All kinds of people make up this world. Those who are able to mix with others freely and are extroverts are usually more popular. However, there are some who do not feel uncomfortable in interacting with strangers. They, thus, choose to avoid situations where they would be required to engage in social circles or talk to many people. Such individuals are known as introverts. But, there are another set of people who are more than just introverts. They are categorized as suffering from an avoidant personality disorder (APD).
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), APD is characterized by “extreme social inhibition (shyness), feelings of inadequacy, and acute sensitivity to actual or perceived rejection. While most people have certainly feelings of insecurity, for people with avoidant personality disorder these feelings are extremely intense and lead to an avoidance of social interaction that negatively impacts their day-to-day life.” NIMH states that approximately 5.2 percent of the U.S. adult population lives with APD in a given year. The disorder is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Few of the common symptoms of the disorder are:
- Avoiding work, events or school-related activities fearing rejection, humiliation and/or criticism
- Avoiding activities that involve significant interpersonal contact fearing disapproval
- Showing restraint in interpersonal relationships
- Avoiding new relationships/contact fearing inadequacy or incapability
- Avoiding risks or initiation into new habits or activities fearing embarrassment
- Low self-esteem and increased self-isolation
The exact causes of APD are not yet clearly defined. A number of studies suggest that a combination of social, genetic and biological factors play a major role in its development. The symptoms generally begin to appear in childhood when the child displays extreme shyness and fear in company of new people. Though such tendencies are signs of normal development in children, it becomes difficult to diagnose the underlying problem. However, when the signs persist through adolescence and young adulthood, it may indicate APD.
Treatment is available
APD can exist with comorbid mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and phobias and a mental health expert may find it difficult to assess if such disorders are a result of APD or caused by it. The commonality of symptoms between two or more personality and mental disorders can add to the confusion. For instance, feelings of worthlessness, low confidence and social withdrawal are also characteristic of major depressive disorder. Even schizophrenic patients exhibit social isolation though the reasons are different.
Living with this disorder is tough. In case one experiences any symptoms related to this disorder, it is important to seek help from an expert before it leads to the development of some other difficulties.