If our experiences of relationships in childhood are largely negative and painful, in extreme cases, we may develop social phobia as adults, or, in even more severe cases, avoidant personality disorder (APD).
What is APD?
APD is similar to generalized social phobia, but of greater intensity. The person who suffers from it tries to avoid social contact due to an underlying fear of being humiliated and rejected.
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which is a reference manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists to help in the diagnosis of mental disorders, lists the following symptoms of APD :
– a pervasive pattern of social inhibition
– feelings of inadequacy
– hypersensitivity to negative evaluation by others
– preoccupied with being criticized and rejected in social situations
– views self as socially inept, personally unappealing and inferior to others
– reluctant to take personal risks or engage in new activities which run the risk of embarrassing self
– avoidance of occupational activities that would involve a significant degree of social contact due to fear of criticism, disapproval or rejection
– reluctance to enter into intimate relationships fear of being shamed or ridiculed
Typically, APD starts to develop in early adulthood and it affects both males and females equally. Research by the psychologists Millon and Everly listed the main areas of functioning affected by APD in a person as :
– INTERPERSONAL CONDUCT
– COGNITIVE (THINKING) STYLE
– AFFECTIVE (EMOTIONAL) STYLE
Let’s briefly examine each of these areas in turn :
BEHAVIOUR : this will usually be withdrawn and wary, sometimes hostility may be displayed towards those who attempt to be friendly. Tendency to reject others before they can reject him/her.
SPEECH : tendency to remain silent in company
INTERPERSONAL CONDUCT : tends to mistrust others which leads to difficulty forming relationships. In the case whereby a relationship is started, the person with APD will tend to keep the other person at a distance, be reluctant to share feelings or to become in any other way vulnerable. General avoidance of intimacy.
COGNITIVE STYLE : the term cognitive style here refers to the kinds of thought processes and thought patterns the person with APD tends to undergo in social situations. There is a tendency towards excessive monitoring of how others are reacting to him/her, with possible signs of rejection being constantly looked for, to which s/he is highly sensitive – in other words, the person with APD is HYPERVIGILANT for signs of rejection, and, because s/he is also HYPERSENSITIVE to such signs, will often detect them when, objectively, they do not actually exist.
AFFECTIVE STYLE : the term affective style here refers to how the individual with APD tends to respond emotionally during social interaction. S/he will tend to show little emotion in such situations due to fear that this will make him/her vulnerable to rejection and humiliation (Kantor et al). To others, the individual with APD may appear tense and anxious (Millon et al).
SELF-PERCEPTION : Individuals who suffer from APD tend to have low self-esteem, feel inferior to others, feel unworthy of being in a relationship, be extremely self-conscious and lonely. Furthermore, they tend to view any accomplishments they may have to their name as of little or no value (Millon et al).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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