Avoidant personality disorder: An inconspicuous mental illness

We flip on the TV in the morning to catch the news before starting the day, check social media, texts and emails, and grab the cell phone from the charger. This is routine for many, but for a person with avoidant personality disorder (APD), these activities may not be too appealing.

According to Psych Central, people with APD deliberately avoid interacting with others. They prefer to be alone and will go to great lengths to avoid the company of others or involvement in any social activity. The 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines APD as follows:

  • Identity: low self-esteem, feelings of shame and inadequacy
  • Self-direction: reluctant to pursue goals or engage in anything risky
  • Empathy: focuses on criticism and rejection
  • Intimacy: reluctant to engage unless convinced they are liked
  • Withdrawal: avoids all social activity
  • Intimacy avoidance: rejects romantic or sexual relationships
  • Anhedonia: gets no pleasure from life’s experiences, inability to show joy
  • Anxiety: intense nervousness or panic in social situations

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that about 2.5 percent of the population is affected by APD and that genetics and environmental factors play a major role. While the causes of the condition remain unknown, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus resource website indicates genetics and changes to physical appearance caused by pathogenic illness to be potential risk factors.

When interacting with a person with APD, loved ones, peers and co-workers must be mindful of their choice of words and behavior. People with APD easily catch anxiety and could be misinterpreted. They may appear to lack feeling but in fact the opposite is true; people with APD are very sensitive and self-defeating.

While verbal communication does not usually come naturally to the APD person, he or she can relay emotion using body language. Those interacting with a person diagnosed with APD should construct a non-threatening environment when socializing. Oftentimes, individuals with APD have difficulty expressing clear thoughts and may need to be asked to clarify certain points of conversation.

Everyone deserves a life brimming with self-esteem and confidence. For those with mental health conditions like APD, feelings of self-worth and morale may not come so easily. Mental health disorders, including APD, can be diagnosed using psychological evaluation and treated with modalities of therapy, including talk therapy. If you would like more information about APD or any other mental illness or have questions regarding treatment, please call the Mental Health Helpline at 855-653-8178.