AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER

 

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Avoidant personality disorder (sometimes abbreviated APD or AvPD), or anxious personality disorder, is a personality disorder characterised by a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation. People with avoidant personality disorder often consider themselves to be socially inept or personally unappealing, and avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, or disliked. They typically present themselves as loners and report feeling a sense of alienation from society.

 

Avoidant personality disorder usually is first noticed in early adulthood, and is associated with perceived or actual rejection by parent or peers during childhood. Whether the feeling of rejection is due to the extreme interpersonal monitoring attributed to people with the disorder is still an open question.

 

 

Diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR)

 

The American Psychiatric Association's DSM-IV-TR, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders, defines avoidant personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  1. Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection

  2. Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked

  3. Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed

  4. Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations

  5. Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy

  6. Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others

  7. Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing

Avoidant personality disorder is often confused with anti-social personality disorder; clinically the term 'anti-social' denotes sociopathy, not social inhibitions.

 

 

Mnemonic

 

A mnemonic that can be used to remember the criteria for avoidant personality disorder is AVOIDER.

  • A Avoids occupational activities

  • V Views self as socially inept

  • O Occupied with being criticized or rejected

  • I Inhibited in new interpersonal situations

  • D Declines to get involved with people

  • E Embarrassed by engaging in new activities

  • R Refrains from intimate relationships

 

Link with other mental disorders

 

Research suggests that people with avoidant personality disorder, in common with social phobics, excessively monitor their own internal reactions when they are involved in social interaction. However, unlike social phobics they also excessively monitor the reactions of the people with whom they are interacting. The extreme tension created by this monitoring may account for the hesitant speech and taciturnity of many people with avoidant personality disorder. They are so preoccupied with monitoring themselves and others that producing fluent speech is difficult.

 

Avoidant personality disorder is reported to be especially prevalent in people with anxiety disorders, although estimates of comorbidity vary widely due to differences in (among others) diagnostic instruments. Research suggests that approximately 10-50% of the people who have a panic disorder with agoraphobia have APD, as well as about 20-40% of the people who have a social phobia. Some studies report prevalence rates of up to 45% among the people with a generalized anxiety disorder and up to 56% of the people with an obsessive-compulsive disorder (Van Velzen, 2002). Although it is not mentioned in the DSM-IV, earlier theorists have proposed a personality disorder which has a combination of features from borderline personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder, called "avoidant-borderline mixed personality" (APD/BPD) (Kantor, 1993, p.4).

 

 

Treatment

 

Treatment of avoidant personality disorder can employ various techniques, such as social skills training, cognitive therapy, exposure treatment to gradually increase social contacts, group therapy for practicing social skills, and sometimes drug therapy (Comer, 1996). A key issue in treatment is gaining and keeping the client's trust, since people with APD will often start to avoid treatment sessions if they distrust the therapist or fear rejection. The primary purpose of both individual therapy and social skills group training is for individuals with avoidant personality disorder to begin challenging their exaggeratedly negative beliefs about the self (Eckleberry, 2000). While not endorsed by the psychological community, a number of websites have appeared which purport to offer tips to people with avoidant personality disorder. The main idea which runs through these websites, an idea with which the psychological community would agree, is that persons suffering APD have unrealistically negative views about themselves, and that challenging these beliefs is the first step to overcoming this affliction.

 

 

LINKS and REREFENCE

  • Comer, R. J. (1996). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology. Avoidant personality disorder, pp.428-430. Third edition. New York: Worth.

  • Eckleberry, Sharon C. (2000-03-25). Dual Diagnosis and the Avoidant Personality Disorder. The Dual Diagnosis Pages: From Our Desk

  • Kantor, M. (1993, revised 2003). Distancing: A guide to avoidance and avoidant personality disorder. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers.

  • Rettew, D.C. (2006). "Avoidant Personality Disorder: Boundaries of a Diagnosis", Psychiatric Times, July 1, 2006

  • Van Velzen, C. J. M. (2002). Social phobia and personality disorders: Comorbidity and treatment issues. Groningen: University Library Groningen. (online version)

Avoidant Personality Disorder Support Groups and Forums

Information and Support at the Official Avoidant Personality Disorder Webpages

 

 


 

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