Avoidant personality disorder is one of several personality disorderslisted in the newest edition of the standard reference guide to mental disordersDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-IV-TR. It is characterized by marked avoidance of both social situations and close interpersonal relationships due to an excessive fear of rejection by others. Persons with this disorder exhibit feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and mistrust toward others.
People who are diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder desire to be in relationships with others but lack the skills and confidence that are necessary in social interactions. In order to protect themselves from anticipated criticism or ridicule, they withdraw from other people. This avoidance of interaction tends to isolate them from meaningful relationships, and serves to reinforce their nervousness and awkwardness in social situations.
The behavior of people with avoidant personality disorder is characterized by social withdrawal, shyness, distrustfulness, and emotional distance. These people tend to be very cautious when they speak, and they convey a general impression of awkwardness in their manner. Most are highly self-conscious and self-critical about their problems relating to others.
The cause of avoidant personality disorder is not clearly defined, and may be influenced by a combination of social, genetic, and biological factors. Avoidant personality traits typically appear in childhood, with signs of excessive shyness and fear when the child confronts new people and situations. These characteristics are also developmentally appropriate emotions for children, however, and do not necessarily mean that a pattern of avoidant personality disorder will continue into adulthood. When shyness, unfounded fear of rejection, hypersensitivity to criticism, and a pattern of social avoidance persist and intensify through adolescence and young adulthood, a diagnosisof avoidant personality disorder is often indicated.
Many persons diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder have had painful early experiences of chronic parental criticism and rejection. The need to bond with the rejecting parents makes the avoidant person hungry for relationships but their longing gradually develops into a defensive shell of self-protection against repeated parental criticisms. Ridicule or rejection by peers further reinforces the young person's pattern of social withdrawal and contributes to their fear of social contact.
Gary Gilles M.A., Paula Ford-Martin M.A., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,