Avoidant Personality Disorder

Think of avoidant personality disorder as shyness taken up a notch. It’s a condition that’s present in almost 1% of the general population, and its consequences on ones social life are debilitating.

As a communication coach, I deal with individuals with avoidant personality disorder quite often. The seriousness of their situation makes them keen on finding solutions to become more outgoing. So this article is my comprehensive intro to avoidant personality disorder and its treatment.

What It Is and What It’s Not

According to the forth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is a psychological condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation.

It’s important to note that avoidant personality disorder is not a mental disorder. Also, be aware that if you have AvPD, there is nothing physically wrong with your brain or the way it’s functioning.

Any chemical imbalance that may exist in your brain is not the root cause of avoidant personality disorder, but a mere symptom of it. This is why medication, although it can improve the mood, does little to actually overcome avoidant personality disorder. It addresses the symptoms, not the causes.

AvPD is considered a psychological disorder. I even use this term lightly, because it often reinforces the belief people with avoidant personality disorder have that they are somehow broken, which they are not.

Overall, I think the best mode to look at avoidant personality disorder is as a learned way of thinking, feeling and behaving that doesn’t create results, sometimes based on certain predispositions. And the best news is that anything you’ve learned, you can also unlearn.

Avoidant Personality Disorder Symptoms

You can recognize avoidant personality disorder correctly by understanding its symptoms and taking note of them. The following are the most important symptoms visible in people with AvPD:

  • Avoiding social activities and spending huge amounts of time alone;
  • Having a very small social circle and only carrying brief interactions with the people in it;
  • A major reluctance to meeting new people and a strong feeling of inadequacy when dealing with them;
  • Being generally reserved and quiet when interacting with others, due to fear of saying something improper and being shamed;
  • Being over-preoccupied with how they are seen by others, due to fear of being disliked or rejected;
  • Frequently fantasizing about having social interactions that turn out the way they want them to;
  • Not rising up to their potential in their career, due to running away from opportunities that require them to be social;
  • Seeing themselves as socially unskilled, awkward or inferior to others.

Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatment

Although ‘treatment’ is the conventional word, it may not be the best one. Remember we’re not talking about killing a virus; we’re talking about learning a new way of thinking, feeling and behaving.

I’ll start off with what you probably want to know most: yes, avoidant personality disorder can be ‘treated’. It does take time and perseverance, and it does require using the proper methods, but it is doable and there are hundreds of documented cases that point this out.

Successfully getting rid of AvPD typically involves a three folded process:

1) Challenging and changing dysfunctional thinking. People with avoidant personality disorder tend to have a lot of limiting beliefs, plus an unrealistic view of social standards and of themselves. These need to be corrected by consciously changing the way they think.

2) Gradual exposure. People with avoidant personality disorder need to gradually face those exact situations they’re afraid of and they typically avoid. Systemic exposure, combined with combating unrealistic thinking will set their mind and emotions on the right path.

3) Improving people skills. Since individuals with AvPD avoid social situations as much as they can, their people skills have often atrophied or they’ve never truly developed at all. Thus, training key people skills and learning how to start a conversation, how to keep it going or how to connect with people is crucial.

The methods of intervention that have been proven to work best for overcoming avoidant personality disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapy and coaching. There is a raft of research that confirms the success of these methods. No other methods even come close to the elegance and effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral methods.

If you have avoidant personality disorder, the first essential step is to recognize it without making a big deal out of it.

The second step is to realize that there is hope for you and to fully commit to overcoming this condition. This can be tricky particularly because people with avoidant personality disorder will sometimes tend to avoid the very things that will lead to overcoming their condition.

Using cognitive-behavioral principles and techniques on your own, you will see progress. However, given the seriousness of the condition, initially working one-on-one with a competent coach or a therapist is a good idea.

You will make much faster progress, you’ll successfully get passed those first hurdles and get the wheels spinning in the right direction.

One more thing: If you want to learn more about building social confidence and overcoming your insecurities, then check out this presentation I created, in which I share some of my top advice on this topic. I’m sure you’ll find it very useful.

A rich and fulfilling social life doesn’t have to exist only in your daydreams. Pick the best tools to use, put them into practice and keep moving forward despite the struggles, and you will make it real.

Image courtesy of NicoleAbalde


  1. This is a brilliant article – it is much too easy for people to label themselves with a ‘disorder/disease/condition’ and so give up responsibility for treating it – and want someone to give them something to take it away.
    As with most things, overcoming something like this takes effort – but as you say- can be done.

    • Hi Kate,

      Seeing yourself as having a psychological disorder or disease is, unfortunately, a good way to give up on yourself and on seeking to improve. There are too many negative and often false connotations those words have.

    • I agree! I have an adult son who says he has this. He blames his step-father & I for all of his problems. I think we had a total of three heated arguments in the five years we lived together before he moved out. We don’t even remember the context, but he remembers everything word for word, but he never mentions why or how the arguments started. We’re pretty relaxed people unless our buttons are pushed to the max, and we put up with a lot of his moods. He claims that he’s been hurt by so many people, and he acts like a victim all the time. He’s got this ten year grudge against us, and is now slandering us on social media & living the attention he’s getting. We are mortified! I’m worried about my relationship with him, as well as getting calls from family & my ex’s family wondering if all the abuse allegations are real or not. I don’t know what to do & I can’t talk to him. It’s sad. Does anyone know of a support group?

      • It actually sounds like he might have Borderline Personality disorder, not Avoidant Personality Disorder. Most borderlines use blame & guilt to manipulate those around them. However children are not born with personality disorders & if someone tells you that the way you have treated them makes them feel inadequate perhaps it is time YOU take a hard look at yourself & take some responsibility. It is YOUR child after all.

        • Bob’s right. I have a lot of these symptoms mentioned here, and while I can’t blame all of them on an unhappy childhood, I do believe if my parents had been more loving and less critical, I would’ve had a less harsh opinion of myself. I feel like I always need external validation and I start hating others (and then later myself) when I don’t get it. It took me a long time to realize that what I’m looking for is someone to “parent” me. Someone to make me believe I’m good and can be liked.
          With this realization, I am trying to work through these issues and hopefully come out of them stronger.

          • Jinetlee says:

            Bobs not “right.” Avoidant personality stems in abuse. You avoid ur kid they avoid people subconsciously, and continue their longing for love. It’s confusing for them. Yet the most satisfying answer to this is that. . . that people hate them, inciting guilt. I’m sure his doctor knew what he was saying. It’s more avoidant than borderline

  2. Hi Eduard. This post was both informative and interesting. A personality disorder isn’t a diagnosis to be taken lightly, so people should first see a trained professional rather than self-diagnosing. Another good point is that there are many people who have personality disorder traits instead of actually having a personality disorder. They can definitely benefit from coaching and/or therapy.

  3. Great info! Thanks for putting this out there! It’s easy to read and effective in addressing the topic. It came in handy for me as I am doing a research paper on this..for my Masters in Counseling Psychology. Thanks again!

  4. thanks for this article! it was a great starter for me. i had recently been diagnosed with AvPD and though its hard, i am gradually trying to overcome it. 😉

  5. sasheera says:

    I completely understand how this feels. I HAVE THE EXACT SYMPTOMS! I’m terrified of what people think of me. My whole life revolves around what they would think but people are the same although very complex.They also have fears, there isn’t anything to be afraid of and I know I will have to overcome this.

    • It’s very good that you’re aware of the irrationality of your fear. Now the real work comes: reprogramming your mind 😉

  6. shrikant says:

    I do have the same . Problem is how can I find someone to help me out in India. Please show the way for helping me.

    • Look for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist. India is a pretty big country, so you’re bound to find someone (I hope). If not, you can always try working long distance with a therapist from another country.

  7. shrikant says:

    Thanks eduard, Any online course available for the treatment. Meanwhile, help me out with coping the same or some useful tips.

    Best Regards,

  8. Aleksei says:

    Ok, I have a friend, who I think might have this Disorder or something similar to it, because he never wants to leave his house or go outside. I mean like NEVER. He just sits on the couch and plays video games. He is 20 years old and when he was a kid we would play and things were normal but then he got older and just started to gradually retreat from social activities and now he just hangs out on his couch all day and sometimes doesn’t even talk to me when I am there.

    So maybe he has something else going on or whatever but this has been going on for a long time now and I just wanted to know how do I approach him to get him outside and do stuff. Or shoudl I just leave him alone?

    I feel he is just lonely or something and/or maybe just bored. IDK… any suggestions … if he does have this disorder then how does one go about talking to a person with it and helping them to come out of their shell or whatever.

  9. IdahoLadybug says:

    This is the first article I’ve read that gives me hope that there is a way to combate this condition. I’ve had the symptoms my whole life but have been mis-diagnosed until recently. I can’t remember Christmases or birthdays, but I remember every time I was embarassed and made fun of as a kid. But now, I have a wonderful CBT therapist through the US Veteran’s Administration, and am starting the journey to change my way of thinking. Thank you for the great information!!

  10. I’m still in high school and know I have Avoidant personailty disorder. I’ve had a therapist come talk to me, but I’m not as bad as I was before its hard to re-train myself and I’m scared. No one knows about it because I’ve been hiding behind my mask for a long time though my friends have question me about it time to time. I’ve been hiding in my own world and I can’t let it go can you help me. I don’t want this anymore I hate it but I’ve accepted it at the same time.

  11. I’ve been different all of my 47 years. I started off an Army brat and apparently Avoidance PD can be a side effect. The trauma of constant reorientations to new friends and constantly being the new guy took a toll on me. Because I was a very nurtured child, i had the knowledge that I was loved and lovable which was powerful enough to counteract my negative distortions.

    I became successful in my career but reached a ceiling in public speaking and being phobic it keeps me from the success I feel I was capable of achieving. I’ve been running my own consultancy now for five years leveraging my career. Self doubt is always balanced with an eye on the horizon but I try to use it as a catalyst for growth. I’m just offering this for young people who don’t have the benefit of a life of experience or proof that you are actually more than you perceive. For those that alter their avoidance, life is like a big present and your choice is to open it up and look inside. You will find inside there are millions of othe presents inside. Relax and enjoy gifts.

  12. Hi,
    This article has reinforced the fact that I have AvPD.I think I have developed this in my late teens.As a kid I was this bold,fearless,leader-of the pack kind of personality amongst my class mates.In fact I was good at public speaking and intercations with people.Also I was brought up in a loving environment at home ,so loving that I never knew what pain was.I was too ignorant about it.However things started to change when I joined college.I found myself seeing personalties much more confident and successful than me.I started viewing myself as a failure.By then my dad had lost his job and I never invited anyone home for parties just for the fear that people would ask about it.So I restricted myself to home during weekends.This happened so much so that I nevr even stepped out of house,a complete contrast to the personality I was as a kid.This hurt me even more.So I withdrew into my shell further.I found it very comforting and “cool”.I sort of convinced myself that i was different and i did not have many friends because I deserved better.(now i realise that i was scared of people speaking negative/ridiculing/joking of me)as a result at the end of college i was just having two close friends,one of whom knoew me from childhood(we studied in the same school too) and the other who never evre spoke ill of me infront of me.I felt only they deserved to be my frineds.I partly put the blame on my upbringing because i was loved and pampered too much that i expected the same from the outside world and was always scared of negative feedback.this went on building up and as a result i was never seen hanging out with friends in college.i would hide insied the library.now when i have a job i find it extremely difficult to socialize for fear of being the topic of discussion.but after reading this article it has becme easier for me to understand my problems and personality.theres always some way to improve.i am working my way to being a noraml person as how i was as a kid.Thanks a lot for this article.

  13. William Gerst says:

    To Kate:
    Your statement about responsibility and taking awaay from others is critical because it very blames avoidants as slackers and not as suferes. It takes a real insight to be able to emphatize with a crippling condition such as avoidant personality disorder. Those like you make me want to avoid people even more!

  14. I came across the term AvPD just four days ago . I was researching about my apparent failure at almost everything . Since than i am trying to figure out how to come out this mental logjam.

  15. I don’t hide from people. I have friends, a lot of friends. But when people in public stare at me, I’m always like “Why the hell is he looking at? What’s his problem?” In such situation my friend expresses his feelings directly to the person staring at him!! I don’t know why they are interested in looking at me!

  16. Hello there! I do think that I have AvPD after reading this article. Actually i have tried to be a social person once. But it’s tiring me. Is this thing usual? Or I was wrong? Hehe. Sorry if i dont use proper english as it is not my mother tongue language.

  17. I just found out about AvPD about a week ago. I’m 26 years old, and I’ve exhibited all of the hallmarks of AvPD since childhood.

    I fail at everything, especially social things, and I hate myself (you should add that to your symptoms list because it’s the part that sucks the most). I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with me, that I just didn’t belong in this world because this is “just the way I am.”

    But now I know that it’s a “thing.” It’s something that’s recognized by psychologists, and just a thing that comes out of being poorly socialized as a child. Knowing this gives me hope because that means that there is help for people like me, and knowing that there are in fact people like me goes a long way toward helping me to not hate myself.

  18. I have both Avoidant Personality and Dependant Personality Disorders(along with OCD, social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders). First I want to say thank you so much for this article! Much of what you have wrote fills me with relief that there are people out there who see us as normal people.

    I don’t like the labels, and absolutely hate being described as mentally ill. I know I’m not mentally ill, but i’m certainly not mentally well, either, if you know what I mean.

    Plus, I think the way that healthy minded people view the symptoms is entirely different than how we actually experience them, because of how they’re written.

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