own pace.

With professional treatment tailored to their needs, many with avoidant personality disorder can gain confidence, improve relationships, and live more fulfilling lives. Consistent effort over time is key to overcoming this condition.

Avoidant Personality Disorder FAQ

What is avoidant personality disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) is a mental health condition characterized by intense feelings of inadequacy, hypersensitivity to criticism, and an overwhelming fear of rejection. People with AVPD have a persistent pattern of avoiding social situations due to excessive shyness and fear of being judged negatively.

What causes AVPD?

The exact cause is unknown, but experts believe both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, may contribute to developing AVPD. People are more likely to struggle with AVPD if they have a close relative with the disorder.

What are the symptoms?

  • Excessive shyness and low self-esteem
  • Preoccupation with being criticized or rejected
  • Reluctance to become involved with others unless receiving excessive reassurance
  • Viewing themselves as inferior or socially inept
  • Extreme restraint in taking personal risks or pursuing goals

How is it treated?

Treatment usually involves psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to change negative thought patterns. Medications like antidepressants may also help manage symptoms. Building social skills through therapy and gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations can improve functioning.


The road to overcoming avoidant personality disorder is not easy, but with courage and commitment, a brighter future awaits you. Though the journey may seem daunting, take comfort in the fact that you do not walk alone. With the support of loved ones and mental health professionals, as well as proven treatment methods, you can gradually challenge the beliefs and behaviors that are holding you back. Have faith that the real you is still in there, waiting to emerge, shine, and fulfill your true potential. The first step is often the hardest, but once taken, momentum builds. You can do this. A rich and rewarding life is closer than you think. Take the first step toward recovery and contact us at (717) 882-5989 today.

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