It is thought that about 2-3% of individuals within the U.S. suffer from avoidant personality disorder.
Those who suffer from the disorder tend to be preoccupied with the faults and failings they perceive in themselves and to exaggerate, in their own minds, these faults and failings (if, indeed, they objectively exist rather than being the imaginings of a self-lacerating personality). To compound this problem, they are also prone to minimising, or dismissing altogether, their strengths and positive qualities.
They are also likely to avoid any job that involves significant interaction with other people so are likely to select careers in which they are largely left to their own devices (such as a computer programmer or writer).
Further, they suffer from very low self-esteem and greatly lack confidence; indeed, they are likely to view themselves as deeply inadequate and fundamentally flawed.
They are highly sensitive and find social interaction extremely uncomfortable, fearing ridicule, criticism and rejection. They feel they have nothing to offer others and that others will immediately dislike them and view them, essentially, as uninteresting non-entities. Often, too, they fear others will see them as ‘weird’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘odd’ due to their self-consciousness and general unease.
If forced to be in a social situation, they are likely to excessively, even obsessively, self-monitor, so concerned are they that they may say or do something that humiliates them. As a result, frequently, they will be taciturn and may speak with much hesitation, stammering and stuttering.
They tend, too, to mistrust others.
In some cases, they may also be agoraphobic, staying at home by themselves living in an internal world of the mind which may well include elements of fantasy.
Avoidant personality disorder can be particularly cruel as, often, those who suffer from it have a deep desire and need to connect emotionally with others.
Causes of avoidant personality disorder:
Onset of the disorder is usually during the late teens. Those who have been emotionally neglected (ie shown little or no love, affection, approval or interest) by their parents are at higher than average risk of developing it, especially if they have been rejected by one or both parents.
Indeed, my own mother rejected me when I was thirteen years old so I went to live with my father and step-mother for several years who could barely tolerate my presence and essentially ignored me for half a decade (except to point out my faults which were, it seems, inordinate). Apparently I was ‘sullen’, ‘morose’ and ‘hostile’. A ‘clot’, a ‘nincompoop’ and ‘buffoon.’ ‘Ungodly’ and in all likelihood ‘evil’, quite possibly demonically possessed and in urgent need of an exorcism (in other posts I have written of how my step-mother shouted at me in what she believed to be, or possibly faked, ‘tongues’, when I was thirteen and had just moved in with her and my father, and how she would tell me that both she and her biological son could ‘sense evil in the house’ whenever my friend, Steve, had been round to see me). And, it goes without saying, I apparently had no redeeming features whatsoever, let alone any mitigation regarding my abhorrent behaviour.
To this day, I feel like an extremely awkward, excessively self-conscious teenager in the company of others. I suppose as a child I internalised the view that I was neither likeable nor interesting, nor, for that matter, even wanted.
Once such a self-view takes root, it is very hard to dislodge, almost like trying to change the colour of your eyes by a sheer act of will.
Possible treatment options:
Two of the most promising treatments for avoidant personality disorder are cognitive behavioural therapy and social skills training. However, as I suggested above, because the negative feelings about oneself can be so profound, the condition is, not infrequently, fairly resistant to these treatments. In such cases, under the supervision of an appropriately qualified professional, anti-depressants may be appropriate.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).