What is Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD)

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD), belongs to the Cluster C personality disorders. It is distinguished by excessive social anxiety and inhibition, a fear of intimacy (despite a strong desire for it), acute feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, and an overreliance on the avoidance of feared stimuli (for example, self-imposed social isolation) as a coping strategy.

Those affected frequently exhibit a pattern of heightened sensitivity to negative judgment and rejection, a conviction that they are socially inept or personally undesirable to others, and avoidance of social connection despite a strong desire for it. It appears to affect roughly equal numbers of males and women.

People with AvPD frequently avoid social situations out of fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, rejected, or despised. They often avoid getting engaged with others until they are positive they will not be rejected, and they may also end relationships prematurely owing to a genuine or imagined fear of being rejected by the other party.

Avoidant Personality Disorder is outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 lists seven specific criteria for AVPD, and at least four must be met for a diagnosis:

  • Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection
  • is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
  • shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  • is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
  • is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
  • views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
  • is unusually reluctant to take personal risk or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing

Symptoms and Behavioral Traits

Individuals with avoidant personality disorder often experience persistent feelings of inadequacy, coupled with a preoccupation with being criticized or rejected in social situations. This is rooted in their emotional and cognitive characteristics, which include:

  • An enduring pattern of social inhibition and shyness, propelled by the internal belief in their inadequacy.
  • Heightened sensitivity to rejection, causing significant anxiety about being negatively evaluated by others.

Some people with the disorder fantasize about idealized, embracing, and affectionate relationships out of a desire to fit in. They frequently believe they are undeserving of the connections they crave and shame themselves for even attempting to form them. If they do create connections, they frequently leave them prematurely due to a fear of the relationship collapsing.

The behavioral aspect of APD is predominantly marked by:

  • Avoidance of occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, due to fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
  • Reluctance to engage in new activities or to take personal risks, because of a lack of confidence in social performance.
  • Substance use disorders

Significant social anxiety in individuals with APD often manifests in settings that involve potential scrutiny. Their social anxiety is more intense than mere shyness, and can lead to social isolation, reinforcing feelings of loneliness and depression. The pervasive behavioral inhibition in APD sufferers restricts their interpersonal relationships and career progression, reflecting the debilitating impact of the disorder.


AvPD is thought to be particularly common in patients with anxiety disorders, while estimates of comorbidity vary greatly due to discrepancies in (among other) diagnostic equipment. According to research, 10-50% of people with panic disorder and agoraphobia have avoidant personality disorder, as do 20-40% of people with social anxiety disorder.

According to some research, the prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder is up to 45%, while obsessive-compulsive disorder is up to 56%. Post-traumatic stress disorder is frequently associated with avoidant personality disorder.

Characteristics similar to Dependent Personality Disorder include a strong desire for acceptance and fears of separation. However, individuals with AvPD are generally reluctant to depend on others due to fear of rejection, not for a need of being taken care of. Comparatively, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can also display social withdrawal, but it tends to stem from a fear of abandonment and unstable relationships rather than from the fear of negative evaluation predominant in AvPD.

Causal Factors

The causes of AvPD are unclear, although they appear to be influenced by a mix of social, genetic, and psychological variables. The disease may be associated with inherited temperamental traits.

Various anxiety disorders in childhood and adolescence have been linked to a temperament marked by behavioral inhibition, which includes traits such as shyness, fear, and withdrawal in novel situations. These hereditary traits may result in a genetic propensity to AvPD.

Studies show that parental neglect during childhood is a significant risk factor for the development of AVPD. Negative experiences like chronic rejection or humiliation can solidify into long-standing patterns of avoidance and anxiety in social situations.

Social and Interpersonal Relationships

People with AVPD are typically hesitant to engage in intimate relationships due to a strong fear of criticism, disapproval, and shame. This fear can lead to reluctance in sharing personal information and an aversion to exposing vulnerabilities.

As a result, these individuals may struggle with trust, seeing it as a potential personal risk. They might avoid getting too close to others, even if they deeply yearn for interpersonal contact and connection.

In social and work environments, individuals with AVPD may be perceived as socially inhibited or extremely anxious. The anticipation of negative evaluation in these settings often causes them to avoid interactions, limiting opportunities for friendships and professional growth.

Despite their desire for companionship, their avoidance of social situations can exclude them from forming strong relationships with colleagues, which can affect their work performance and satisfactions in their roles.

Treatment and Management Options

To establish a diagnosis of AvPD, psychiatrists and psychologists conduct a thorough evaluation. Diagnostic criteria from the DSM-5 require a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation.

The evaluation typically includes a detailed clinical interview, self-report questionnaires, and sometimes, behavioral assessments. Mental health professionals assess for consistent patterns of avoidance, anxiety, and fear within interpersonal contexts spanning different environments and relationships.

Distinguishing AvPD from other anxiety disorders can be challenging due to symptom overlap. Mental health professionals must discern whether avoidance behaviors are specifically linked to deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and hypersensitivity to negativity, rather than general anxiety or social phobia.

Treatment for avoidant personality disorder can involve a variety of approaches, including group therapy for social skills practice, psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and social skills training to progressively increase social contacts.

Gaining and maintaining the patient’s confidence is critical in treatment, as patients with avoidant personality disorder may frequently avoid treatment sessions if they distrust the therapist or are afraid of rejection. Individual therapy and social skills group training are primarily designed to help people with avoidant personality disorder challenge their exaggerated negative thoughts about themselves.

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